Officials under pressure to meet toilet construction targets

Published : October 01, 2019 15:55 IST

A toilet built under the Swachh Bharat mission. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

 

Little seems to have improved in the five years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to make India open-defecation free (ODF) under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) by the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2.

Confounding government claims of Madhya Pradesh being ODF, two Dalit minors, Roshni (12) and Avinash (10), were lynched to death in Shivpuri district by their upper-caste neighbours on September 25 for defecating in the open.

The children lived in a shanty with their parents and all of them had no choice but to defecate in the open because they did not have a toilet. News reports suggested that their application to build a toilet under the SBM and a home under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna were both rejected by the Sarpanch some months ago.

Their case is not an exception but part of the exploitation and harassment of the poor and the marginalised in rural areas by officialdom. A paper, “Coercion, Construction and ‘ODF paper pe’”, co-authored by Aashish Gupta, Nazar Khalid, Payal Hathi, Nikhil Srivastav, Sangita Vyas and Diane Coffey and published in The India Forum, explains how the ODF declaration process has not ensured that villages ar open-defecation free.

Drawing upon 156 interviews conducted with village and block-level officials in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and survey data, the researchers found that rampant coercive tactics were being employed by local officials to meet unreasonably high toilet construction targets.

An SBM block coordinator in Madhya Pradesh told the researchers: “We have to motivate people but we also have construction targets. We have to build 18,000 toilets before October 2 [2018]. So, we have put motivation aside to focus on the construction target.” He went on to say that he was concerned about losing his job if he did not meet targets. “I am a contract worker… they tell us that if we don’t get 700 toilets built… then we will be fired…. The threat is there, we have been given notices…. There is so much work that do you know what I do? I get my wife to do online data entry because I just can’t manage it all.”

At least 12 per cent of the survey respondents said that someone in their household had experienced coercion to build a toilet—either physically stopped from defecating in the open, threatened with loss of government benefits such as food rations, or threatened with a fine. Coercive tactics were most common in Madhya Pradesh, where 78 per cent of the respondents had heard of at least one of these forms of coercion in their village. “An aspect of SBM’s use of coercion that causes a great deal of concern is that Dalit and Adivasi households were significantly more likely to experience it than households from other backgrounds,” said the researchers.

A sarpanch in Madhy Pradesh said that in his village the Harijans did not want to build latrines…. “We had to bring in the police in a few places. [We said], ‘If you people will not build [latrines], if you won’t do that, then we will lock you up.’ We had to threaten them. And in ward number 20 and ward number 9, where the Harijans live, we actually had to have them picked up [by the police]…. Then they became ready to build [latrines].”

Many villages set up local vigilante squads known as Nigrani Samiti or Swachhagrahis who stopped and shamed people defecating in the open by emptying their lotas (container with water), clicking their photographs, blowing whistles, garlanding, pulling their ears and forcing them to do sit-ups.

In Madhy Pradesh, local officials withheld public benefits if people did not construct toilets. A village secretary told the researchers, “The tehsildar came [to our village] once. He told the patwari that he should cancel the Kisan Credit Cards of people who did not build toilets. ‘If [people who do not build toilets] need some document, do not give it to them. Even if they need the map of their land, if they need a copy of a kasra or a khatauni, or caste or domicile certificates. Whatever documents are provided from [the Revenue Department], stop giving them. Create pressure [on people who don’t build toilets] in all these different ways.’”

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