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Inspired by a neighbouring village, a group of masons take the lead to end open defecation in Baria

Story

By Rahul Thekdi, Chandrika Patnaik

20 July 2020

From having no toilets and bathing rooms in any of the 74 homes to becoming open-defecation free, Baria village in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district has come a long way. A collective action by a group of masons and the village committee is ensuring all households in Baria have access to safe sanitation and a 24X7 water supply.

Laxman Moharana, mason, overseeing construction of the overhead water tank in Baria village, Mayurbhanj district.

Photograph by Deepak Mohanty

A typical early morning for farmers in Mayurbhanj’s Baria village started by guarding their fields, not from wild animals or thieves, but from the people in their own village. Until 2017, none of the 74 households in the village had a toilet in their homes, forcing people to go to the nearby forest or to the fields to relieve themselves.

Just a kilometre away from Baria is the village of Biunria. Village authorities in Biunria had decided early-on to switch to the piped water system. By the end of 2016, all households in Biurnia had constructed toilets and bathrooms (TBRs).

In 2015, a few masons from Baria went to Biunria to work on an overhead water tank. They could clearly see the benefits of the piped water system to the community. Back home in Baria, the problem of open-defecation was getting out of hand as farmers did not want the fields to be used for open-defecation. The village authorities knew that they had to take immediate steps.

The group of masons approached the village authorities, who in turn reached out to Gram Vikas. In particular, Laxman Moharana, impressed by the benefits of the system to the community, was insistent that Baria adopt the system.

When Gram Vikas initially met the Baria village community, most of them were unwilling to build TBRs. They could not afford it and felt that it was better to defecate in the open. Gram Vikas started conducting meetings in each of the three hamlets to make the community aware about the benefits of constructing toilets and bathing rooms in their homes, and of using safe water. But the resistance from the community continued as they felt the cost was beyond their means.

A few years ago, the Village Water & Sanitation Committee (VWSC) had decided to make use of the land around the village to contribute to the community fund for village development work. They had planted Eucalyptus trees. When the need for TBR construction came up, the committee felled a number of trees, which were sold in the market to raise ₹2 lakh of money. A part of this money was used to construct toilets for the families who were the poorest and could not make any financial contribution. Gram Vikas mobilised construction materials for TBRs upto the roof level and contributed the extra ₹5,000 per family needed against the subsidy entitled to the village under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). 

Toilet and bathing room constructed for every household in Baria village to enable a healthy living standard. Photograph by Deepak Mohanty.

By the end of 2019, all households in the village had toilets and bathrooms. Currently, supported by charity: water, work is underway to construct an overhead water tank and lay the pipes, which will provide water to every house in the village. Laxman, having worked on the PWS in Biurnia earlier is using his skills to do the same in his village Baria, “I am thrilled and proud that my village is doing this.”

The VWSC member, Khagapati Patra, who spearheaded the campaign to bring safe sanitation to all the houses is thankful, “I am thankful to the Biunria village community They showed us the way and today, we are getting our own TBRs and piped water supply to all houses.”  Khagapati, along with VWSC members, have converted the room under the overhead water tank into a community room with an attached bathroom for guests visiting the village.

Maheshwar Mahakud, who had to drive people away from his fields every morning, is eagerly waiting for the water supply system to be completed. “I look forward to the day when I can walk around my field without the stench of urine and faeces.”

Overhead water tank work in progress in Baria village.

Photograph by Deepak Mohanty

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Deepak Mohanty did the data collection from the field. Priya Pillai edited the story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rahul Thekdi is a communication intern and Chandrika Pattnaik is a Junior Manager at Gram Vikas.

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