Mahadalit Tola is located in the Vaishili District, in the centre of Bihar State, to the North of the River Ganges, 40km from Patna. The area is connected by Kuccha Road to nearby market areas and from there by Pukka Road to Patna. Electricity is not available in 99% of houses – it is still considered to be a luxury in these regions and the nearest public health centre is located 20km from the village. Mahadalit Tola is one of the most remote locations of Vaishili District.
There are 250 people in the community in 40 households, comprising 136 males and 144 females. The literacy rate of the area is very low and the majority of the population are dependent on small, daily wages for cleaning the toilets and drains of people residing outside their hamlet.
The community members of the proposed area are among the most socially and economically neglected classes of the Indian caste system: they are known as the ‘sweeper class’ or human scavengers and are still being treated as untouchable by those outside their community. They live in abject poverty and their vulnerability is heightened by frequent illnesses caused by a lack of clean water and sanitation.
The village did have a couple of hand pumps but sadly they did not function reliably, not were the villagers able to maintain them. Furthermore, the water they pumped was contaminated. When only one hand-pump was working it could take up to two – three hours to collect water for each family.
An important part of this project was thereby to ensure that the water quality was tested and that the community were trained on operation and maintenance of their new facilities.
Open defecation is a socially accepted practice in India and before the project, it was the only option available for most of the community. Only five households in the village owned latrines and these were ineffective – with plastic bags used to cover the structure which blow away in strong winds. Human waste was found scattered across the village attracting flies which spread diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid. Hygiene knowledge was very limited and most adolescent girls still believe the information passed to them by their grandmothers. The absence of sanitation facilities has a particular impact on women and girls, because of the lack of privacy and resulting lack of safety this affords them.
In October 2013, work began in Mahadalit Tola Village on a project to improve the water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in the village and implement a hygiene awareness programme. The project was implemented by Shree Krishna Gyan Mandir (SKGM) in partnership with Just a Drop, and kindly sponsored by Hayes and Jarvis.
The construction of the toilet complex has been completed and it has been handed over to the community in an inaugural function held on 30th October 2014. The toilet facilities are fully functional and being used by community members. The formation of a committee for maintenance and safely of the toilet complex has been completed, alongside the creation of sanitation and hygiene awareness.
The local community has been involved in each stage of the project. Initially a Water and Sanitation committee was formed, who were responsible for identifying and selecting the site for the latrine construction. Their role was to ensure the construction went smoothly, create awareness in the community and learn how to operate and maintain the facility. Now, it is to promote the good upkeep of the facilities and ensure that regular water quality testing takes place.
The community were very enthusiastic about the project – nothing like this has ever happened in their hamlet before, despite promises made by political leaders. This project has given them hope.
The project was initially delayed due to parliamentary elections. The Election Commission does not permit any village development work to take place during a two month period, until the election is over. Once this was complete, the project could fully commence, with construction beginning on 7th May 2014.
The most challenging aspect of this project has been facilitating behaviour change, especially amongst the men, many of whom did not recognise the risks of open defecation.
Training workshops were run using the following methods:
- Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), which allows the community to analyse their own sanitation profile, including the extent of open defecation and the spread of faecal-oral contamination that affects every one of them.
- Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which involves facilitating a process to inspire and empower rural communities to stop open defecation. The CLTS approach ignites a sense of disgust and shame among the community. They collectively realise the terrible impact of open defecation: that they quite literally will be ingesting one another’s faeces so long as open defecation continues, by means of flies. The flies land on the faeces and then land on foodstuff. This realisation mobilises them into initiating collective action to improve the sanitation situation in the community.
- Why it is necessary to use a toilet rather than defecating in the open
- The importance of hand washing.
They were carried out by:
- A SKGM representative, Mr Sanjeev Kumar, a Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) expert with over 15 years’ experience
- Mr Shashibhushan Pandey, a CLTS and WASH expert
- Mr Ashok Kumar, a social worker who worked with the community to create awareness on WASH issues.
All except a few of the male members of the community are now using the latrines and the general levels of awareness of good sanitation and hygiene practice and safe drinking water have vastly improved among the community.
Focus group discussions on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) with adolescent girls and women has resulted in increased level of awareness of the importance of good hygiene practice. However, the most visible impact of the project has been the increased aspirations of women in the community. Before this project, these women felt they had lost their dignity; they were insecure and vulnerable as they had no choice but to defecate in the open. They never imagined they would have a toilet facility of their own.
Now they are aiming for a piped water supply into their homes.
Project Officer Visit
Just a Drop’s project officer Jim Baldwin visited the community on the 21st September 2014. He says,
“We went first to Pratapland, which is the main village and Gram Panchayat HQ that includes the small hamlet of Mahadalit Tola (‘Tola’ meaning ‘hamlet’ in Hindi). The Mahadalits are the lowest kind of Dalit (low caste) and are supposed to be supported by the Government of Bihar. This often does not happen as they are often hidden within a larger area of Gram Panchayat.
They do not own land but farm on land and pay for the privilege. Around the village is a lot of rice growing at the moment and stands of banana. The water table is high at the tail end of the monsoon.
This project will bring a dramatic change to the village and already women are using the handpump for drinking water as it is convenient for them. Once they start using the toilets it will make a tremendous difference to their lives. The toilet block is actually being produced to a high standard that I have only seen before in another similar unit by SKGM in a school in Patna. It is way ahead of most community toilets I have seen and this will influence the women to maintain it well.
At first there will be about 80 users, mainly women, who seemed desperate to have access to the toilet. They used to walk about 1.5km to the area they use for open defecation.
Women have formed the Water User Committee and I met two of them. They were dressed in their best saris and told me they had decided to start collecting 10 rupees per month (approx. 12p) from villagers, in order to set up a fund for future maintenance costs”.
Suman was married at 15 and now, at the age of 20, has three boys.
She said that before her marriage she lived in another village and her family had a toilet. She came to this village and there were no toilets and this upset her. She was desperate for the toilet to be commissioned and hates going outside. She said that all women were waiting to use the toilet for bathing as well. “I asked all the women who came what their priority was. They said, toilets were at number 1 and bathing at number 2. They said going out was very difficult for them, particularly in the rainy season”.