A carnival like convoy of 40 brightly coloured trucks, eight buses and three cars with 500-strong crew from various organisations set off from Wardha in Maharashtra soon after Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday this year to travel for over 50 days covering six cities, five states and more than 2000km. The carnival stops included Indore and Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, Gorakpur in Uttar Pradesh and Sangod in Kota, Rajastan and the last one Bettiah in Bihar.
The journey and the fairs were selling an important message: Use soap to wash your hands and don’t defecate in the open. This unique Nirmal Bharat Yatra was conceived as a mega-event focusing on sanitation and hygiene and creating an interactive awareness-raising and advocacy platform mixed with dance, games and a bit of magic. There was teaching with entertainment. An Indian Idol kind of hand washing dance along with hand washing carom boards made it fun for the participating school children at the carnival sites.
Conceptualised by Quicksand Design Studio, a Delhi-based consultancy and WASH United, the Yatra had the support of Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, a Government of India initiative; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council of India (WSSCC), Water Aid; the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Gesellschaft for Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); Arghyam, India Water Portal; Goonj; and UNICEF.
NBY has had its objective clear. India faces a severe sanitation crisis especially when it comes to sanitation for women. According to an AC Nielsen and NGO Plan India survey, 23% of Indian girls drop out of school after they reach puberty due to poor sanitation around the schools and homes in the rural areas. More than half of all households have no toilet facilities, according to the latest census figures, a rate that has worsened in the last decade. “ The main problem lies in the lack of awareness for the need for toilets, soaps and hygiene products for women. And this is where the yatra aimed to make a difference,” said Nirat Bhatnagar of Quicksand while talking to Clean India Journal. “Now that this series of Yatra reached out to more than one lakh of people on the ground and 27 crores of people through mass media(against our expectations of 9crores ), we are planning to invent a new format for the Yatra . We want to change the mindset of the people by conveying the message that along with spending on mobile phones, you need to spend on personal hygiene as w ell. The NBY is the first in a series of Yatras that WASH United and Quicksand are planning over the next four years to help end India’s sanitation and hygiene crisis.”
At the beginning of the Yatra, Union Minister Jairam Ramesh had said that NBY was connected with the dignity of Indian women. “If we want to give dignity and security to our women and to protect the future of our children, we will have to make India an open defecation-free country.”
The Yatra was put together with the effort of dedicated volunteers from the partnering organizations. Wrote Urmila Chanam, Fellow, India Water Portal, Arghyam: At each stop, the Nirmal Bharat Yatra set up camp in a matter of two-three days time during which the Pre-Promotions Team, a convoy of two auto rickshaws did the ground work of mobilizing the community around the place by reaching out to different villages in a radius of 10-15km. The auto rickshaws decorated with colourful balloons carried the message of the Yatra into the remote villages along with the invitation to the two-day carnival.
The loudspeakers played the speech on sanitation and hygiene interchangeable with the Wash song that blares as it travels to every nook and corner of the neighborhood, “Khulle main tatti kabhi na karna, bimari phel gayi warna, tatti kachde main palte hain, kittano ke rishte daar (Do not defecate in the open, otherwise disease will spread and in this faeces grow germs that cause diseases). Tulsi, 25, magician and a part of the Pre-Promos team from the very start of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra helped in gathering villagers. He performed magic while his three other companions interacted with people urging them to end open defecation and begin washing hands with soap. The people were invited to attend the Yatra and bars of soap are gifted to them at the end. In a day, the Pre-Promo team reached out to 6-7 villages on an average.
The couple of stops of Yatra are associated with India’s independence movement to mark that India now needs to be free from poor sanitation. It was in Bettiah in Bihar, the last stop of the Yatra that Gandhiji started his non-vilolent resistance satyagraha.