In rural India, extremes of coercion are being used to encourage toilet use writes Liz Chatterjee in the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog. Her provocative post has drawn comments from the likes of Robert Chambers, Rose George, Ned Breslin and Erik Harvey.
A spectacular rise in toilets usage from 20% to nearly 100% in a semi-rural district in Karnataka, realised by India’s national Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), Ms Chatterjee discovered, was founded on community-led coercion.
Previous efforts to build toilets in the area failed to ensure actual use. They were often used to store firewood or chickens while families continued to defecate outdoors.
But some of the techniques used to persuade reluctant community members to construct toilets were unorthodox to say the least.
At its mildest, this meant squads of teachers and youths, who patrolled the fields and blew whistles when they spotted people defecating. Schoolchildren whose families did not have toilets were humiliated in the classroom. Men followed women – and vice versa – all day, denying people the opportunity even to urinate. These strategies are the norm, not the exception, and have also been deployed in Nepal andBangladesh.
Equally common, though, were more questionable tactics. Squads threw stones at people defecating. Women were photographed and their pictures displayed publicly. The local government institution, the gram panchayat, threatened to cut off households’ water and electricity supplies until their owners had signed contracts promising to build latrines. A handful of very poor people reported that a toilet had been hastily constructed in their yards without their consent.
A local official proudly testified to the extremes of the coercion. He had personally locked up houses when people were out defecating, forcing them to come to his office and sign a contract to build a toilet before he would give them the keys. Another time, he had collected a woman’s faeces and dumped them on her kitchen table.
Chatterjee was equally shocked by some of the “sensationalist scare tactics” used in TSC educational campaigns.
These included graphic media stories on the rape-murders of women, and dramas about the dangers of child-snatching, robbery and snakebites while openly defecating (all rare in the area). In one village, a Unicef-sponsored NGO had even been showing people grotesque pictures of vast tumours and conjoined twins, suggesting they were the result of poor sanitation.
Chatterjee’s article has sparked a lively discussion, with 25 comments posted so far. In a reaction to several comments stressing that the TSC is not the same as community-led total sanitation (CLTS), the author counters that
TSC can offer insights into what scaled-up, state-sponsored CLTS-influenced programmes might look like as they’re rolled out across developing countries [and that] the TSC is undoubtedly an evolution that follows the logic of CLTS.
The incentive to use extreme coercion to force a minority of non-ODF adopters to comply seems to have been fuelled by the TSC’s financial reward scheme (Nirmal Gram Puraskar).
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Source: Liz Chatterjee, Time to acknowledge the dirty truth behind community-led sanitation, Poverty Matters Blog / The Guardian, 08 Jun 2011