A day with Dabbawallas : of bonhomie, hardwork, discipline and dreams


Who has not heard of the Mumbai dabbawallas –  in case you have not, may like to see this Youtube link https://youtu.be/fTkGDXRnR9I

I had a chance to spend a day with them and see their work closely. Ahilu, the mukadam (supervisor) of Ville Parle group met me at Ville Parle East station at around 9 am. Despite being a Mukadam, he was collecting dabbas himself that day, one of his group members being on leave. ‘हम भी तो पगार लेते हैं, फिर हमें मेहनत करने में संकोच क्यूँ ?’ Ahilu left Pune when he was in his teens, when his father died, to join his cousins/ Uncles who were dabbawallas. Having worked for nearly twenty years as a dabbawalla, he is a mukadam (supervisor) now.

In his interaction with his group, he seemed 1st amongst equals, not displaying any ‘bossism’, but helping out his team members. As we reach the 1st house 15 minutes in advance, the lady of the house asked us to wait for some time. Waiting and having tea, Ahilu invites another dabbawalla over – he later tells that that dabbawalla was also a muqadam, but due to his poor work habits, all his team members has left him now, and he does collection only with his son. Still Ahilu called him over for tea, depicting an overall camarederie between dabbawallas.

We collect dabbas from around 10 houses – being a Saturday, it is less. Ahilu remembers exactly, which house in which building to go to ! Remember, he doesn’t go to these houses daily : he is covering for one of his team members. Which means he knows exactly the route and houses for all the 25 odd members of his team. He says, besides him, two other members of his team know this entire detail by heart, so that work doesn’t stop. In many government offices, it is common to hear , ‘ सम्बंधित व्यक्ति छुट्टी पे है, उस के आने पे आप पता कीजिए’. He is not literate, and does not use GPS. We do. And still (due to that) we do not memorise such information. Perhaps, our dependence on gadgets – and ‘curse of knowledge’ has affected our faculties ?

On other days, a dabbawalla may collect between 10-50 dabbas, depending on the number of customers in the ‘line’ he is allotted. Being owners themselves, entire money collected from the customers belongs to dabbawallas. But this is striking : each dabbawalla takes equal share of the collection of the entire group. I asked Ahilu if collection of each is not dependent on how many dabbas he collects? He said no, and explained why – ‘ किसी की लाइन (area allotted to each member) में दूर दूर ghar होते हैं; और उसे कम dabbe इक्कट्ठे करने में भी उतना ही समय लग जाता है; जिन कॉलनीज़ में ज़्यादा कस्टमर हैं, वहाँ के ज़्यादा dabbe होते हैं जो उतने ही समय में collect होते हैं’. On 7th of each month, the group sits together and the muqadam distributes the share equally amongst them. Each link work towards strengthning the entire chain. This team spirit, between the group, and between other groups, is unique to dabbawallas’ work, and cannot be duplicated through any computer programme.

From 9.30 am to 10.30 am, we collected dabbas. Without wearing a watch, and without any anxiety, Ahilu knew that we (and all his other team members) would reach the designated spot at 10.30 am, where everyone from his group gathers; each having collected dabbas from their respective ‘lines’. The dabbas are collected on the good old ‘Hero’ cycles that seem sturdy for the job. The carrier of the cycle has few hooks on which dabbas can be hung. Some dabbas are tied directly in knot to the carrier, smaller ones are also tied to the handle. Each dabbawalla has two bicycles, one at the collecting station, and other at the distributing station. I saw these cycles kept unlocked outside station, and asked Ahilu, if there was no risk of these being stolen. He replied in the negative. Everyone knows these are dabbawallas’ cycles and leaves them undisturbed. Just as they are allowed hassle free entry in respective buildings, offices etc. They are recognisable by their topis (caps) that are compulsory for them.

Once the dabbas of Ville Parle were collected, they were segregated railway station-wise – those going to Andheri, those to Churchgate etc. Each group member, including Ahilu helped in this segregation. The dabbas were loosely tied together, so that they could be picked up as a group. Even if each dabba weighed around 250 grams ( could be 500 grams to a kilo as well), with 10-30 dabbas on their shoulder, dabbawallas would be picking up 2.5 – 7.5 kg weight. Certainly not an easy task. Each member of Ahilu group picked up the lot of dabbas meant for his designated station and we went to board the train. I accompanied Ahilu to Andheri. We boarded in the general compartment. Ahilu said the dabbawallas have a train ‘pass’.

We got down at Andheri station. Outside the station, there were dabbawallas who had collected dabbas from other parts of Mumbai – just as we had collected from Ville Parle. They kept the dabbas on the road side in groups numbering 1-81. Each number represented the destination for one dabbawalla, where he would deliver the dabbas. Ahilu, from the marks on his dabbas, and even otherwise, knew in which all numbered lots, he had to place which all of his dabbas; a task that he completed in less than five minutes ! He also collected from the numbered lots, dabbas that were to be taken back to Ville Parle – dabbas meant for people working in Ville Parle, but staying in Andheri, and collected that morning by the Andheri group, just as Ahilu’s group had collected from Vile Parle. Being a muqadam, he also took a round to see if his group members (two of them had accompanied him to Andheri) needed any help. The congregation point was a lively place – dabbawallas from different groups stealing few minutes to chat with each other, have tea together, sharing their family issues, financial issues. A dabbawalla had his foot swollen, but happily came for work, saying ‘ घर बैठ के भी क्या करना है :)’ Clearly, it was a big family, big joint family, that interacted willingly and effortlessly. Have been in gatherings of doctors and bureaucrats and sensed a greater bonhomie amongst the dabbawallas than the educated professional groups.

One reason for this bonhomie could be that all the dabbawallas belong to varkari sect, religious people worshipping Vitthal ( incarnation if Krishna), and leading a simple moral altruistic life. Other virtues – hardwork, equality and equanimity, discipline, lack of vices – perhaps also flow from the religious belief. On Ashadi Ekadshi, they take two day leave to go to Pandarpur, place of Vitthal.

From Andheri, we took return train to Vile Parle, and distributed dabbas there. All this was completed pre -lunch. Ahilu takes pride in the fact that dabbawallas always deliver the dabbas right in time – appropriate time before lunch. He mentioned some others tried to imitate their model. One person deployed vehicles for fast delivery too. Dabbas in that case reached almost in the morning – customers did not like that and his business could not establish. After delivery in Ville Parle, Ahilu gets a one hour or so break when he has his lunch. His own dabba – he carries from home ! I bid him good bye at lunch time. I gave him some tip – that he is to share with his group. The tip was well worth the insight, learning and time spent with them. Many discussions amongst the dabbawallas centred around their financial condition – indicating perhaps that this hard work job pays enough to run the house, but may not be too comfortably. However, dabbawallas being mostly illiterate, may not have many other options at jobs. Plus, given the good community feeling, they find the job good. As varkaris, they anyways are contended people.

Post lunch Ahilu would make another trip to Andheri, to return Andheri dabbas and bring back Ville Parle dabbas. Thus, each dabbawallas makes two trips in a day, first to deliver the dabbas at work places, and second to collect the empty dabbas and deliver them back homes.

Everyone’s job is important; but food certainly occupies a prime position. Non delivery of food in time is an emergency – food is that critical. Delivery of wrong dabba is a smaller emergency. None of this happens, thanks to the meticulous rehearsed human system of dabbawallas. In case there is a rare case of indiscipline – not wearing topi, remaining absent – there are fines/ salary deduction : to keep the system running at zero defect and six sigma. Dabbawallas never stop – whatever be the season, whatever be the exigency ! Much of Mumbai eats because of these beautiful people. Ahilu says, we would stop only if the locals (trains) stopped : ‘ट्रेन बंद तो हम बंद’ – in all other exigencies, we are working.

What keeps a dabbawalla moving ? What is his ‘purpose of life’ ? What quality of life is he seeking ? What is his dream ?What ‘newness’ does he yearn for? Day after day, season after season, years after years, his entire youth and well into his old age, he does the same thing – the same routine : collects dabbas, travels by train, delivers dabbas.

He renders the above questions meaningless. His newness is his routine – the routine defines the purpose of his life. What he does, someone has to do. For not just the doer to keep moving – but for the bigger crowd, Mumbai to keep moving, keep eating 🙂 Dreams are not fulfilled empty stomach.


Wash up Mumbai


The Dhobi ghat at Mahalaxmi in Mumbai is a colourful place. In ways more than one. They dye clothes there. They are also a microcosm of splendid life colours.

The Dhobi ghat is accessible to all – unlike the gated colonies, where a guard notes your details and asks for permission from the resident before allowing you to enter. There are people from outside Maharashtra here; many from Uttar Pradesh, some from Andhra, may be from others as well. They came decades earlier in this place which was established more than a century ago by the Britishers. The locals claim, it was originally built with much engineering skill – with rows of small water tanks and piped water supply 24 hours. These tanks are still used – the manual wash with a ‘ वूश वूश ‘ sound exhaled by the dhobi, as he strikes hard clothes on the stone is admirable. Not sure if the machines wash clothes that well ! Many have installed big machines – since they wash hundreds of clothes together and save manual labour. There are also drying machines, dyeing machines etc. One person is boiling starch for application to clothes.

Sunil (name changed) clad in his underwear is a handsome young boy manually washing clothes. He says he is from UP and his entire family has gone to village. He, born and brought up on Mumbai, doesn’t like it much back in village and stays back. His naukar is on leave today and therefore he is washing himself. He puts white clothes separate in a tank with chemical. He has washed them meticulously with good soap application and hard hitting on stone with a वूश वूश. Coloured clothes are washed separate. Other days, he collects laundry from across. Clothes from far off areas of Mumbai reach this Dhobi Ghat. Sunil collects clothes directly from homes. His neighbour, who is washing in a machine collects from laundries.

The clothes are washed in the morning. Afternoon they are put up for drying. In rains, they use drying machines – ( those who don’t have their drying machines use others’ machines). Work doesn’t stop in Mumbai.

The children go to nearby schools. Many people bath near their small houses. There is a public toilet, that they use. Such a closed congested space will not provide the leisure of open defecation, any way 🙂

Overall, dhobi ghat is a good representation of Mumbai spirit – cosmopolitan, hard working, skillful, niched.

Dharavi : hot bed for learning and development


Some of you may have visited Dharavi, and know most of what i am going to say here 🙂 For me, two hours spent in Dharavi (Reality tours conducts a guided tour here) was time well spent. Balaji, a young boy from Dharavi, who has now picked up English fairly well over the last five years, guided us. His NGO found his ‘navigation skills’ through Dharavi extremely good and he was therefore the preferred choice as a guide for tourists. English, he picked up as a necessity, just like Dharavikars pick up various skills, for survival.

Dharavi, Balaji said, is not typically a slum, since many people do have some rights on land there. He recounts how his grandfather along with his cousin came more than fifty years ago to this place from Tamil Nadu – which was marshy and swampy. They first grew some trees here and then brought some land under cultivation – to claim right over it. That is how settlements began over this land by different communities. Over a hundred communities/ linguistic groups are inhabiting, what is called Dharavi now. These include Gujaratis, Marathis, Tamilians, Muslim community and many more – each staying in their own small settlement within Dharavi. Occupationally and linguistically, they are unique, and derive comfort from living with their own people. Typically, kumbhars are from Gujarat, papadwallas from Maharashtra, and phoolwalalas from Tamil. There seems no conflict within these groups – Dharavi cannot grow further now : this two square km odd area bound by two railway lines on either side, Dadar at one end and marshy area on the fourth. There may have been some conflicts earlier over land : now every inch of Dharavi seems to have been taken and so there is no competition.

What keeps Dharavians/ Dharavikars tied to this place ? The first thing perhaps is community. As people from villages come to Mumbai, they like to have the same community feeling – this security is invaluable lest a small village person gets lost in the fast pace of this Metro. He is willing to suffer all inconveniences – provided he has the satisfaction of his children playing with their cousins, overlooked by family and extended family; the satisfaction of having his own people around in case of any problem.

The second pull factor is housing. Having a place, a shelter, a roof over head is the most basic human necessity. Even a small place works. Places so small – less than 100 sq feet – accomodate families/ joint families. This house may have a tap inside where ladies can take bath – gents can bath outside in the street. The space available is as much as was occupied when no one else claimed it. So it varies, and a few managed to have slightly larger areas : still however, small in terms of a planned house. Of course, there are no – there cannot be any – planning norms here. Narrow alleys lead from end to end, at some places two people cannot cross simultaneously. Overhanging wires are testament to a complex grit. A few houses now have built second/ third storeys and rent it out at even 20,000 per month. The current market rate here may be between Rs 15 lakh to Rs 20 lakh for a 100 square foot. People from different economic background – up to even lower middle class – stay here. A house is not just a house. It is a work place. In most houses there are home-run businesses – tailoring, scrap, papad making, pottery and many more. Close to 10,000 professions may be found in this 2 square km area. For lack of any norms, the vibrant economy that this living space/work space provides may be difficult to find outside. Combined with the community feeling, this keeps local people from trying to move out.

Dharavi is also a place that skills you – more than any formal Skill India programme ! There is no compulsion on child labour etc – however, parents want, and children/ youth understand what will fetch them a livelihood. Opportunity to learn is at home itself or in neighbourhood. Besides the residential area, there is an ‘industrial’ area of Dharavi running different trades. They have all learnt on the job – and learnt well. There is scrap business, with scrap reaching Dharavi from bangarwallas from across Mumbai and even outside Mumbai. The skills vary from segregation to processing – and are specialised. From plastic, to aluminium to clothes, everything comes here – and is moulded back into raw material/end products. There are furnaces and machines. Balaji says there have been no major accidents over past many years. There is leather factory, churning out finished products. One shop here tells me, they source wallets for the brand ‘Woodland’. The quality of the product is indeed good, and matches that found in a prime branded shop. Someone has helped create a brand here as well – it is called ‘Dharavi’. The leather shop owner, who has offers to sell his products abroad, says many ask him, why does he have a shop in such dirty premise – why doesn’t he take a shop outside that he can surely afford. He says, they don’t know the ‘power of a slum’.



The annual turnover of these informal businesses is estimated to be more than US $ 1 billion per year. These factories may not have permissions – and in that sense they are ‘illegal’ ( or economical). One may ponder how is legality to be defined. A city grows faster than its rules and planning. It grows haphazard may be , but is efficient ( ? Pareto optimal). More people in Dharavi are skilled and employed than in any place outside. If Dharavi has done that (mostly) on its own, Dharavi has much to guide rules and planning and skill development- than vice versa ! For is not the raison d’aitre of planners/ State : skilling people and tackling unemployment ?

There are some other pull factors for this area. Dharavi is very well connected – there are six railway stations at walking distance. The area is surrounded by commercial area and provides close opportunities for work/ business. The Lokmanya Tilak hospital is adjacent, and anyone in emergency can be taken there in no time. Vegetables/fruits sold on Dharavi road (by Dharavians, for all) are cheaper.

What more do Dharavians ask for ? The space for many people is (obviously) inadequate and better housing is required. The response to formal projects perhaps has not been very enthusiastic. Some say that getting the same area outside is definitely not worth it – as it breaks the dynamic ecosystem mentioned above without much benefit. What kind of in-situ upgradation is possible, needs to be discussed with Dharavians and a model acceptable to them, and practical for all evolved. There is water supply and electricity. There are schools too – like other schools, these too need attention for improvement in infrastructure and quality of education. Sanitation is another area for improvement. Around 30-40% Dharavians – especially employees in industrial area – may be daefecating in the open. For residential areas, public toilets require maintenance. People are aware of need for better sanitation, and if engaged, sustainable solutions can emerge. The skills of people here may be further polished through government programmes. Those programmes do not seem to have penetrated significantly. Many NGOs also claimed to work for Dharavians, but barring a few, most have either failed to make impact or have a reputation of making their own profit.

Dharavi has cinemas, showing slightly old popular movies at Rs 20. There are no other prominent sources of entertainment – except small open spaces where children can play. There are religious places of all sects.

Seeing a slum from outside, one may have different perceptions – pity on how people stay in such squalor, or perception that many people in slums are goondas or land grabbers indulging in crime or anti-social activities. From inside, a slum is a place, perhaps more humane than a non-slum; a place where people’s grit and community living makes them resilient and tolerant of worse civic conditions, living with a dream of a better tomorrow, a dream we all live with. Their hunger for development, their skills and resilience is an unparallel asset. Ignore it, at your own peril.

The Juhu Chowpatty – Life and Ivory towers




Though not recommended much – even by travel sites ( which recommend the Gateway of India, the Taj, the Oval Grounds and the VT Station, perhaps, due to overcrowding and gandgi – having some ( ok, enough !) time at my hand, i visited the Juhu Chowpatty. Shivaji Maharaj’s statue ( looked like not too old erection) naturally welcomed visitors. There were waves, and waves of happiness. Sea takes off everything – every worry. People, perhaps those from outside, immerse. Boys and men – irrespective of their physiques – shamelessly flaunting their hairy paunches; women drenching with their clothes on.

As one walks on away from Juhu chowpatty towards Koliwada, a few things catch the eye. One is the amazing use and respect of space, that Mumbaikars only can have. The entire 1 km odd beach is divided into cricket pitches – each one claiming only as much as required, and not more. Balls go to others’ fields and returned effortlessly. Beach is everyone’s. There are no jhagdas, again perhaps a Mumbaikar’s trait / survival necessity. All those playing there – youth from neighbourhoods, belong to the same fraternity. Without even knowing each other perhaps, one senses a bond within them. Where longitudinal space becomes limited, they can play perpendicular : with football team playing perpendicular to the cricket team.

In addition to the efficient use of space and bonhomie, there is talent. Many batsmen are effortlessly hitting balls deep towards the sea. The view reminds of government-school children playing band scene in the movie ‘Hindi medium’ and the dialogue – इन को मौक़ा मिले तो यह छत फाड़ के ऊपर निकल जाएँगे । ( Given a chance they would do wonders).

The young vibrant crowd is however, mostly boys. The women representation is either small girls accompanying their parents, or wives accompanying their families. When will our beaches and public spaces become fully accessible to young women ( though Mumbai perhaps provides this accessibility much more than any other city).

Abutting this vibrant crowd on the landward side are ivory towers : big buildings, hotels ( with names such as bay view). People from amongst the vibrant crowd, who make it big in life stay there. And look back on the crowd and place as ‘dirty’. Simultaneously, there seems to be an unparallel desire and competition for people in this crowd to climb up the steep walls and be part of the ‘ivory tower’. The Mumbai dream.

As one walks further ahead, one hits Koliwada. The sea seems to have meticulously washed back here, what belonged to land : the garbage. It is a site, we won’t like to show to anyone. While Clean up Mumbai van is at Juhu chowpatty, and that area does seem clean – despite sea of people visiting there every day, and some of them still littering – Swachh Bharat in urban areas must begin with slums and areas like Koliwada. There is no carpet to sweep this garbage under. Sea washes it all back.

Mountain biking in the Coorg


Never been a sportsman, but always keen to try new things, i booked up for a two-hour mountain biking in Coorg. The counter ego started its work, mentioning, why exert so much, rather have a morning walk with family etc. Thankfully, Nidhi advised that i must go. A family with a good mix of togetherness and personal space rocks 🙂 Later, when Fawaaz, my instructor mentioned how bad it felt when some people would just not turn up after booking, saying they over-slept, thus wasting their time, felt relieved not being one of the culprits 🙂

Jo sowat hai, so khowat hai. Seeing beautiful lotuses in the morning was one – another was decision that I would take kids zip lining, since Fawwaz, who became a friend recommended it highly.

Fawwaz belongs to a small town from Kerala. His friends who went to the Middle East are better off now, with cars and all, he says. But he has stuck to his passion, and as long as he has his bike (bicycle), he says he is happy. How many of us are able to do what we love ? When I share with him that my job is to tell people not to shit outside, he says, how lucky I am to serve the country and also earn a living ! He also encourages me to go ahead with my plan to take a sabattical and work with the people for a year.

Being with a male person is comfortable for those of us who did not learn since childhood to keep hormones aside while befriending a woman. Blessed are those who can maintain gender neutrality in making friends !

Fawwaz told me i did quite well – not stopping uphill, not fiddling while changing gears and not asking – aur kitna raasta bacha hai – he said i flowed with the flow 🙂 The secret was not high level of fitness – it was listening to the instructions he gave before we started – change gear before you pedal uphill, apply both brakes simultaneously and gently, apply brakes before you go downhill. Just these. Basics. On fitness too, i guess regular low key walk/jog kept me afloat : on this thanks to Ram/Lakshman, my kids- have to jog three km without panting or at least without letting them know that i am panting, so that they keep pace ! The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war !

Listening was easy – incentive was learning a new skill. Siddharth Shirole, a budding politician shared few days back that he gifts himself a new skill every birthday – bringing out his music album, or learning a new language or writing a book.

Biking per se was fun. It was no ordinary city biking with up/down slopes : we moved through kutcha rocky roads, with Fawwaz pointing out untouched evergreen forest on the sides, agriculture fields, with cows and calves either ignoring or getting scared, pond side, where I demonstrated triggering tools ( of no-shit) to Fawwaz, guava orchards, in front of a tribal temple , past an old man carrying a dead snake on his stick, besides a sacred grove – community forests where no one encroaches and Coorg special local cricket event – a healthy and happier entertainment instead of the city mall culture.

All in all, the bike tour was full of aha moments; endorphin flushes were a bonus.



Case Studies and Sanitation : Practices and Principles

A discussion is on in the SuSanA ( Sustainability Sanitation Alliance) regarding nature and utility of case studies for sanitation. The subject assumes importance in the context of establishment of RALUs ( Rapid Action Learning Units) in rural sanitation sector – although they are in the nascent stage and need much strengthening. Another relevant background is establishment of a Knowledge Management portal ‘Swachha Sangraha’ by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation – http://www.swachhsangraha.in – wherein States/districts now have a facility to upload their good practices (as a video, document, ppt).

Our views/comments are shaped by our beliefs. Research is a domain of extracting information least adulterated by beliefs.

Since sanitation is a lot about engaging leaders and getting them interested in the subject, an attribute of a good case study is that it should be inspiring. I should see it and feel – ‘wow! it is possible. He/she has done it, and therefore, i too can do it.’ Given the numerous challenges in the sanitation sector, hope is refreshing.

A case study outlining a structural change with wider ramifictions is another ‘replicable’ good study. Shift of programme from the PHED ( Public Health Engineering Department) to RDD/PR ( Rural Development Department/ Panchayati Raj Department) is a case in point. The shift signifies a perspective change in looking at sanitation as an issue to be sorted out with people’s engagement, rather than as an engineering/ contractor driven largesse.

So what is a best practice/ case study. Any study that captures a principle leading to achievement of desirable and sustainable outcomes at scale in a short period of time. Capturing of principle may be more important than capturing a practice. In a district, the administration does ODF Olympics – group sports events in which only open defecation free villages can participate ; the sports events are deliberately conducted in villages that are non ODF : to make them jealous; by not allowing them to participate. In the instant case, the practice is conduct of sports event. But what are the underlying principle(s) ? The underlying principles include
*leadership and initiative by a champion
*fostering collective spirit – only group sports were chosen to further gel the ODF community and enhance their team spirit required for sustainabilty.
*positive discrimination and enhancing competition, by disallowing non-ODF villages from participating
*flexibility to the district to take decisions
*productive engagement of village-level motivators in people engagement activities (and not bureaucratic work alone!)

Another case in point could be conduct of Nirmal Utsavs by a district : events in ODF villages, where all the government departments converge to sort out issues of that village on priority. Here too, the practice is a mere conduct of event, the principle, in addition to the principles enlisted above, is positive incentivisation of ODF villages.

Mere conduct of these events, unaccompanied by the principles underlying the conduct of this practice, may not lead to adequate results. As a corollary, a case study that captures and evaluates principles arising out of a practice is a good case study.

Principles should be disseminated, practices can be innovated.

In addition to disseminating good principles, principles that have not yielded results may also be understood and disseminated so that they are avoided. A case in point could be ‘construction of toilets without people’s engagement’.

The phrase ‘In India, many pilots have been successful, but few are replicated’ has to be qualified by the practice-principle framework. Principles are almost like natural truths – Sun rises in the East – and not likely to be incorrect. If the case studies however, fail to capture, reiterate and emphasise them, and focus only on the practices, which are nothing but mere examples of a good principle, the point in the case study may be missed.

Needless to say, replicability, dissemination and understanding of principles will also depend on mode of delivery of a case study. A case study, unless discussed, is dead.

Last but not the least, the effectiveness of a case study will depend on who is discussing this case study. The ones most enviably placed to make Bharat Swachh are the officials in key positions – Collectors, CEO, Zilla Panchayats, Municipal Commissioners. The case studies must reach them. In real time. In other words, the system of independent evaluation and feedback should be institutionalised within the system. This – timely and actionable feedback to implementers – was aimed to be sought through the RALU and the Swachha Sangraha platform. Multiplicity of discussion forums may have some merits – it brings in more stakeholders : however, these may not have the desirable impact if crux of these discussions do not reach the implementers for quick action.


No one knows when he came. He came and intruded. With love. He was weak, small; and as usual us humans treated him with contempt and stones. Ram, Lakshman my children became friendly with him; as they are with all the community dogs here. Since he jumped a lot, they named him Jumpy. Amongst stones and contempt, Jumpy found loving angels, Ram Lakshman and their gang. He became their companion. Out of our home, whether in play field or to the colony shop or anywhere, he would always accompany them.

People began to consider him a nuisance. Since many hated him, he seemed to become fearful and would bark at strangers some times. This behaviour of his earned him more enemies, and thanks to WhatsApp, everyone started exaggerating stories of his terror. I became known and friendly to him much later: earlier i would just bank on the good will of Ram Lakshman so that he didn’t bother me. But his love was so profound that he would not leave us anytime. Taking my pet dog for walk became difficult because he would linger around. The colony people began to shout at us and our children, saying ‘अपना कुत्ता बाँध के रखो ‘. There were threats to beat the hell out of him. There were few dog lovers in the colony, too, one of whom (perhaps rightly) said ‘i find some humans here in the colony perhaps much more dangerous than Jumpy! ‘.

We got him sterilised, thinking that would reduce his aggression. May be, it did. May be it would be wrong to call it aggression. Dogs are territorial, and Jumpy had his territory. Very small one. Around our Block K. We also began to feed him, thinking that a fed dog would be less ‘disturbing’ to others. That brought him up on the 4th floor where we live. Visitors to our home – phoolwalla, doodhwalla, dhobin, telephonewalla – he would bark at them. They began to threaten quitting/ express unhappiness. Simultaneously, there were news of Jumpy being beaten, stoned off and on by his haters. Even our neighbours complained. Every now and then, there was barking outside our home, and we feared the awful – that Jumpy bit someone. Although perhaps he never did bite. He just barked to may be protect himself.

Amongst this background, i called up MCD Vet doctor to take his advice. He mentioned that in case Jumpy is a real nuisance, a reputed NGO can take him to a dog shelter. I remembered in Australia there are no stray dogs because they would be kept in dog shelters. I checked about the dog shelter conditions – i was assured that dogs are not kept caged there; however they have to live and adjust with other dogs there : different dogs take different time to adjust. They are well fed, and are provided medical care if required. It was also mentioned that though safe and comfortable, the dog there may not be as happy as the colony where he is.

This made me feel uncomfortable and i returned the NGO van that had come to pick him up. Just could not give him. He had so much love for us in his eyes – more than our pet dog. He would now walk with me and pet dog even outside his territory – staying close to me, as if telling other dogs : i’m theirs, i’m safe, don’t mess with me.

The next day Jumpy ate up the sofa set of neighbours that they had kept outside for repair. They again pleaded to send him off. Complaints, news of someone having hit him, people shouting at Ram Lakshman continued.

I called the NGO Van again. Earlier we sent off Jumpy in the same van for steriliaation. He recognised the neck loop, the van. We thought we would feed him and take him in a leash to the van. Ram, my 10 year old, who has a strange amazing bond with animals felt uncomfortable. A few days ago only he had remarked, “Papa, जब कोई बच्चे मुझे कुत्ता बोलते हैं तो i tell them, thanks for the compliment. Papa, i really thing dogs are more amazing than humans”. We gave Jumpy bone to eat. After that we put him a collar and leash and with another chicken stick in hand, lured him close to the van. He became suspicious and wanted to run. His neck collar came off and he was free. He could have run – if he runs, no one can catch him. But he stayed, looked around, came to me. He trusted me. I again put a collar around his neck, and handed him to the van.

Ram wept for an hour. I am sad. The doodhwalla, dhobin, guards would all be happy. May be, Jumpy would be better there – in one sense – at least he would not be hit there. But he would also miss this place. I am not sure if he will trust me again. Or may be, if we go to meet him, he will again wag his tail and jump lovingly on us. Afterall, he is not a human.

Mesmerising Sachin : Trust, Transparency and Team-work for Swachh Bharat

When i learnt Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar, the legend, and Brand Ambassador of Swachh Bharat, was interacting with some champion Collectors ( doing brilliant work in sanitation) from across India, sensing that there would be limited slots, i expressed willingness to stay out. This was not allowed, and I ended up listening to the Master, mesmerised. Those twenty minutes will remain etched on our memories for long; importantly he touched our hearts.
True to his leadership mettle, he started off by complimenting the champion Collectors saying that while he, or a formula one racer would get noticed whenever they went on the field, IAS officers like the champions were doing selfless job. ‘You may not get noticed’, he said, ‘but the satisfaction you would get from within is priceless and cannot be bought in the market.’
Recounting the value of trust, transparency and team work for any project, he shared his experience as to how he and Rahul Dravid, on field, gave each other hints by holding the bat either in left or right hand to indicate the ball swing direction of Chris Cairns ! Challenges are there, he said, but so are the solutions. Team game taught him valuable lessons: sacrifice, collective planning, discipline, understanding others’ point of view, and executing the plan together.
The challenges disappear, he said the moment you are working from heart. Drawing lesson from his life, he said cricket for him is not a profession, it is his life. It started from his heart. When he practiced, he never looked at his watch. And ‘one hour extra’ , when everyone else left made him the Sachin. He chased his dream of playing for India and winning the World Cup, and stopped not till he was there.
On a query as to what kept him inspired and motivated for so long, he said he remembered always the advice of his father : ‘ there will be people who will criticise you,  pull you  down. Do not react to them. Ignore the naysayers. Ignore those who are saying the glass is half empty: Look at the glass half full and continue to work for filling the remaining half. Stay focused. When you reach there, these very people will hold you in awe’. And that is how Sachin pulled himself up from bad days : from days when people were calling him ‘Endulkar’. He worked more, practiced more and resurged.
How did he live up to the expectations of a billion plus people ? How does Swachh Bharat change the behaviour and attitudes of a billion plus people ? He says : ‘ we don’t have to change billion plus people; we have to assure ourselves that a billion plus people are fighting for Swachh Bharat !’ And then it will be possible. He appreciated the fact that children in a district simultaneously wrote letters to their parents, requesting them to construct toilets for them, mentioning that information in a system does not not necessarily have to flow from top to bottom: we often learn from below and from our children.
Sharing another experience of how his friend in Canada even disposed off waste from a glacier meticulously, saying, how can I dirty my country, he asked, ‘if you are littering or spitting, how can you claim simultaneously, you are proud of India, that you love India ? You cannot do both !’
He motivated all of us with his messages. ‘Never stop trying’ : your words will echo in our ears for long, Sachin !

Beyond swachhta, with women empowerment : Mandi Vikas Abhiyaan

Sandeep Kadam, DC Mandi, again demonstrates the criticality of district leadership for change. A district already declared open defecation free, Sandeep has not only continued the momentum, but reenergised it by activating mahila mandals (women groups) across his district. Hailing from Maharashtra, he says the philosophy behind this approach is the teaching of Mahatma Phule – ‘ teach a woman, and you reform a family’.

He activated the  mahila mandals through a well planned strategy. Saksharta samiti, the literacy campaign NGO, partners with district administration. They have vikas doots ( development messengers) at the gram panchayat level. Sandeep effected some changes in this grass-root manpower to nominate the best people, many from those active in the mahila mandals. He then conceived a voluntary competitive programme for the district, called the Mandi Vikas Abhiyaan (MVA), comprising five components – Swachhta, shiksha samvad ( education dialogue), disaster management, meri ladli ( save the girl child) and micro-insurance. The district and block coordinators (also from Saksharta samiti) were first trained in these five components. These coordinators in turn trained and motivated the mahila mandals, and appealed to them to participate in these activities. The task was to work once a week – four times a month – collectively for the village. A competitive environment was generated in the district, with more and more mahila mandals looking at it as opportunity for developmental work and recognition. The latter was executed through an annual convention wherein the best mahila mandals ( 54 last year) were decorated last year at the hands of the Chief Minister.
The mahila mandals took up various activities under these components. In Swachhta, the mahila mandals played important part in completing the last leg of ODF campaign by convincing the remaining people not to go out and to construct their toilets. Thereafter, they worked on solid and liquid waste management. They learnt and dug soak pits, for individual houses, as well as at common places. They cleaned the school water tanks and public water tanks ( this activity was triggered when Sandeep saw in a whatsapp picture sent from field the poor quality of water in a school water tank and appealed to all the mahila mandals to take it up), swept the roads, made dust bins out of waste cement bags/ old bins and convinced people to keep one in each house. They also took campaigns with the help of children in removing bhang ( cannabis), a narcotic plant. They cleaned up public water sources, many of which had fallen in disuse. The philosophy behind this campaign, Sandeep says, is that ‘one who cleans, does not dirties’. Once the mahila mandals were cleaning the village themselves, their children and other relatives thought twice before littering, since they realised their own mother would be cleaning that ! When the Prime Minister gave a pledge of swachhta, and appealed to the nation to give some time voluntarily for swachhta, Sandeep deliberated on how this could be made systematic and sustainable – and came up with Mandi Vikas Abhyaan concept.
(Clockwise 1. Common pit for green waste 2. Household dustbin 3. Soak-pit for animal urine 4. Soak pit for kitchen/bath water)
For meri ladli campaign, the mahila mandals began celebrating the birth of a girl child, organising community feast (earlier done only for birth of a son) and even DJs ! They would collectively celebrate girls birthdays as well, giving them small gifts. So many songs have been composed around birth of a girl child replacing the word ‘boy’ with ‘girl’. The mahila mandals also became the focal point for receiving training as first responders during any disaster. This was done through the Red Cross : the difference is that due to active mahila mandals, Sandeep has been able to scale this up across the district.
A feedback that parents were not fully involved in the child’s education initiated ‘shiksha samvad‘ activities, wherein the mahila mandals visited the schools and discussed childrens’ education with the teachers. They also started ‘basta kholo‘ ( open bag) campaign to open the bags and books of their children to just see and put their signature/ thumb impression – even if some were illiterate they could sense progress or otherwise of their child. These interactions also alerted them to some other issues – alcohol/ drug abuse amongst children – and they could work to try nipping it in the bud. The mahila mandals also promoted LIC’s micro insurance amongst villagers, making their villages ‘Beema grams’.
The coming out of women for social activities was not without challenges. But their determination was complete. With strong support from the block/ district administration, they are taking up new and innovative activities as well.
In order to spread their good work, to cross share their activities, and to motivate them, the mahila mandals were given the phone numbers of the local journalists. The journalists began to get so many phones from these ladies, requesting them to come and see their work. They would even get gheraoed sometime, in case they did not give adequate coverage! The mahila mandal women also learnt to click pictures of their work and whatsapp it ! A ‘thumbs up’ sign from the DC Saheb, or his team was enough to keep them encouraged !
With the convergence of various programmes, resources also got converged. For e.g. the IEC funds for different schemes was converged, since various activities were handled at the same platform. The district administration also converged other development schemes to those villages that perforned best in swachhta indicators. This has been included in the Central policy now – prioritisation of all Centrally Sponsored Schemes in ODF villages. Various competitions – mahila mandal  puraskar, swachh gram, unnat gram – are announced, and villages/groups rewarded collectively.
Besides the specific programmatic benefits, the MVA is leading to women empowerment. Women, associated with cleanliness, began to question various cultural practices – such as disallowing them during menstrual period in the kitchen/ making them stay in the animal house. They questioned this was unhygienic and put their health at risk. In another village, during cleaning of the village, women were surprised to find large number of alcohol bottles, and have since collectively taken up with the men-folk control on drinking. They are also actively involving themselves and villagers in programmes like bhang plant removal, knowing fully well the damage that this can do to the children and youth. They are getting a platform to speak and gaining confidence to voice their concerns.
The positive environment in the villages generated through mahila mandals has touched panchayats as well. The panchayats, though a little anxious, that district administration is closing up to mahila mandals, has no option but to join the good work. Some of the mahila mandal members are contesting elections successfully. The model is being picked up by neighbouring districts – State may well take it up and replicate across the State.
The picking up of programme by the village women ensures sustainability.
(Left: Products made from reused waste; Top right: Women cleaning village street; Below right: Women selling non degradable waste to kabadi)
Although the approach is community engagement, as part of it, there may also be a merit in training and involving self help groups ( SHGs) more closely in Swachh Bharat. Two, the involvement of communities through any focal point – such as Swachh Bharat – creates a positive virtuous cycle of people’s participation in their own development. This may also throw up interesting model of media involvement by putting people and media closer together – and people vociferous and empowered. The mahila mandal model also provides for convergence of different developmental programmes at the village level – and takes the programme from ODF to Swachhta, and even beyond. Of course, role of Government remains critical in scaling up and supporting the local initiatives.
As the women beat all odds, and take up seemingly impossible tasks – sacrificing whatever little spare time they had; a thought does come to mind – what about men ? Is sanitation a women responsibility alone ?

People make systems, and systems people : Notes from Swachh Madhya Pradesh campaign


Ajit Tiwari is Deputy Commissioner, Swachh Bharat Mission, Madhya Pradesh. Years ago, prior to launch of Swachh Bharat, he was working as BDO of Budhni block in Sehore district, and was exposed to CLTS training. He says everyday he went to the training thinking that he would attend that day only if he found it useful- and ended up attending all five days. To convince himself of the practicality of approach, he started ‘triggering’ techniques in villages himself. Village after village began to become ODF in his district. He became a proponent of community approach, and believes in it till date. A grass-root practitioner like him in the State level team is good. At the State level, he is working with the same passion, implementing now the system of directly transferring incentive to the person’s account, and propagating construction by the individuals rather than the Gram Panchayat.
Ajit Tiwari
Ajit Tiwari
Harda is a district likely to be declared open defecation free ( ODF) anytime soon (tomorrow ! on the Independence Day). A district where Ganesh Mishra, ex CEO ZP and now ADM started the campaign ‘Operation Malyudhha’ did not suffer upon his transfer ( owing to ‘predecessor-successor’ syndrome) upon his transfer as ADM in the same district – his successor is his wife, Shanmuga Priya. Shanmuga not only took off from where Ganesh left, but took it to the logical end of ODF district through meticulous planning, focus on processes and innovations. She also got full support from revenue administration – Collector Srikant and his team.
Ganesh says that five things are required for a district becoming ODF. The first is the leadership, and mindset of the leadership. Once the Collector/ CEO Zilla Panchayat are themselves motivated, driven and have clarity of approach of community engagement and behaviour change, they can make this campaign successful. Fortunately, in Madhya Pradesh, both Collectors and CEOs are involved in Swachh Bharat, that acts as a double booster. Some other States where CEOs are in charge of development – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka – Collectors are still not involved closely. There are reasons for this since developmental role is with CEOs, however Swachh Bharat may require ‘ all hands on deck’ approach.
The second thing Ganesh emphasises is capacity building. Given that this programme is very different from most Government programmes; it does not require people’s involvement in a superficial sense – it is a people’s programme. The subtle differences between informing people and involving people needs to be understood. This requires regular trainings by experts, refresher training and trainings of all possible stakeholders, so that there is a common understanding of issues by everyone.
The third thing Ganesh says is – “do it before you judge it“. He believes that once you get into it, and do it rightly, it will be addictive. Fourthly, he talks of an “iterative strategy – doing, improving”. The district first worked with preraks who were governmental staff. Then they realised that these preraks could not give enough time to swachhta work due to their other duties, or did not have the right skill/aptitude required for this kind of work. Therefore, they moved to selecting preraks from amongst villagers themselves. And finally, he recommends – ” complete it before fatigue sets in“. He mentions that the work requires lot of time, energy, passion and working in top gear continuously. This degree of intense work can sustain for few months to a year may be. And therefore, one may rather finish it within that time.
Innovations in districts
A lot of innovations are happening at the district level. Sudam Khade, Collector Sehore, and a swachhta champion has devised and implemented a ‘tippy-tap’ across all the anganwadis in his district. He is now planning to do it in all the schools as well. ‘Tippy-tap’ is a simple device, where a can with a hole can be moved by a foot-driven stick to pour water for hand washing. Ganesh is also advocating disability/ elderly friendly toilets through simple, yet effective innovations, like encouraging a small hook in the toilet to help stand up from squatting position.
Harda district has been a laboratory of innovations. The district has given ideas like ‘gift a toilet on Rakshabandhan festival’ by brothers to sisters; ODF Olympics – sports for villagers from ODF villages; meticulous procedure for selection of preraks ( grass-root motivators) involving skill testing, group discussion and physical test; policy of no expenditure on IEC till the village actually becomes ODF; and a very strict verification procedure. The district has taken efforts to engage the Zilla Panchayat members proactively. Orienting them to the cause of ODF, some members felt agitated on the repeated use of the word ‘gun‘ ( faeces). Ganesh, who was facilitating the orientation deftly handled the situation, saying – ‘ ok, we will not use the word ‘gun‘ – we will call it ‘jalebi‘ – and used the word ‘jalebi‘ for faeces thereafter in the workshop. This had even more impact; he said to all that if they were all agitated about the situation, his purpose was solved. They had been triggered.
Scaling up
On scaling up, Madhya Pradesh is working now. Work is happening well in around ten districts (in Central and Southern Madhya Pradesh mainly,  some in Western Madhya Pradesh). The challenge is to spread this fire to the remaining districts. This requires further prioritisation of sanitation in the overall development agenda of the State. A talisman is the frequency with which the Chief Minister/ Chief Secretary of a State reviews Collectors/ CEOs on this programme; and the order of priority of sanitation in the agenda for such reviews.
Electronic transfer of funds to households
Madhya Pradesh has traditionally had sarpanches constructing the toilets for people. This was leading to some problems – delay in construction, uniform construction, people not using due to behavioural reason but blaming sarpanch for poor construction, actual poor construction by the sarpanch, theft of material procured collectively etc. The ‘preraks’ ( motivators) recruited for motivation were also primarily getting involved into facilitating actual construction of toilets. Since this task was part of prerak’s responsibilty, behaviour change work ( triggering) was being inordinately hurried.
The State had been working on behaviour change for few years and felt that there was some demand generation; and that there would be a set of people who can construct toilets on their own, provided the system of providing them incentive can be streamlined. They did the following.
Firstly, they made public ( on web site, and through village staff) the list of people who were ‘eligible’ to get incentive. Secondly, they nominated a block level supervisory officer for a village or few villages and made this information public. They also disseminated information about toilet technology to people. Thirdly, they started operating a single bank account at the State level and withdrew funds that were lying in different panchayats – the amont was a whopping 3000 million. Fourthly, they took help of Punjab National Bank to put in place system of direct electronic transfer of fund to each household. This system functions like this. Any person who knows his name is in the eligible list can start constructing his toilet. After his toilet is completed, he raises demand online, after verifying his account number, for incentive grant ( he can take help of village secretary for this). Once this demand is placed, the block supervisory person is to visit his house, upload the picture and accept or reject his claim, within seven days. This decision is also public, and if wrong, the household can contest the decision. Once the supervisory person has made online entry of acceptance of claim, the BDO processes online payment to the account of that person. The digital signatures of all BDOs available with MGNREGA, as also the accounts of people ( many done during Jandhan yojana), were captured in this system. When the system was to be introduced there was apprehension that pace of work would slow down and people would not come forward. However, this has not been the case and within one month of launch of the system, 61000 people have placed demand.
The system is at variance with the commumity approach, wherein collective behavioural change is triggered in the entire community. The understanding in MP is that while  work of behaviour change may continue, those who are ready to construct, their process may be facilitated. Once this is done, how the  remaining, who are usually the poorest and most vulnerable, will be covered remains to be seen. Unless that is done, health benefits may be suboptimal. A field officer remarks : ‘It is early days, and how useful this system will turn out to be, remains to be seen”.
Capacity building 
On software activities, the State has taken help of Feedback Foundation ( supported by UNICEF); but more importantly the State is building in-house capacity for training in community approaches. The State has trained around 4500 preraks in community approaches across the State. 22 of these, who were found to be best, have been engaged by the State for training, and follow ups. The master trainers amongst these 22 are paid Rs 2500 per day, and the rest Rs 1500 per day. These 22 people were earlier supported by WaterAid; now the State has directly entered into contract with them. The preraks in districts are non-governmental local people, selected by the districts, looking at their aptitude, capability etc. Harda adopted a wonderful system of recruiting preraks through advertisement, group discussion, interview, physical test and also got a bond filled from them after they were trained. Many other districts and the State seem to have learned from them and adopted similar systems. The system of paying incentives to these preraks and monitoring their work is also being put in place. The SBM G guidines provides an indicative manpower structure at the State, district, block levels – while some States have this manpower in place, some don’t. And this needs a close review and cajoling.
Big things 
ODF and sanitation are finally a priority issue in the country. For districts, States and certainly for the country, Swachhta is not something that is paid only a lip service and is ignored. A written communication on Swachh Bharat from the Centre is taken seriously; it is not ‘one of the many’ letters.
Secondly, a BDO, proudly remarked that he was called ‘gun waale saheb‘ ( shit -officer !) : reminded me of my days in Jalna, Maharashtra, where I was known by a similar name – ‘hagandari che CEO” ( CEO of shit!)
Thirdly, the concept of ODF is ensuring inclusion and coverage of the most vulnerable and difficult-to-cover categories. For e.g. districts are addressing sanitation issues of migrant labourers in appropriate ways. It is also being understood that ODF achievement is a one-time activity – that will have to be sustained on its own by the people and villages ( having been ingrained in the habits and culture); and without further dependence on the government. Sudam Khade picked up idea of non partition of house unless the new house has a toilet – and instructed all his officials accordingly.
Fourthly, the programme is reaching the stage where all answers are not sought necessarily from government – there are discussions, and many answers/ solutions arise from the people/ villages themselves.
Unsung heroes
The campaign is producing many grass-root champions/ heroes, work/contribution of many of whom may not even get known at the higher levels ( although the people for whom they are working will never forget them !). These comprise sarpanches, other natural leaders from villages, preraks ( motivators) and grass root functionaries ( could be village secretaries, anganwadi workers etc.) A prerak shared how a person had a toilet but the pit was open. He did not use the toilet but defecated around the toilet only. Despite convincing, neither did he use the toilet, nor cover the pit. The prerak and his team then themselves covered the pit, and also began to cover his shit with soil everyday – whereupon he felt ashamed and started using the toilet. Another prerak recalled how he was posted in a tribal village 70 km away from his home – and how he would even sometimes spend night hungry – but he stuck till the village became ODF. His village got the championship trophy in ODF olympics and he proudly shared that event. A girl prerak was so triggered that she actually stood at the site of open defecation and prevented villagers from the act. Many people would even fight with her, but she continued her work till the village became ODF. A sarpanch, who after making his own village ODF moved from village to village spreading the message, mentioned that he broke his functional septic tank toilet and constructed a twin-pit one, just to convince his village that a septic tank toilet is not better than a twin-pit. In MP rural areas, women bear  purdah (veil). 
(Clockwise: 1. Prerak tying rakhi to me; 2. Sarpanches in caps from ODF villages now motivate other villages; 3. Sudam Khade, Collector, Sehore, felicitating woman in yellow saree who belongs to yellow gang – they do kirtan every morning to dissuade open defecators; 4. sarpanch who broke his septic tank toilet to make a twin-pit one)
For Swachh Bharat, these women with veils, who do not otherwise come in the public, are active in the nigrani samitis ( early morning monitoring committees) and go out every morning to check that no one is defecating in the open.
(Nigrani Samiti women)
Mangesh, a highly educated person left his job in the metro city to work at grass-root levels. He associated with the NGO Samarthan that us doing great work in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh. His organisation plays three critical roles – one they explain the governmental guideline, circular etc. in simple language to the people. Thus they explain to the people the programme, how it is to be achieved and the approach/ philosophy behind it in their own language. Secondly, they also bring back critical feedback to the district administration, so that they can further make necessary changes in the implementation strategy. Thirdly, they also suggest critical innovations,  arising from their working in the field to the district administration for considering scaling up.
Mangesh, Samarthan
Anganwadis are the place where swachhta habits are to be first inculcated. Presence of toilets in anganwadis are therefore a must. Sadly, there is yet no dedicated funding for these toilets. Many enterprising Collectors address this problem by shifting anganwadis in schools or in such private buildings where there is a toilet; however the problem needs a permanent solution through dedicated funding. It is an asset much more important than a road or a drain.
On the implementation side, within the broad understanding of “what works” each village/district/State may have to continuously evaluate, revaluate, respond and reform. The Swachhta campaign not only gets toilets built and reduces gandgi, it also challenges many social-power norms. It may not be wrong to look at Swachh Bharat as an important intervention for social cohesion – ODF bringing together people from all castes and communities in a village around a single desirable collective goal.
When Madhya Pradesh started ‘Maryada Abhyaan’, portraying sanitation as essential to protect women dignity, some organisations objected to the campaign depicting women going out and men looking at them. The State Government brought the prerak women working for the campaign face-to-face with those objecting; and the preraks made a strong case for continuing the campaign, confirming that women do face harassment when they go out, and therefore sanitation campaign rightly raises this issue. Leaving aside the merits of this for a while, what cannot be denied is that a) issues can no longer be swept under the carpet b) looking at sanitation as a behavioural issue necessitates touching and challenging ‘social norm’ chords and c) if they lead to purging of retrograde norms, sanitation would achieve much beyond cleanliness.
Much is said about defunct toilets. Surprisingly, the districts that are performing well ( champions) hardly bring up this issue. These districts seem to be addressing this issue at their level in a much more pragmatic and economic way. They profile these people, swap to include them in the eligible list by excluding other non genuine beneficiaries, or those who can construct on their own, arrange for local materials through village support, panchayat funds, some philanthropists etc to the extent required to make the toilet functional ( and no a necessary 12,000 rupees), bring in innovations – like gifting toilet to someone on Rakhi festival etc. and not look up to Government for funds for these. Besides the resource availability part, there is a certain merit in these local solutions, since this a) fosters collective spirit b) promotes innovation; but most importantly c) makes the process self-sustainable. In case we look up for funds for defunct toilets now, what guarantee is there that we will not be asking again for funds for toilets that may become defunct few years later ?
A programme of this magnitude needs dedicated people. The most important are the grass-root motivators. Harda/ MP has good examples of takung great care in recruiting them. Their experience is that government staff is not able to give much time, given their other duties, and while they can be in supportive role, the motivators should be non-governmental people, from villages. There seems to be some merit in this argument. The second thing is proper training and skilling of these motivators. A five day training module in community approaches is minimal. Ganesh shared these trainings were repeatedly carried out for different stakeholders, and also refresher trainings. They converted the five day module into a one day module for the government staff – anganwadi workers, teachers etc; while the longer module was for the swachh bharat motivators and for core team. Besides the grass root motivators, training is given to all grass root government functionaries, who play a supportive role.
As the hard core IPC triggeringw ork continues in villages, periodic campaigns are helpful to reenergise the momentum. Various festivals in India provide opportunity for this. The sense of district pride is also being appropriately used for the programme – with many districts branding their campaigns – ‘Good morning Sehore’, ‘Operation Malyudhha’ etc. There is political involvement; although programme can get a boost if they put more energies into it. Amongst various micro- village techniques, early morning follow-ups remain a very effective tool in pulling village out of open defecation; and in changing the perspective from toilet construction to ODF. Technology myths and preference for septic tanks remain – demonstration of construction of toilet in a village to villagers seems to be a useful way to dispel myths and clarify doubts about toilet construction. Involvement and contribution of women to the Swachh Bharat remains paramount.
Taking a cue from Harda, it may not be a bad idea to organise sports events for ODF villages. The prerak from Harda who worked in a tribal district shared with immense happiness how their village won the trophy. Sports can rejuvenate the team spirit, as well as the competitive  spirit – both boosters for the Swachhta campaign.
On the policy side, there is a definite merit in incentivising those villages that perform well in sanitation outcomes ( not just outputs!) The new World Bank project will do precisely that – assess performance of States against the outcomes of reduction in open defecation ( measured by access, usage and safety of technology),  sustainability of ODF status and solid/liquid waste management, assessed through an independent national annual rural sanitation survey on a sample basis. The Union budget has also announced prioritisation of all Centrally Sponsored Schemes in ODF villages – the States may also consider prioritising their schemes, as far as possible, in these villages.
The ODF villages have to be positively discriminated, ODF status should become aspirational, and be suitably rewarded. Rewards may not necessarily be monetary. In MP, a Kakaji, dared to stop Chief Minister’s vehicle and ask him why he was touring those villages which were still dirty, and not his village, where they had taken so much effort to make it ODF. The Chief Minister, in his next trip to the district, visited 27 ODF villages; and almost always attends programme of declaration of a Block as ODF. The Harda administration ( and many more) provide a VIP direct entry and access to villagers from ODF villages.
(Priority to ODF villagers to meet district officials)