5 Oct 2012, Helipad Ground, Wardha, Maharashtra.
Bapu began his ‘new India’ journey from this special town of Wardha decades ago. Today in the heart of this town is the Mahatma Gandhi Ashram where thousands of tourists and loyalists throng to pay their respects to the Father of the Nation and to relive an ideology of an era which might have passed away but never completely forgotten. Can you imagine that even after decades of our independence India is still the country with the highest account of open defecation in the world. Bapu had a vision for India.
Here in Wardha you will find Bapu's model toilet that he designed for the people living in its villages. He was ahead of his times in having the discernment that India would have to end open defecation for development to set in. The Nirmal Bharat Yatra began it’s voyage from this historically relevant town of Wardha, the purpose being to end open defec1ation, encourage toilet use and promote hygiene. Also known as the ‘Great Wash Yatra’ it has begun its march from Wardha, Maharashtra to now go ahead to Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Kota (Rajasthan), Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh) and Bettiah (Bihar). The vision is the same that was seen years ago by Bapu but the times have changed; the path is the same treaded by Bapu years ago but the challenges have changed.
Waiting for the Rural Development Minister, Shri Jairam Ramesh, Wardha
“End open defecation in every state of the country before India can claim to be shining”, was the simple and clear message from Union Minister , Rural Development Shri Jairam Ramesh on the inauguration of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra in Helipad ground in Wardha, Maharashtra. “There is no dearth of god and goddesses in our country but we definitely lag behind in having toilets in our homes and hygiene. Today India claims to be the third super power in the world economy, but in terms of water, sanitation and hygiene we are as backward as when we first began.” Our society has the shame of open defecation associated with it, making India with most people living without toilets in the world. 638 million Indians live without access to safe, adequate sanitation leading to problems spanning health, economics, human rights and the environment.
“If we want to give our children a bright future, we need to bring to an end open defecation in our country. We have begun to take small steps towards achieving that but the road is long. From the way every state is taking up the cause and championing this campaign, in 10 years we could be free from open defecation as a nation but we need to keep going on and not stop,” Minister for Rural Development said to a crowd of thousands that thronged to the grounds here.
Shri Jairam Ramesh in a press conference after the address on the inaugration of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra
In Maharashtra, a fine is levied on a person openly defecating. No gram panchayat member can contest an election for gram panchayat till he has a toilet in his house. Likewise in Haryana the campaign runs as –‘ Shauchalya nahein toh dulhan nahein’(No toilet then no bride).This only means that a man refuses to give off his daughter in marriage to a family if it does not have a toilet. Other states are following in its steps like Sikkim, Kerala, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Tamil Nadu are all innovating new methods and ways by which to end open defecation in their communities. Maharashtra has the maximum number of Nirmal Bharat Gram Sabhas and it aims to achieve total end to open defecation by the year 2016. In Maharashtra a gram sabha member cannot contest elections in Gram Panchayat till he has a toilet in his house! These are the simple ways by which these states are taking up this issue at a revolutionary pace.
“For the first time there is no insufficiency in terms of funds with respect to this program. Before the amount being given for making one toilet to beneficiaries was Rs 3500 which has now been stepped up to Rs 10,000 which is sufficient for constructing a good toilet following the guidelines of sanitation and hygiene,” said Shri Jairam Ramesh. The Minister informed that India has 8 lakh 40 thousand ASHA workers, 14 lakh Aganwadi workers, 25 lakh Self help Groups which together can bring a sea of change in perceptions in the villages and help our campaign to end open defecation. Sachin Tendulkar and Vidya Balan are involved as brand ambassadors carrying the message to every nook and corner of the country.
“If we limit this program to just the government it will not be successful. It has to be a public program, a woman program, a journalist program, your program, my program, our program for it to succeed”, were the last words of the Minister to the media in Wardha. The Nirmal Bharat Yatra proceeds onto its next stop at Indore, Madhya Pradesh, the message is the same the terrain and challenges may not be.
Urmila Chanam, Fellow, India Water Portal
For full coverage by India Water Portal of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, click here.