A Crappy Affair

World toilet day
The UN has declared Nov.19th as the world Toilet day.
We have lived and grown up with toilets, of course during our younger days when we travelled we never used public toilets since we were worried about hygiene with the advent of pay toilets those are taken care off too.
The impact of open defection never really struck in, after all at school we were thought that one method of seed dispersion was undigested seeds in the faecal matter.
At the medical school the impact of water borne disease and zoonosis kind of seeped in.
Last year when I went with the Banega Swach Bharat drive of NDTV I realized the greater impact of it, there was a man who wanted toilets constructed because he wife died when she slipped as she went out the fields. Gone were the days people looked at costing, the issue that the public presented was know how, they knew they needed toilets, they wanted the toilets too, the issue was how would the sewage handle it self they did not want it let loose into the fields and rivers as it would cause contamination. The knowledge partners organized by NDTV addressed this fundamental issue.
maybe if a year back somebody told me that the international toilet day was linked with equality, dignity and gender violence and sanitation I would have rolled with laughter. But the exposure a year ago and working with the migrant workers have really opened my eyes to something larger.
I heard stories of villagers who want to send their daughters to school but the fact that there were no toilets and the trees had been cut off to widen the roads made them aware of the desperate need for toilets and trees.
On the flip side were elders who were psychologically comfortable doing their daily rituals in the open environment so they had bowel constriction when they had to use the toilets. Interestingly the resource person suggested roofless toilets and planting of trees, or keeping flower pots.
When we are dealing with the migrant labour and informal work force things take a different turn. In a supermarket or a mall there are staff toilets and toilets for the public, but in a village market, or construction site we have neither.
Some village markets have now come up with pay toilets but construction sites are still open. The workers have nowhere to ease themselves through their 10hrs of working. Neither do they have access to potable water unless they are carrying it.
It is easy to say that India as a nation has no sense of hygiene/dignity/whatever, to a certain extent yes, but if we do not provide the toilets where on earth are the people to go, they have to ease themselves so they will go into the shrubs if they are available or go in the open.
An year back I met a company that dealt with portable toilets, when we asked them why were these not used in places where temporary toilets were required, we were told
• Their initial costing is high
• They were western toilets and Indians were not comfortable using it.
By the way the company has come up with an Indian model this year. The waste was dealt with chemically so there was no odour emitted.
The sanitation maintenance people on the Indian railway have another thing to say. Yes, the train toilets are public places. The Indian railway has recently shifted to bio-cleansing toilet units, they put up signage’s to tell people not to throw their diapers, the sanitary towels and tissues down the toilet , yet people do so, particularly in the first class section which is supposed to occupied by the more educated aware citizens as opposed to the plebiscites of the sleeper class.
The international toilet day would be a great point to start an awareness drive, and toilet training—yes I use it deliberately because we need to learn how to use a public toilet, keep it clean and conserve resources.

Trail Of Swach Bharat

DSCN8399It was two in the afternoon, and Karthik called from Indiblogger, would I be interested in being part of the Swach Bharat Bus, an NDTV endeavour along with dettol. I was all set to no, when my daughters said, go mama so off I went like a mongoose who has to know.

with Nanda tai the sarpanch
with Nanda tai the sarpanch

I did wonder what it was all about. I asked Karthik, who was also not very clear. We decided to play it by the ear.

Karthik told me I was to join the NDTV crew from Jalgaon- Buldhana-Akola-Washim. Now the adventure had begun… I knew Jalgaon but rest of the location could be in Mars.—more about this later in finding the trail. Then came the ticket booking, followed by packing—more about this in hitting the trail.

community at Buldhana
community at Buldhana

I finally did make it to the trail on the 28th morning joining the crew at Buldhana.

The chai shop at the chowk

As I was going through this process of finding out, and handling things there were things that were whizzing through me,

  • What was all this about?
  • What was NDTV doing here?
  • Okay we talk about Swacha Bharat but where does the garbage go?
  • Who would fund the projects
community at Bhudala
community at Bhudala

When I did arrive at Buldhana, I met Manoj and Chandramohan. We were to leave for the location right away.


the drummer with the message

Was at a village at the outskirts of Budlhana. We had to reach there between 7.30 and 8 so that we could meet the villagers before they left for work.  The sarpanch of the village being a woman, there was quite a turnout of women at the event. The knowledge partner started off, asking the villagers about their routine.

The clean village
The clean village at Bhudala

He slowly drew the attention of the villagers to the flies, leading them on to open defecation not once did he point out that you are wrong he just lead them on till they said it for themselves.

he map marked with Poop
The map with points where people defecate.

He then asked the men, about the ghunghat pratha, or covering the woman’s face, though this was a little irrelevant in Maharashtra where ghunghat is not much of issue. Eventually he led them to a space of individual dignity and need for privacy along with maintenance of community hygiene.

When it came to what stopped them from building the toilets, the common problem cited were availability of funds, and space.

The Knowledge partner then brought out a plan where the cost of building the toilet was about 5000/- rupees, the issue was who would fund it. It was interesting to hear the Serpent saying, you build it, and give me the bill, the government gives you money to build the toilet but you will get the money only when I see a functional toilet.

The block research officer from the government Ms.Aruna Wali was saying that this village was proactive as it had a woman sarpanch, they had 50% of the target already met, and they were working at the remaining 50%.


We wound up from Buldana residency and moved to a village called Butala, the villagers were up and about, and it was quite amusing to hear a daughter-in-law send her mother-in-law back to drape a better sari as they were going to be seen on TV.

The village here had a 25% Hindu population, 25% Muslim population 25% Buddhist population and then 25% other—as told to me by a villager, now what was mean by other I am clueless.

Ameen bhai the more vocal villager told us proudly that the even the village girls, went to school till standard ten, after which if they were good they would go to the town for further studies. But they were quite upset that there were no toilets at school and quite a few houses did not have them either.

Sayed chacha a village elder says, the older villagers are quite complacent about it all, but he had recently lost his wife who slipped when she went for her daily routine in the morning and hurt herself, since then he has made it his mission.

The Knowledge partner Vinod Bhai, came up with an interesting option here, since the village was dealing with apathy from part of its citizens, he made the village children draw a map. Then he got people to mark all the landmarks, like the temple, panchayat, school, the Bhimachowk. After which he got them mark the fields. Finally he asked every one without a toilet to mark the place where they eased themselves in the morning. Suddenly the neat well drawn map looked dirty.

The Block development officer here was sharing how people these days, choose a location where the mobile range was best available.

I still could not figure out where the waste went.


dahihandi 1 (1)After spending the night at Akola we went to a village called Dahihandi. Here was the first time; the villagers were quite antagonistic towards us there were no woman participants. Yet the knowledge partner did his job with all patience and producer tried to smoothen things out.  When we came into the interactive stage, we realized the cause for anger. The villagers had deposited money three years back to build toilets, and to the day neither did they know where the money went, nor have they seen the toilets. The Knowledge partner helped gave them ways to trouble shoot their issue.

The enclosed toilet
The enclosed toilet

Finally I did ask vinodji the knowledge partner about where did the waste go, he shared it with me:

The crew:

The NDTV crew was compact and resourceful. There was Producer Chandramohan,  Hindi graduate, who did a course on naturopathy, worked in the pharma industry and now found his calling with NDTV.

The blue print
The blue print

Manoj Kumar from the NDTV administration who handled the logistics and the ironed the nitty gritty details

The design of the chamber
The design of the chamber

Vinod kumar Pathak, a MSW, and health awareness worker from the knowledge partners called Feedback Foundation.  He would relentlessly talk about sanitation and hygiene tells people how to wash their hands.

The two pit pathway
The two pit pathway

Sanjay Koushik the cameraman, with assistant Mohit Kumar jha. Then the drivers Balbirji and his partner who were driving us around. Balbirji, being a rural man shared his extensive knowledge of plants and trees.

There was Thomas and his partner who handled the Swach Bharat bus.


laying of the drainpipe to the pit
laying of the drainpipe to the pit

The biggest challenge was getting the community before they went to work. Then overcoming their scepticism. Vinodji kept saying the only key is persistence. Then there were actual challenges when work began

The working.

The constructed pt
The constructed pt
  • An enclosed, area with a commode would be built. It would be provided with a door, and ventilation on top.
  • The commode would be Indian style.
  • The commode would flush the refuse, into a chamber, which was bifurcated
  • The bifurcated sewage pipe would open into two different pits, each of about 5 feet. These would be closed on top with a removable lid.
  • Of the two pits, one would be kept closed so no refuse enters it,
  • The other would functional, the pit would get filled in about 6months now this would be closed and the second pit would be opened up.
  • Six months later the refuse in the first pit would have totally dried out. This is now taken out. And rendered functional while the second pit stays closed.

I was quite curious as to what is done with the residue gathered from the first pit. I was told the dried residue, is collected on contract that is the toilet owner gets about Rs.5000/- pit. And the dry residue gets sold as manure at the rate of  Rs.500/kilo. It is actually referred to as kala sona.

As these toilets were being constructed the biggest challenge that they face was hitting a water table before 5 ft. The alternate then would be to get to the depth of the water table and build up the balance height over the ground.

washim to goa
washim to goa

Finding the trail.

Karthik said jalgaon, well I had heard about it, so it was quite okay. Then he called up to say Buldhana, I didn’t know where this was, though Akola was a name I had heard. I did what every true seeker does take refuge in Google Mata. Finding the “Tao” eventually I did manage to find a travel agent in Pune, who booked me to Buldhana and back from Washim. Interestingly every time I type Washim Google corrected it to Vashi and sent me to Thane railway station!

We were not sure what would be living conditions; obviously since people lived there they had to be something.

the BRO of Bhudula village
the BRO of Bhudula village

Then came getting ready to hit the trail. I was quite tempted to Google packing for a road trip, well since this was more common sense, with no access to washing, I used the simplest formula, and I don’t own jeans, so it meant one set of clothing for a day and one for an emergency. Basic toiletry and emergency medication like, brufen, novomox, avomin, mosquito repellent and of sanitary towels.

I also carried wet wipes in case of emergency, torch and candles.

NDTV (1)at the end of three days, I realized, I always listened to NDTV  with prejudice, I thought them news vultures and celebrity hunters, but- here they were doing genuine work, trying to create a change by simply facilitating it. Supporting the public who wanted a change but had reached a point of disillusionment.

I am glad I did this trail.