This article describes the experience of the Nimal Bharat Yatra at Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh
Women folk in Gorakhpur village
5 Nov 2012: Gorakhpur, a small village in Uttar Pradesh is the fifth stop of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra. The Yatra has travelled to four major places already - Wardha, Indore, Kota and Gwalior, carrying the message of ending open defecation, the importance of washing hands with soap and practicing hygiene in rural areas of India.
In the 4,000 km. tour across North India, the brain child of Wash United and Quicksand, the mission is to reach out to the masses through outreach to government schools involving teachers of that region, the local government, anganwadi workers and the community. In one such outreach programme, a Training of Teachers (TOT) was organised in Gorakhpur Block Resource Centre (BRC) where the implementing body and resource persons included representatives from partners of the Yatra, Maria Fernandes from Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Arpana from Wash United and Shiv Kumar from Feedback Foundation. It was a clear sunny autumn morning and the enthusiasm of the community was evident in the turn out in the mini auditorium here. Teachers from different schools in the region participated in this programme and officials of the Block Resource Centre (BRC) applauded the initiative of the Yatra to reach out to them.
Maria Fernandes imparting training on menstruation
The Nirmal Bharat Yatra has been an excellent forum to reach out to rural India and involve the community in a dialogue. It has enabled us to spread awareness on public health through simple things like using soap to wash hands, making and using toilets to do away with open defecation. Maria Fernandes from WSSCC began the training on an informative note, elaborating on the various faces of superstition and malpractices associated with menstruation in different communities in the country where ignorance, illiteracy and stigma cripple the health of women. She pin pointed how overall hygiene and use of toilets needed to be inculcated into people's lives to ensure better health. She invited participants to talk openly about the traditionally imposed inhibitions associated with menstruation and health issues pertaining to the reproductive capacity of women.
Block Resource Centre (BRC)
Training of Teachers (ToT), Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh
'A girl out of ignorance did not take proper measures of hygiene during her menstruation and developed itching in her private parts and rashes on her inner thighs. Because of the stigma associated with it, this incident went unreported till a stage where it manifested to disease of the uterus and the womb. In the final stages the doctor who examined the girl said, to save the girl the uterus would have to be taken out surgically. In her early adolescence, this girl now does not have a uterus and womb. This is a direct outcome of the stigma and taboo associated with menstruation in rural India, and how it results in disease,’ said Maria. She added that this girl would not have marriage opportunities now with no reproductive capacity.
"If we begin to talk openly among ourselves about menstruation - hygienic practices of using cotton cloth or sanitary pads to absorb the menstrual fluid and changing it frequently over the course of a day, disposing of these used sanitary pads hygienically without contaminating drinking water sources or our environment and the need to go to a doctor at the slightest hint of infection - then we can overcome the diseases that result from the silence on the matter,' Maria stressed in the session that by now had engaged both male and the female participants.
An interesting development in the session was the evident attempt of male teachers to influence or suppress the voices of the women present. One lady school teacher in an interaction on if there were toilets in the village or not, informed that there were very less toilets but a male teacher contradicted her statement by defying it and said, this was not so. Earlier in the day a Block Development official addressed the audience reiterating the need to only speak about things that will enhance the image of the community at Gorakhpur and not spell out weaknesses that could catch the media's eye. Perhaps this was the undercurrent among the male participants who wanted to guard the secret of the village not having enough toilets.
The Training for Teachers (TOT) was conducted successfully here in Gorakhpur and our objective to help the community to begin to speak out about issues relating to water, sanitation and hygiene and draw out their own action plan was achieved. This wind of change, though gradual, will have to be persistent over the coming years. It is still a phenomenon in its own right in a country where it has taken decades after our freedom from the British to think about it and talk about it openly and honestly.
Maria Fernandes: an urban person in a rural job
This wind of change rests on people like Maria Fernandes, 30, married and mother of an infant son who lives with her husband and in-laws in Mumbai. Maria is educated, smart, compassionate and most of all, urban. Yet she has gone ahead and chosen a career option that is tread by very few, that of rural development.
The Nirmal Bharat Yatra and its dream to be the wind of change in the way India has tackled its sanitation and hygiene problems, rests on people like her.
By Urmila Chanam, Fellow, India Water Portal
For full coverage of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra by India Water Portal, click here.