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Positive news. Happy Stories. Unsung Heroes.

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    From taking matters into their own hands to creating unique and innovative solutions for India's sanitation problems, these unsung heroes are leading India to a healthier and cleaner future. Here are five amazing initiatives that are quietly but determinedly improving sanitation in India. Poor sanitation facilities, open defecation and related health issues in rural as well as urban India is not news anymore. Here are five heroes who have been trying to address these issues in a quiet but commendable way -

    1. Namita Banka - Taking the 'Bioloo' to every corner of the country

    [caption id="attachment_16442" align="aligncenter" width="2106"]Namita Banka, founder of Banka Bioloo Namita Banka, founder of Banka Bioloo[/caption] Namita Banka and her team at Banka Bioloo is working hard to ensure that an eco-friendly toilet can be a reality in most homes in India so that the two major issues facing the country - poor sanitation and open defecation can be effectively combated. The team is constructing bio-toilets for homes, public places, community areas, schools and institutions; bio-tanks for Indian Railways and other clients; bio-digesters (the bacterial culture) for bio-toilets and bio-tanks; and upgrading septic tanks to bio-tanks. They also service bio-toilets, and not only this, they have entered into annual maintenance and operations contracts (AMOC) with Railway zones and other corporate bodies to keep the bio-toilets in working condition. Cheers to the team which is making nature's call more nature-friendly. Know more about Banka Bioloo's work here.

    2. Eram Scientific - Creating India's first unmanned e-toilet

    [caption id="attachment_16444" align="aligncenter" width="800"]"Smart" toilet by Eram Scientific Solutions pvt. ltd. "Smart" toilet by Eram Scientific Solutions pvt. ltd.[/caption] This unique toilet design by Eram Scientific Solutions Pvt. Ltd. is solving rural India's sanitation problem in a more technology-friendly way. These toilets work on a sensor-based technology. The self-cleaning and water conservation mechanism in the toilet makes it unique. The user has to insert a coin to open the door and its sensor-based light system is automatically turned on once you enter the toilet. It also directs the user with audio commands. These "smart" toilets are programmed to flush 1.5 litre of water after three minutes of usage and 4.5 litres if the usage is longer. The toilet also washes the platform by itself after every five or 10 persons use the toilet. That sure solves the big issue of cleanliness and hygiene. Read more about this technology here.

    3. Atul Bhide - The one man army

    [caption id="attachment_16441" align="aligncenter" width="453"]Atul Bhide Atul Bhide[/caption] Atul Bhide from Mumbai is leading rural India to a healthier future, one toilet at a time. When he saw the poor sanitation condition in Maharashtra, he went ahead and constructed 10 toilets from funds of Rotary Club Thane Hill where he held president's position. The team then constructed 200 toilets in Solgav village of Maharshtra. Each toilet is equipped with two soak-pits with special honey-comb designed brick work inside. They are odour-free, and do not require a separate drainage system. Know more about his amazing work here.

    4. Swapnil Chaturvedi - The "Poop" guy

    [caption id="attachment_16445" align="aligncenter" width="659"]Swapnil CHaturvedi a.k.a the "Poop Guy" Swapnil CHaturvedi a.k.a the "Poop Guy"[/caption] Meet Swapnil Chaturvedi, a.k.a The Poop Guy. When his daughter complained about lack of clean accessible toilets in school, he started Samagra with an objective of providing awesome sanitation services to the urban poor. He calls himself the "chief toilet cleaner" and says that even if there are toilets, people will not use them if they aren't clean. Thanks to his efforts, the urban poor, especially teenage girls, live a more dignified and convenient life. Know more about his awesome work here.

    5. Dr. Mapuskar and his amazing toilets in rural India

    [caption id="attachment_16443" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Dr, Mapuskar Dr, Mapuskar[/caption] Dr. Mapuskar has been working in the field of rural sanitation for the last 50 years. His first efforts to build 10 toilets failed as those toilets collapsed in the monsoon. But he did not give up and began promoting a better technology and design of bio-gas toilets developed by Appasaheb Patwardhan. Today, there are 75 such bio-gas toilets functioning in the village, apart from 1000s of toilets in the villages which are now open defecation free. Over the next 5 years, Dr. Mapuskar modified the original design and developed the Malprabha bio-gas toilet. Know more about his work here. Isn't it inspiring? The change that one person or a small group can make! Three cheers to these heroes who went ahead and dirtied their hands to clean India.

    Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

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    From wi-fi enabled railway stations to outsourcing of cleaning staff, the Ministry of Railways has big plans to transform railway stations. Here are six steps proposed by the Ministry to make railway stations as clean as Airports and Five-Star Hotels. What do you think? One thing we all complain about while travelling in India is cleanliness. Be it bus stands or railway stations, the condition is appalling. But with such a huge population and limited resources, is it really possible to make railway stations as clean as airports? Well, the Ministry of Railways thinks it is. The current Railway Minister of India Suresh Prabhu has proposed a detailed plan to make these train stations more welcoming. Here is how the ministry plans to do it -

    1. Officers to adopt one railway station each

    [caption id="attachment_16934" align="aligncenter" width="1600"]Photo credit: Balablitz/Wikipedia. Photo credit: Balablitz/Wikipedia.[/caption] Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu proposed an interesting solution by asking officials working in the Railway Department to adopt one railway station each in order to ensure proper cleanliness. Around 700 railway stations will be part of this programme where individual officers will adopt a station to take care of its cleaning and maintenance. The stations have been chosen according to the significant movement of the trains. We indeed look forward to seeing how the officials transform their stations.

    2. Cleanliness of 50 major railway stations to be outsourced

    [caption id="attachment_16930" align="aligncenter" width="858"]Photo Credits: Metasur/Wikipedia Photo Credits: Metasur/Wikipedia[/caption] The increasing complaints about lack of cleanliness have made the Railways seek external help for the upkeep of its stations. The ministry will hire private agencies to keep the stations, platforms, parking areas, approach road, buildings and trains clean and hygienic. The agency will also be responsible for garbage picking, segregation of waste, pest control and disinfection. The staff will be provided uniform and other necessary gear. Also, the current government staff will be reassigned to the locations where privatization has not been planned so there are more hands to help there. The stations selected for integrated cleaning contract are- Nasik Road, Solapur, Jalgaon, Howrah, Sealdah, Bhagalpur, Patna, Mughalsarai, Gaya, Vishakapatnam, Bhubaneswar, Puri, New Delhi, Delhi, Varanasi, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Allahabad, Kanpur, Jhansi, Gorakhpur, Lucknow Jn, Kathgodam, Rangiya, New Bongaigaon, Kishanganj, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Chennai Central, Egmore, Trivandrum Central, Secunderabad, Vijayawada, Tirupati, Kharagpur, Tatanagar, Ranchi, Raipur, Bilaspur, Durg, Hospet, Vasco-Da-Gama, Belgaum, Mumbai Central Main, Bandra Terminus, Vadodara, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Kota.

    3. Learning from five star hotels

    [caption id="attachment_16933" align="aligncenter" width="640"]A first class compartment of a train. Photo credit: Satyakibanerjee / Wikipedia. A first class compartment of a train. Photo credit: Satyakibanerjee / Wikipedia.[/caption] In order to get the desired results, the ministry has asked officials who are in charge of railway stations to visit well maintained public places like Airports, Hospitals and Five-Star hotels. Regular supervision will be done and each area will be attended by staff the entire day according to their shifts. The inspection will be very rigorous and will even check the foot marks of the passengers on the ground. Though some officials have second thoughts about such an extensive cleanliness drive which might not be feasible at places which sees lakhs of visitors every day, it will be interesting to see how the initiative pans out. CCTV cameras will be used to keep track of all the activities at the station.

    4. Replacing and cleaning the flooring, walls, etc.

    [caption id="attachment_16929" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Photo Credits: KALX999/Wikipedia Photo Credits: KALX999/Wikipedia[/caption] The broken surfaces of the station will be replaced for easy cleaning. Steam cleaners would be used to remove stains from all smooth surfaces such as floors, walls, wash-basins, urinals etc. Bio-enzyme products will be used to kill odour in the urinals and on the tracks.

    5. Enabling wi-fi

    railway wifi In a bid to create technology-friendly premises, the Railways has targeted to provide wi-fi facilities to 400 “A1” and “A” category railway stations. Bangalore station was the first to get wi-fi in the country. The ministry launched free wi-fi services in Delhi on December 4. The facility will be free of cost for the initial 30 minutes. After that you can buy browsing time through your credit card or through the Wi-fi desk at the station.  The facility is provided by Rail Tel - a railways PSU providing telecom infrastructure. Mumbai will be the next city to avail this facility.

    6. No eateries at the platform

    [caption id="attachment_16932" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Photo credits: Abhishek727/ Wikipedia Photo credits: Abhishek727/ Wikipedia[/caption] The food stalls create a huge amount of waste at railway stations. Hence, Prabhu has also proposed to ban cooking at the railway stations and shifting out of commercial stalls and eateries to keep the platform safe and clean. While this will certainly put a lot of small vendors out of n business and inconvenience passengers in terms of food options, it might be the need of the hour to bring things under control. Read the entire press release by the ministry here.  We look forward to the successful implementation of the plan and hope to see the stations as clean as airports and five star hotels!

    Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

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    Here is the tale of one ASHA worker, Reesa Maurya, who not only practiced proper sanitation in her own house but also enabled the entire village to construct toilets. Thanks to her intervention and awareness, 25 households in her village in UP have constructed toilets already. Read more. There are many qualities that distinguish Reesa Maurya, a resident of Jagdishpur Gram Panchayat in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh. She is a natural leader, a committed government healthcare provider and a crusader for the cause of sanitation in a state that, as per Census 2011, has shown a relatively low progress in terms of coverage – only 22 per cent households have access to a latrine. In this excerpt from Gender Issues in Water and Sanitation Programmes – Lessons from India, published by Sage Publication, read all about how the humble health worker transformed herself into a celebrated sanitation role model. Jagdishpur Gram Panchayat (village) of block Karanjakala is in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh, India. Situated on the main road to Jaunpur, this village had a population of 779 inhabitants in 2011. Most families are engaged in commercial agriculture, growing vegetables and selling them to the urban areas of Jaunpur and are living above poverty line. … Jagdishpur Gram Panchayat has an agrarian setup, and it was a general practice to use fields for defecation. No one thought of it as a problem.

    Reesa Maurya, being educated, got the chance to work as an ASHA. As part of her work, she got a chance to come in contact with women and discuss health issues as well as social issues.

    [caption id="attachment_19588" align="aligncenter" width="720"]A toilet in every home in the rural areas can be a great boon for women who are otherwise forced to step out at dawn or dusk to relieve themselves in the open making them vulnerable to harassment and diseases. A toilet in every home in the rural areas can be a great boon for women who are otherwise forced to step out at dawn or dusk to relieve themselves in the open making them vulnerable to harassment and diseases.[/caption] She realised that practically all the women faced the problem of going out in the field for defecation. For them it was next to hell, a sheer shameful act they had to perform every day. Ms Reesa got a chance to attend the WASH training programme, which was organised by the Panchayati Raj Department and UNICEF with the support of District Sanitation Committee of Jaunpur. This acted as a turning point for her. She came to know about TSC [Total Sanitation Campaign] and how the lack of sanitation affected the health of children.
    During the two days of training on hygiene and sanitation, I got a good understanding of the negative impacts of open defecation that has disgusting consequences and creates an unhealthy environment and expenses for health treatment,’ expresses Ms Reesa.
    In the past, I did not know the consequences of defecating in open. It was simply my habit like other neighbours in my village and we were not educated on the importance of good hygiene and technicalities of latrine construction. She made it a point that after the training she would construct a toilet at her home and she did exactly that. She motivated her husband and other family members to construct and use it. ‘I am very excited to have a latrine of my own,’ Ms Reesa said. ‘All my family members have started using the latrine. They drink safe water as well as clean the surroundings around the home.’
    Elaborating on her work, Ms Reesa adds, ‘It is really a tremendous success for my family that at last we had built a hygienic latrine. It not only protects us from diseases but also enhances my family’s social dignity. Now I think how my life has changed with just a few pieces of information. I feel very proud to have saved my child from excreta and water-borne diseases.’
    What she was doing at home, she wanted the villagers to follow. So, she started organising group meetings with the women delivering the message of sanitation and hygiene. Her efforts slowly gained momentum. The same villagers who used to laugh at her started respecting her, and she, who once thought of leaving ASHA, started enjoying the reputation of someone who is intelligent and whose views are respected.

    Her effort has resulted in construction of latrines in at least 25 households, and she is now focusing on ensuring that the latrines whenever constructed are used.

    [caption id="attachment_19594" align="aligncenter" width="600"]The new awareness has given dignity and respect to women in the villagers. The new awareness has given dignity and respect to women in the villagers.[/caption]
    Photo for representation purpose only. Courtesy:
    ‘I wanted to prevent other people in my community from getting sick. I started asking all families in my village to start constructing latrines for their use and then our village will achieve the open defecation free status and bring good health for everyone, especially our children.’ She added, ‘Now we are all using hygienic latrines, washing our hands with soap after defecating. I am committed to working against open defecation.’
    Now she is a role model for other ASHAs working in neighbouring Gram Panchayats. For Panchayati Raj Department of the district, she is a catalyst whose success is being replicated in other villages. Individual sanitation facilities have led to better access and improved personal hygiene, especially among rural women. For women and older girls, in particular, having a toilet at home meant privacy, which saved them from the dangers of going out before dawn or after dark for defecation, a practice that has serious side effects. Waiting so long to defecate leads to increased chances for urinary tract infections, chronic constipation and psychological stress. The biggest impact of the involvement of ASHAs has been that it has motivated large segments of the community to seriously ponder over the benefits of having individual sanitation facilities. [caption id="attachment_19589" align="aligncenter" width="1726"]Book Cover: Gender Issues in Water and Sanitation Programmes – Lessons from India, Edited by Aidan A. Cronin, Pradeep K. Mehta and Anjal Prakash; Published by Sage Publication. Book Cover: Gender Issues in Water and Sanitation Programmes – Lessons from India, Edited by Aidan A. Cronin, Pradeep K. Mehta and Anjal Prakash; Published by Sage Publication.[/caption] In Uttar Pradesh, ASHAs are playing a big role, along with Anganwadi workers and other community-based organisations, such as SHGs, to accelerate sanitation coverage and supporting the strategy of making the villages ODF [Open Defecation Free]. … ASHA played an important role in making the community understand that poor sanitation affects everyone, and a collective approach is required to make the community ODF. She also played a vital role in facilitating the mobilisation of communities for collective action. She emerged as a ‘natural leader’ to facilitate community engagement and empowered the community to take decisions related to sanitation and hygiene in the village. … Despite significant investments in the last 20 years, India faces daunting challenges in the area of sanitation. The need of the hour is to recognise the importance of involving more number of women, be it a worker like ASHA or Anganwadi or community-based groups, to accelerate sanitation and make a healthy rural India. These women can function as strong catalysts of social change for achieving ODF.

    There is a strong need to demonstrate convergence of resources, be it manpower such as an ASHA from Health Department or a village-level worker such as an Anganwadi worker, to make an integrated approach towards addressing the issue of sanitation and hygiene in rural India.

    [caption id="attachment_19593" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Thanks to Reesa's efforts, villagers now know the importance of toilets. Thanks to Reesa's efforts, villagers now know the importance of toilets.[/caption]
    Photo for representation purpose only
    Working in isolation may demonstrate sporadic incidences of success but it will never be able to take along all the members of the community together. The case of Reesa Maurya, an ASHA worker, clearly suggests that the issue of sanitation is very closely linked with health and if resources of health department are effectively utilised, it can demonstrate better results. ASHA is a health activist in the community whose primary responsibility is to create awareness on health and its social determinants and to mobilise the community towards local health planning and increased utilisation and accountability of the existing health services. She is essentially a promoter of good health practices in the villages.

    What Reesa Maurya has demonstrated, after intensive training programme, is something that needs to be institutionalised.

    (Excerpts from Gender Issues in Water and Sanitation Programmes – Lessons from India, Edited by Aidan A. Cronin, Pradeep K. Mehta and Anjal Prakash; Published by Sage Publication; Pages: 340; Pp: Rs 995/Hardcover)

    Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

    Written for Women’s Feature Service (WFS) and republished here in arrangement with WFS.

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    Kalavati, a 50 year old passionate woman mason went house-to-house, collected funds and constructed toilets in her village all by herself. This is her story of how her efforts brought change and improved lives in the households of Uttar Pradesh. It was early morning and the rain was coming down heavily. Braving the chilly winds and the steady downpour, Kalavati Devi, 55, a resident of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, stepped out of her home. With a brisk pace, she set out for her destination that was two bus rides and a five kilometre walk away.

    Kalavati is a mason and she is on a mission – to build toilets across all slums and lower income neighbourhoods in her city.

    [caption id="attachment_20594" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Kalavati woman changemaker With a hint of determination in her eyes, Kalavati Devi hopes to get toilets made in each and every household. “By constructing toilets I am not only ensuring a clean environment but also saving the dignity of women and girls,” she says. (Credit: Isabelle Rose Neill)[/caption] At present, the crowded Rakhi Mandi shanty is her worksite. Till around two years ago, there was not even a single toilet in the vicinity – not in homes, not in the community. Drains overflowing with sewage and faeces created highly unsanitary living conditions. Open defecation was the norm and girls and women, in particular, were extremely vulnerable to ill-health, harassment and even violent assaults. In fact, a year back, a 50-year-old woman had been raped while she had gone to relieve herself. Resorting to extreme brutality, the rapists had beaten her so badly that she ended up losing her voice. Her teenage daughter was so horrified that she left her mother to live with her married sister in another locality. Unfortunately, the incident was never reported. Taking into account the dismal situation prevailing in Rakhi Mandi, Shramik Bharti, a local non government organisation that works on sanitation issues, decided to get toilets constructed in the area with the support of WaterAid, a UK-based charity. That is how Kalavati landed up working in the neighbourhood. In fact, the hardworking, middle-aged, mother of two married girls has had a long association with Shramik Bharti, as her husband used to work as a floor cutter with them. However, Kalavati was not always the confident construction worker that she is today. Hailing from Sitapur, one of India's most backward districts, she came to Kanpur around 40 years back, as the 14-year-old bride of an 18-year-old Jairaj Singh. Being a child bride she never had the opportunity to go to school and yet she managed to run her home efficiently and bring up her two children. Times were always hard but she always had Jairaj’s support. Then, nearly two decades ago, when the family was staying at Raja ka Purwa slum, she underwent a transformation that was triggered by their filthy living condition.

    For 700 families living in the area there was not even one community toilet, which forced everyone to defecate in the open. Had someone tried to draw a picture of hell that slum would have fitted the description perfectly,” she recalls.

    [caption id="attachment_20592" align="aligncenter" width="3664"]Kalavati Devi’s transformation from a demure housewife to a confident and industrious construction worker happened about two decades back, when her family was staying in Raja Ka Purwa slum. The extremely filthy living conditions led her on the crusade to build toilets and bring about a change in the community. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS) Kalavati Devi’s transformation from a demure housewife to a confident and industrious construction worker happened about two decades back, when her family was staying in Raja Ka Purwa slum. The extremely filthy living conditions led her on the crusade to build toilets and bring about a change in the community. (Credit: Isabelle Rose Neill)[/caption] Kalavati wanted to do something for her locality and Shramik Bharti was looking for committed people like her who wanted to bring about change from within. It was Jairaj who took his wife to the NGO to talk about her plans – she had made up her mind to find out how a public toilet could be constructed in Raja ka Purwa. Recalls Ganesh Pandey, founder member of Shramik Bharti, “We were exploring work possibilities in areas that needed urgent attention when Kalavati approached us with her idea of getting a 10-20 seat public facility built in her slum.” It was a feasible project and Shramik Bharti gave her a go ahead.
    Of course, there were many challenges that came in the way. “Neither did anyone want to donate land to build the facility nor was the community willing to chip monetarily or contribute their labour at the time of construction.There were also several questions raised on the need for a toilet, the procurement of funds and the ‘real’ intentions of the NGO. Basically, people did not really feel that they were living poorly or that they needed to change for the better,” elaborates Kalavati.

    But this was Kalavati’s dream and she was prepared to go that extra mile to fulfil it. She went door-to-door speaking to families and even conducted joint meeting with the community to convince them to back her plan. In the end, her passion and infectious enthusiasm got to everyone and they came on board.

    [caption id="attachment_20035" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Kalavati Devi (right), the 55-year old resident of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, has made it her mission to build toilets across all slums and lower income neighbourhoods in her city. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS) Kalavati Devi (right), the 55-year old resident of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, has made it her mission to build toilets across all slums and lower income neighbourhoods in her city. (Credit: Isabelle Rose Neill)[/caption] Next, she approached the Commissioner of the Kanpur Municipal Corporation, to inquire about the schemes they could avail of under the urban development programme. The highly impressed officer gave her a simple plan – collect Rs 1,00,000 from the people and the Corporation would add another Rs 2,00,000. It took Rs 3,00,000 to construct a ten-seat community toilet at that time. Although she knew that gathering funds from the rickshaw pullers, domestic workers and daily wagers who stayed in Raja ka Purwa would be difficult, she took the tough task head on and even managed to get Rs 50,000 – everyone gave as much as they could from Rs 10 to a maximum of a few hundred rupees. Meanwhile, Shramik Bharti arranged for a Rs 700,000 assistance from the state government’s Non-conventional Energy Development Agency (NEDA).
    Thereafter, things began rolling quickly. Eventually, a 50-seat facility was constructed and the Municipal Corporation publicly acknowledged Kalavati’s contribution to the project. “It was in those days that I discovered I wanted to become a mason. I would supervise the procurement of material as well as the work, observe the labourers and then give my input. I realised I had a knack for construction work,” she shares. Shramik Bharti also decided to send her for proper training in toilet construction.

    I sincerely believe no other work could be as meaningful as what I am doing right now. By constructing toilets I am not only ensuring a clean environment but also saving the dignity of women and girls,” she remarks.

    [caption id="attachment_20037" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Kalavati Devi is currently working in the crowded Rakhi Mandi shanty near the railway tracks in Kanpur, which did not have even a single toilet till two years ago. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS) Kalavati Devi is currently working in the crowded Rakhi Mandi shanty near the railway tracks in Kanpur, which did not have even a single toilet till two years ago. (Credit: Isabelle Rose Neill)[/caption] However, what was her passion at one time has also become a necessity today. Since she lost her husband, Kalavati is single-handedly running her household from her construction earnings. At present, she is caring for her elder daughter, Lakshmi, and her two grandchildren who are living with her after her son-in-law’s untimely death. Kalavati has been a mason for long but how does she feel storming a chiefly male bastion? “Work cannot be segregated on the basis of gender. Work is work and each work has its own dignity,” she says, with conviction. Her working hours are long as she has not fixed any time limit. “How long I work depends on how much time a particular project needs to get completed. Sometimes we work even at night or start very early in the mornings,” she says. Incidentally, she has developed her very own sewer design and construction technique, which she feels is a good move, “I have perfected my own way of laying the sewer line – nowhere does the water gets blocked.” Always cheerful, Kalavati never tires because “I enjoy my work. It gives me immense happiness…This feeling does not let me feel tired”. And her duty doesn’t end with constructing toilets, motivating people to use them is part of her message.

    It is women like her who are the uncelebrated brand ambassadors of India’s sanitation movement.

    “I have come to Rakhi Mandi with a determination to get toilets made in each and every household. I will not move from this place till that happens. All I desire is to serve people and I hope I am able to do it till my last breath,” she concludes, her eyes welling up with emotion.

    Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

    Written by Alka Pande for Women’s Feature Service (WFS) and republished here in arrangement with WFS.

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    These women turned into masons and inspired every household to construct toilets. Today, this small village in MP is an open-defecation-free zone. Know all about the villagers' inspiring journey of change. In this an excerpt from Gender Issue in Water and Sanitation Programmes: Lesson from India, edited by Aidan A. Cronin, Pradeep K. Mehta and Anjal Prakash, and published by Sage Publications, meet Geeta Bai and other women from Ratanpura in the foothills of the Vindhyachals in Budhni block of Sehore district in Madhya Pradesh who have worked hard to ensure that their village is open defecation free, clean, and its people are no longer chronically suffering from diarrhoea, fever and other related ailments. 

    The small village of Ratanpura at the foothills of Vindhyachals in Budhni block of Sehore district in Madhya Pradesh had one toilet out of 113 households until December 2010.

    [caption id="attachment_20595" align="aligncenter" width="720"]Realizing the perils of defecating in the open, women in several villages in India are launching movements to make their village open defecation free. Realizing the perils of defecating in the open, women in several villages in India are launching movements to make their village open defecation free.[/caption] The village was unclean with an overhanging pungent smell of open excreta and flies all around. Diarrhoea, fever and other related ailments were common amongst villagers, and a large proportion of the households’ income was spent on medical treatments. Women were exposed themselves at the loss of their self-respect and dignity. The time of menstruation was further worsened with the pain of travelling long distances and difficulty in maintaining proper hygiene. Against this backdrop, the block-level functionaries, who were trained in the CLTS [Community Led Total Sanitation] approach, entered Ratanpura village with the aim to render it ODF. These functionaries were well aware of the plight of women and approached them to discuss the issue of ending open defection in their village. During a village-level meeting, women gradually opened up and started sharing their experiences: Sukhmaniya Bai, an old woman, said, ‘In the rainy season, open defecation is so challenging and risky; I have to walk so long, and often my clothes get dirty.’
    Rama, 16 years old, said, ‘It is really disgusting to go near the main road and defecate there; we have to stand-up every time someone passes by and then sit down again. Most of the time we are unable to clean ourselves properly; sometimes, young boys laugh at us.’
    The women’s own responses and experiences of open defection acted as a trigger to instigate them in taking action to change their present situation of shame, humiliation, pain and disrespect, and probe for a solution. The women reached a consensus that they, in fact, are the worst sufferers and they no longer want to continue with the same practice of having to defecate openly. After an initial discussion with women, the CLTS functionaries/facilitators also included the men in the triggering session. During these sessions, Geeta Bai emerged as a natural leader. She said, ‘When we bring a daughter-in-law in our house, then we use “parda” (veil covering the face) to save her dignity, but the very next day we are sending her outside the house to defecate, for everyone to see her shitting half naked in the open. Tell me, where is then our “parda” and dignity!!’ Many other women followed Geeta Bai and narrated their everyday woes and fears of defecating in the open. Once the villagers were faced with questions of women’s issues and shame, the CLTS facilitators suggested that they could teach the villagers to construct simple pit latrines as an immediate solution.

    Next day, five women started digging pits at dawn and completed the construction of five latrines by noon. This was the start of a movement in the village where toilet construction was now proven to be a daylong job, which could also be done by women!

    [caption id="attachment_20596" align="aligncenter" width="1726"]Cover: Gender Issue in Water and Sanitation Programmes: Lesson from India edited by Aidan A. Cronin, Pradeep K. Mehta and Anjal Prakash; Published by Sage Publications; Price: Rs 995/Hardback; Pp: 312. Cover: Gender Issue in Water and Sanitation Programmes: Lesson from India edited by Aidan A. Cronin, Pradeep K. Mehta and Anjal Prakash; Published by Sage Publications; Price: Rs 995/Hardback; Pp: 312.[/caption] The women leaders who emerged during the course of this process formed monitoring committees and established a village action plan to end open defecation in their village, with the help of the CLTS facilitators. Several households started building simple pit latrines, and in the span of 10 days, all households of Ratanpura village had completed their pit latrine. However, the men were still defecating in the open. All this time, the CLTS facilitators were also raising awareness on the sanitation and health linkages, which proved to be the next motivational trigger for women to convince their husbands also to stop open urination and defecation. The monitoring committees started supervising common defecation areas, at the early morning hours with whistles to catch defaulters. Radha Bai hilariously narrates, ‘The “Nigrani Samiti” (monitoring committee) members started whistling when my husband went for open defecation. So, eventually, my husband decided to build a toilet and use it.’ On 26 January 2011, the village became 100 per cent ODF. At a village meeting, some villagers decided to improve their simple latrines to low-cost leach pit toilets. The CLTS facilitators helped them understand the leach pit design and guided the construction activities with suggestions in making it cost-effectively so that every household would be able to afford it. Women leaders came forward to learn some basic masonry skills, which until then were considered men’s work domain. Many offered their services free of cost. The village headman and other functionaries, and other local PRI members also supported the activities. Group procurement was encouraged to avail bargains with local suppliers; interest-free loans were facilitated; local sand was used to reduce material cost; material donations were also forthcoming. Chhote Lal from Ratanpur village said, ‘The Sarpanch arranged for sand and cement bags. They also arranged for loans from the brick kiln.

    Ratanpura villagers now proudly boast of their self-achievement in making their village ODF.

    [caption id="attachment_20597" align="aligncenter" width="616"]The entire village is now open-defecation free. The entire village is now open-defecation free.[/caption]
    Photo for representation purpose only. Courtesy:
    The villagers recognise the overall improvements since they have eliminated open defecation in their village, and the benefits they have accrued in terms of health, cleanliness, social cohesion and their increased respect towards women. The women of the village narrate, ‘There have been no flies and mosquitoes this year. Fever, cholera, diarrhoea was worse in our village earlier.’ Men convey, ‘We feel good that women speak-up now. They didn’t go out the house much. Now they come here (in meetings).’ At the community level too, there has been a significant change in thinking: ‘Now we sit together as one community and talk about important communal issues such as the improvement of the road, the drain, mending the fences for cattle, etc. We come together and decide how to improve these faster.’ As the success story of Ratanpura spread fast to the neighbouring villages, and many visited the newly turned ODF village to see the changes. Women from Ratanpura left the confinements of their homes and personally went to share their experiences with other villages. The experience which women from Ratanpura gained during the CLTS implementation process also helped in shedding many myths on issues such as the fact that: ‘toilets are expensive’; ‘it is the government’s duty to provide toilets’; ‘one can fall in the toilet pit and suffocate or die.’

    The women of Ratanpura are now active change agents in bringing further development in their villages, beyond ODF, and building a better future for themselves, their children, their family and their community as a whole.

    (Excerpt from Gender Issue in Water and Sanitation Programmes: Lesson from India edited by Aidan A. Cronin, Pradeep K. Mehta and Anjal Prakash; Published by Sage Publications; Price: Rs 995/Hardback; Pp: 312)

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    Written by Women’s Feature Service (WFS) and republished here in arrangement with WFS.

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    In the MY STORY section, we present some of the most compelling and pertinent stories and experiences shared with us by our readers. Do you have something to share? Write to us: with “MY STORY” in the subject line.

    Did you think Indian villages are unclean and lack proper sanitation? Here is a village in Maharashtra which will change your perception forever. With clean roads, good sanitation and exemplary waste management, the village is a perfect example of how a collaborative effort by a community can change things for good.

    Two years ago, when I was scouting for a village location near Mumbai for an ad film shoot, I happened to find a beautiful village called Tamnath near Karjat, Maharashtra.


    The place is unlike any other place I have been to in India as it was really clean and had no plastic bags strewn around.

    The village also focused on sanitation and had achieved 98% sanitation (as told to me by the Sarpanch).

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    When I saw this, I got interested in learning about how the villagers achieved this. The village has a small temple dedicated to a late seer who focused mostly on cleanliness. He basically conveyed a single message in his lifetime, "Cleanliness is equal to Godliness".

    Did you know: The Cleanest Village in Asia, is in India

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    People of this village in general have a sense of hygiene. Also, the Sarpanch is very particular about sanitation. So he gives a subsidy to anyone who wants to build a toilet at home.

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    However, it isn't like the village has sweepers who come early in the morning to clean up everything. The villagers themselves took the responsibility to not litter at all and so there isn't much of a need to clean up everyday.

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    The Sarpanch is very proud of the cleanliness and sanitation standards of the village. He asked me to make a film promoting the importance of good sanitation facilities in a village.

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    He encourages every girl of the village to not marry a guy who doesn't have a toilet at home, even if her parents are forcing her. He suggests that the girls ask the groom's family for a toilet at home, if they wish to marry their son to the girl.

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    The most stunning thing is that they have a wall of shame on which they put the names of the villagers who go for open defecation. The lines written on the wall mean that these particular villagers endanger the health of the entire village!

    unnamed (7)This is the location of the cleanest village I ever saw, if you ever want to pay a visit. Just remember, keep the plastics and the filth outside!

    unnamed (8) -Ruchir Saraf

    Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

    About the author and photographer: Ruchir Saraf is a seeker, in search of joy, yearning for a better world and trying to know himself through his love of films and photography. You can find him here:

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    While urban India is talking about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, rural India is actually seeing it taking place on the ground. And what's more - it is students who are leading the movement from the front! The photos below are of one of the biggest sanitation and cleanliness mass awareness programs ever conducted by any government in the world. Are you an urban Indian or an NRI? Do you know of anything big that happened in the country last month? Well, something big really happened in rural India last month and the majority of urban India continues to remain in the closet of breaking news of mainstream media.

    March 16 - 22 was the week when, by far, one of the biggest mass awareness programmes was conducted by the Govt. of India.

    There were hundreds of awareness rallies, demonstrations by sanitation departments about good cleanliness & hygienic lifestyle practices, pamphlets discussing the importance of using toilets, construction of toilets, quizzes on swachhata in schools, training for the Drinking Water & Sanitation Department employees, etc.

    These were held in at least 1,00,000 villages spread through 350+ districts across 12-14 states.

    I will let pictures do most of the talking, since official numbers of the total reach will be released by the government soon. [caption id="attachment_21938" align="aligncenter" width="960"]School kids being educated about the importance of good sanitation by SBM Morshi (Amaravati District, Maharastra) School kids being educated about the importance of good sanitation by SBM Morshi (Amaravati District, Maharastra)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21935" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Students keenly watching awareness video - SBM Kolhapur Zilla (Maharastra) Students keenly watching awareness video - SBM Kolhapur Zilla (Maharastra)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21942" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Placard (translation) "No TV & Fridge, first build Toilet please" in one of the many Vidyarthi rallies. Placard (translation) "No TV & Fridge, first build Toilet please" in one of the many Vidyarthi rallies.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21941" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Students in Telikeecherla (Nallajarla mandal, Andhra) taking out a rally in glaring hot sun Students in Telikeecherla (Nallajarla mandal, Andhra) taking out a rally in the glaring hot sun[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21940" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Rai Tola Village members enthusiastically pledging for Swachh Bharat in Malda district (Bengal) Rai Tola Village members enthusiastically pledging for Swachh Bharat in Malda district (Bengal)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21939" align="aligncenter" width="960"]SBM Pune used Playful(Innovative) charts in schools such that Kids understand how various aspects of cleanliness are inter-linked. SBM Pune used Playful (Innovative) charts in schools so that kids understand how various aspects of cleanliness are inter-linked.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21937" align="aligncenter" width="960"]School students taking pledge for Clean India in Mohgata (Sakoli, Maharastra). School students taking a pledge for Clean India in Mohgata (Sakoli, Maharastra).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21936" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Students holding placards "Shun Polythene, Save Environment" in Mewat district Students holding placards "Shun Polythene, Save Environment" in Mewat district (Haryana)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21934" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Rally by School students help by Gram Panchayat in Khudmarai (West Bengal) Rally by School students help by Gram Panchayat in Khudmarai (West Bengal)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21933" align="aligncenter" width="960"]IEC Students shouting slogans of Swachhata in a rally in Nangal Chaudhary (Mahendragarh Dist., Haryana) IEC Students shouting slogans of Swachhata in a rally in Nangal Chaudhary (Mahendragarh Dist., Haryana)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21931" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Entire school & staff taking Cleanliness pledge before taking a procession in Adavi Somapur Entire school & staff taking Cleanliness pledge before taking a procession in Adavi Somapur[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21932" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Rally by Gram Panchayat in Kadagadalu (Karnataka) Rally by Gram Panchayat in Kadagadalu (Karnataka)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21930" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Awareness programme through art (dance & drama) for Swachhata by Gram Panchayat in Bahira (West Bengal) Awareness programme through art (dance & drama) for Swachhata by Gram Panchayat in Bahira (West Bengal)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21929" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Girl students prepare for rally through town in Aurangabad - holding placards reading (rough translation)  "Saving(Increase) in Water is Increase in (society) Wealth" "(Good)Water supply is part of (our) Development" Girl students prepare for rally through town in Aurangabad - holding placards reading (rough translation)
    "Saving(Increase) in Water is Increase in (society) Wealth"
    "(Good)Water supply is part of (our) Development"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21928" align="aligncenter" width="720"]In Amethi, student holding placard "कहो सफाई लाना है, नहि दवाई खाना है!" (Pledge you will bring cleanliness, and (thereby) prevent taking medicines" In Amethi, student holding placard "कहो सफाई लाना है, नहि दवाई खाना है!" (Pledge you will bring cleanliness, and (thereby) prevent taking medicines"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21927" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Gamified Awareness program by Bhatkuli Gram Panchayat Gamified Awareness program by Bhatkuli Gram Panchayat[/caption] The above pictures are just a glimpse of what has been happening in rural India, for the past one month. We (urban Indians) have kept ourselves ignorant of our other half (rural) for really long and it is high time we break some of the shackles and learn what is happening there. The amount of news coverage accorded for such a large awareness program also makes us wonder how important it is to choose wisely between news delivering agencies & news-making agencies. - Mahek Mahendra Shah

    Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

    About the author: Mahek Mahendra Shah is a non-theist Jain & hardcore Asimov bhakt, who spends most of his time reading science fiction novels. He is a mechanical engineer at heart and considers himself a regular products guy, trying to excel as a Mobility & Product consultant. One of his products recently won ‘Aegis Graham Bell awards 2014’ & his current muse, aims to become the "Garbage reporting app of India". He has been writing a book for the past 6 years. He hopes to finish it in one lifetime.

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    Half the funds will be released before the construction begins and the other half only after seeing photographs of under-construction toilets as proof. Know more about the scheme and how the government plans to eliminate open defecation by 2019. People in Lodhipur village of Uttar Pradesh, especially women, have grown used to holding their bladders. Waiting to relieve themselves in the fields when it is “dark enough”, protecting themselves from wild animals and even snakes, has become a routine.
    “It is an even bigger issue for our girls during menstruation. We can’t afford to construct a personal toilet and there aren’t any public toilets in the village,” says Kusuma, a middle-aged woman from the village.
    Phulsiri, an 82-year old lady, has slipped several times and hurt her back while on her way to the fields. And this is not just one particular village which faces such problems. India leads the world in open defecation with 636 million people lacking this basic requirement. toilet3
    The issue has grown so severe that PM Narendra Modi emphasised on the issue in his first Independence Day speech in 2014, and took a pledge to make India open-defecation free by 2019. He also stressed on the need of building toilets rather than temples.

    To take the initiative forward, the Ministry of Urban Development has decided to give every household without a toilet Rs 4,000 to construct a toilet, with an additional incentive share from the state government under the Swachh Bharat Mission.

    The initiative will also focus on putting an end to manual scavenging. The households will be identified and given Rs. 2,000 as the first installment after verification. The remaining Rs. 2,000 will be given after the photographs of under construction toilets are sent to the ministry as proof after personal authentication by the urban local body. Additionally, in Ludhiana where the initiative just kicked off, the state has decided to give Rs. 1,300 as additional incentive per household in this scheme.

    Related Read: This eToilet Is Changing The Way Public Sanitation Works In India

    The funds will be given to all the households without toilets in India, irrespective of their location. Even those who live in unauthorised colonies and notified or non-notified slums will be part of this scheme. Modi, under a cleanliness drive launched in October last year, initiated the construction of latrines in Indian homes. As per government records, about 503,142 latrines have been built so far but lack of maintenance and awareness has not created much positive impact. Many villagers still prefer defecating in the open.

    The ministry of drinking water and sanitation had also suggested that they will monitor the use of toilets in real time and more importance will be given to the use of the toilets than just their construction.

    Out of the total cost of the Swachh Bharat Mission, which was estimated to be Rs.62,009 crore by the ministry, central assistance would be Rs.14,623 cr while the states/UTs would be required to contribute Rs.4,874 cr, and the rest of the funding will be managed through the private sector. To make the efforts long term and more sustainable, 15 percent of the centre's funds will be utilised for behavior change communication to sensitize urbanites about open defecation, proper use and maintenance of toilets, prevention of manual scavenging, hygiene practices etc., and related health and environmental consequences. Here's how the government has been spreading awareness in rural India:

    IN PHOTOS: The Silent Swachhata Revolution Led By Children In Over 1 Lakh Villages In India

    Under this Mission, it is targeted to build one crore individual household toilets in addition to 2.52 crore community toilet seats. Over 30 crore urbanites are to be assisted with solid waste management practices. With the newly launched scheme, the ministry of Urban Development is all set to successfully eliminate open defecation and manual scavenging from the country.

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    Newly-wed young Priyanka Bharti brought about a social revolution by standing up to her husband’s family when they asked her to defecate in the open. And with this, she started a movement to ensure proper sanitation facilities for women in her village and all nearby villages.  On hearing just one sentence, Priyanka Bharti decided to change not just her life but that of several of her female counterparts. “No toilet at home, so what? We all defecate in the open and so must you,” was said to Priyanka by her mother-in-law the very first day that she reached her in-laws’ house after marriage in Uttar Pradesh’s Maharajganj district in April 2012.

    As a 19-year old bride, Priyanka Bharti, walked out of her marital home, little did she know that she had just launched a silent revolution against open defecation.

    Priyanka Bharti #sanitation
    Image Source:
    Priyanka says that the lack of a toilet in the house was a big challenge for her. Expected to meekly obey her mother-in-law and live as other members of the family and village did, Priyanka did just the opposite. She left her in-laws' house two days later with a pledge that unless a toilet is constructed she wouldn't return - something never dared by a woman before.
    “It was not possible for me to defecate in the open. So, I decided to run away,” she says.
    Ever since she ran away on 13th April, 2012, demanding that her in-laws build a toilet to get their daughter-in-law back, Priyanka’s life changed as she attracted a lot of national and international attention. Although her decision created a scandal in the village and the neighboring areas, she did not succumb to the pressure of returning to her marital home. As the news of a newly-wed bride running away from her home for the lack of a toilet spread across villages, Sulabh International, one of India’s largest organizations in the work of sanitation, got involved. The officials at Sulabh heard about her protest and adopted her cause as a way to promote better public health through proper sanitation facilities. They helped with the construction of a proper toilet in her husband Amarjeet’s house and also felicitated her with an award of Rs. 2 lakhs. After the construction of the toilet got finished, Priyanka's father-in-law Ramjiut, called her up, asking her to return and, along with mother-in-law Tatra Devi, husband Amarjeet and the entire Vishnupur Khurd village in Maharajganj district (roughly 60 km north of Gorakhpur district), welcomed her with great pomp and show.

    Spotlessly clean and decorated with plastic flowers and balloons for its opening ceremony, Priyanka Bharti's toilet was seen as a gleaming symbol of the empowerment of Indian women.

    [caption id="attachment_22329" align="aligncenter" width="318"]Priyanka Bharti (extreme left) with two other brides on the opening ceremony of the toilet. Priyanka Bharti (extreme right) with two other brides on the opening ceremony of the toilet.[/caption]
    Photo: The Hindu
    “My parents were apprehensive and angry but I convinced them that it was what I had to do. They had a basic indoor toilet, so for me to start going outside was too difficult,” she told The Hindu.
    I was adamant that I could not stay in a home where people might see me go to the toilet outside in an unhygienic way,” she opines. “I’m happy that now I’m reunited with my husband and that the construction of the toilet with all the latest facilities has been done,” says Priyanka. This, however, was not the end but the turning point of Priyanka's life goals. “She decided to sensitize others about the need for an in-house toilet,” says Ramjiut.

    Every day, once Priyanka finishes her household chores, she holds discussions with village women of all ages to spread awareness about the significance of hygiene.

    [caption id="attachment_22330" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Priyanka busy completing her household chores.  Priyanka busy completing her household chores.[/caption]
    Photo; Hindustan Times
    As a brand ambassador of Sulabh, she travels across villages such as Chapia and Piparwa, often accompanied by Amarjeet. “Young girls go out alone and defecate in the open. It is not only unsafe, but also embarrassing. But men don't understand this,” says Amarjeet to Hindustan  Times. He believes the most important thing is that his wife has at last returned to his house, though he adds that he is amazed and proud that she has suddenly become the centre of a publicity campaign. So far, Priyanka has convinced 40-odd families to get toilets constructed in their homes. “I think during the elections, the candidates, whether they are contesting for the post of village head (pradhan) or for a seat in the parliament, should be evaluated on how much importance they give to hygiene and sanitation in their constituency,” says the young Swachha Bharat crusader who now features in a TV commercial, promoting sanitation along with actress Vidya Balan.
    “Women will not go in the open during the day so they must visit the fields before dawn and then wait many hours again until after dusk. Walking barefoot in these areas is bad for catching tapeworm, bacteria and many other diseases, and is unhealthy for children who play. People used to not talk about this issue but now it is a public debate,” says Bindeswar Pathak who founded the Sulabh organization in 1973. “Through her revolt, she has done a revolutionary act in India where more than 600 million people still defecate in the open, leading to serious diseases,” he says.
    India's Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh said recently that India “should be ashamed” that 60 to 70 percent of women are forced to defecate in the open and he vowed further funding to tackle the problem.

    Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

    About the Author: Although a Ph.D. student at IIT Kanpur currently, education and women development related issues are dearer to Shruti Mehrotra. Trained in Kathak, Bharatnatyam and Karate, she is a voracious reader. Working for TBI helps her pursue her love for reading and writing and also coming across the challenges people are facing daily and their solutions. Follow her blog: or twitter: @mshruti_iitk

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    Temsutula Imsong and Darshika Shah took matters into their own hands and cleaned some of the filthiest ghats in Varanasi on their own, with help from social media. Here's how they even caught the attention of the PM. We all have been hearing about PM Narendra Modi’s Swachha Bharat Abhigyan. While some have started following it in their communities, this girl from Nagaland has taken the initiative to next level.

    It is very rare that the PM himself commends you for your efforts, and Temsutula Imsong is one such change maker who has impressed the PM with her extra ordinary work of cleaning the Ghats of Varanasi.

    Imsong, who runs an NGO named Sakaar Sewa Samiti along with her friend Darshika, started her cleanliness drive long back in 2012 and has been promoting cleanliness of the ghats since then. But it was the success story of Prabhu Ghat in Varanasi that caught everyone’s attention.

    Imsong’s Mission Prabhu Ghat came into existence when a casual boat ride turned into a bad experience due to the unbearable filth on the ghat.

    [caption id="attachment_23470" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Temsutula is highly inspired by PM Modi and wants to see a clean India. Temsutula is highly inspired by PM Modi and wants to see a clean India.[/caption] “There was such a foul smell and the Ghat looked so filthy. It was a very disgusting sight, I wanted to puke. I could not believe that a holy site was in such a condition,” she recalls. This ugly boat ride gave shape to the much talked about cleanliness drive of Prabhu Ghat on 14th March 2015, and within a week, managed to get over 20 volunteers who contributed in cleaning the filthy ghat.

    “We were sure we wanted to do something and change the scenario. We contacted local authorities but we did not receive a positive response. So we decided to take matters into our own hands and started cleaning it ourselves,” she says.

    [caption id="attachment_23466" align="aligncenter" width="960"]The young team has taken matters into their own hands. The young team has taken matters into their own hands.[/caption] They both pitched in Rs. 5,000 each for some basic expenses to clean the filth from the Ghat. They hired some people to do the initial cleaning and purchased brooms, buckets, phenyl, masks, trash bags, etc to carry out the task. They used the power of social media to gather more volunteers for their initiative and planned to clean the ghat by 22nd March.
    “There were polythene bags, waste clothes, excreta and so much filth. Initially, it looked like an impossible task, but we were determined to finish what we had started. We began spreading awareness among local communities and asked people to sign a pledge to keep the ghat clean,” says Imsong.

    They also started using hashtag #missionprabhughat to make their initiative more popular and reach out to the masses.

    [caption id="attachment_23467" align="aligncenter" width="900"]Before and after of the ghat Before and after view of the ghat[/caption] What was once a filthy place is a transformed site now. But all was not a piece of cake for this duo. The high footfall at the ghat made the task difficult to carry out. Also, as the team would start working early in the morning, it became tiring for the volunteers to continue the work in the heat for such long hours.
    “But we kept motivating each other. As more people joined, our determination became stronger. We became a regular presence at the Ghat and the children who played there started accompanying us everywhere,” she says. Gradually people started recognising them and they managed to get some good-hearted people to contribute to their cause.
    [caption id="attachment_23465" align="aligncenter" width="960"]They have been working without any external financial support. They have been working without any external financial support.[/caption] The team’s efforts created an impact which was visible in the attitude of people. Whenever the children saw anyone relieving or defecating in the open, they would start yelling and taunting them. “One day they chased and a made a man run away from the ghat while he was peeing there,” Imsong laughs as she recalls the incident. [caption id="attachment_23472" align="aligncenter" width="512"]Temsutula Temsutula Imsong[/caption] The team has been implementing the project with their personal savings and some help from family and friends. Their initiative #MissionPrabhuGhat has reached hundreds of thousands of profiles on social media and has received appreciation from many people.

    Even as the ghat looks much cleaner now, Imsong and Drashti’s journey does not end here. They want to keep their work going to spread more awareness in order to prevent people from dirtying it again.

    [caption id="attachment_23468" align="aligncenter" width="900"]They pitched in their own savings to give shape to their project. They pitched in their own savings to give shape to their project.[/caption]
    “I want to tell people to treat the country like their home. We clean our houses everyday. Just like that, if we clean our roads and colonies regularly, filth from the entire country will be gone,” says Imsong.
    As this dynamic duo moves from one Ghat to another to make it cleaner, we wish to see many more people getting inspired from their amazing work. [caption id="attachment_23475" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]ghat The ghat looks much cleaner now[/caption] To know more about Imsong’s work, contact her at or check out their website.

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    Gagan Nandi, a 24-year old, kickstarted a cleanliness drive which has turned Basavanagudi from a garbage dump to an area with neat and clean corners. Know more about this amazing cleanliness drive. Every morning, as Gagan Nandi left for work, he would see the same sight -- people throwing garbage on the roadside -- making the locality more of a dumping ground than a place to live. Highly inspired by PM Modi’s Swachha Bharat Abhiyaan, this 24-year old HR professional then decided to take matters into his own hands and started a cleanliness drive in his locality.

    He didn’t even think twice before starting a Facebook group “Swachha Basavanagudi,” to initiate the cleanliness drive from his own backyard.

    [caption id="attachment_25901" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Gagan Nandi Gagan Nandi[/caption]
    “Ever since the launch of the Swachha Bharat Mission, I have been wanting to bring back the glory of our ‘Garden City’. After seeing the heaps of garbage growing larger every day, I thought, why wait for someone else to take the initiative?” asks Nandi.

    A few like-minded people joined him in his mission and they came up with the project “6 wards, 6 weeks”, where the team of good samaritans would clean up one area in each ward of Basavanagudi every Sunday. gagan5 gagan6

    The idea picked up and a few college students and volunteers joined hands with him, giving him more confidence to execute his cleanliness mission successfully. But the team needed funds to give shape to their ideas and, again, the cleanliness enthusiasts pitched in money from their own pockets to support the mission.
    “A few college students pitched in their pocket money while some residents contributed from their salaries. We also picked up some paint to make the area look clean and new,” says Nandi.

    Started on April 26 this year, the Swachha Basavanagudi group now has over 260 members on Facebook and the team even has its own website where members publish updates about their work.

    gagan7 Although the team was fuelled by determination and passion, bringing about change was not an easy task. The first effort was not very successful. The team, along with volunteers from 'Know your Star', cleaned, washed and painted the dumping yard at Vidyapeetha circle. It took them five hours. But just two hours later, the place was filled with garbage again. This did not deter them however, as they continued their work next Sunday at Hanumantha Nagar. This time they saw a great response from the local community. Many nearby shopkeepers, passersby and residents joined them and helped clean the area in no time. gagan4 gagan1 Nandi and his team now had a successful start to their ambitious project. But even as they cleared the dumping grounds, they found that the residents who were using the spots to dump their trash had no other option but to discard their waste there again. The municipal corporation had not picked up the garbage from their homes for two days and the residents did not know what else to do. Yet again, the volunteers took matters into their own hands and called up the health inspector of the area to resolve the issue. The volunteers also travelled to the locality every couple of days to ensure that garbage didn't start piling up again by the roadside.

    Nandi and his group now plan to get in touch with the municipal corporation, BBMP, to get better waste segregation vehicles in the city. They also want to install low-cost, portable urinals across Bangalore.

    “We have received tremendous support from residents and volunteers. Now health inspectors are also calling up to spread awareness. This is just the start and a lot more needs to be done,” says Nandi.
    The team's cleanliness drive has garnered great attention and Grammy award winner Ricky Kej has also shown interest in being part of their drive. Nandi is a perfect example of how one determined person can bring about change at large. Kudos to the team’s efforts and we hope to see many such initiatives in cities across India.

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    Menstruation is still considered a taboo in many parts of the country. While many still do not prefer to talk about this "problem", girls in UP are coming forward to not only talk about it but also to spread awareness about low cost sanitary napkins.
    “You all have become shameless as you can talk about menstruation with anyone, anywhere. At least talk in softer tones so that the men standing outside cannot overhear us. This is India after all! How will we face our male staff once we step outside this room?”
    This was what an alarmed Vidyottama Pandey, a senior teacher at a government-run Upper Primary School in Malihabad block of Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow district, had to say when Vatsalya, a Lucknow-based non-government organisation working on issues related to women’s health, came over to hold a discussion on menstrual hygiene management.

    An appalled Pandey simply couldn’t understand why they needed to hold an open dialogue on such an “embarrassing issue” and even if they “were being frank, why was there a need to talk so loudly”.

      [caption id="attachment_32226" align="aligncenter" width="611"]Across Uttar Pradesh, many teachers are being trained to break the silence and stigma surrounding menstruation in an effort to ensure that they are able to spread awareness among their students about it. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS) Across Uttar Pradesh, many teachers are being trained to break the silence and stigma surrounding menstruation in an effort to ensure that they are able to spread awareness among their students about it. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS)[/caption] In the last couple of months that Vatsalya has been organising such meetings across seven blocks of Lucknow district, as part of their WaterAid India-supported ‘Chuppi Todo’ (Break the Silence) campaign, not just Pandey but several teachers have reacted quite strongly against voicing their thoughts on menstruation. Uniformly, the older women have felt extremely uncomfortable and, at times, even humiliated to be compelled to talk on this subject. In India, myths around menstruation exist even today. Misconceptions such as menstruating women are unclean or impure and, therefore, they cannot enter the kitchen, must live in a separate room outside the house during those days, and not even dream of stepping inside a temple lest its sanctity is compromised, severely curtail their movement, affect their daily routine, and most importantly, instil in them feelings of being lesser humans. In fact, according to Shobha Shukla of the Vote for Health Campaign, which is currently underway in Uttar Pradesh, “At least 50 per cent of girls in the state are not allowed inside the kitchen during their periods besides several other social taboos imposed on them in the name of religious traditions. In such a negative environment and especially in the absence of any candid conversations on the issue, either at home or in school, four-out-of-five girls are simply not prepared to handle this normal biological change when it happens and three-out-of-five are scared to mention it to anyone. This only leads to a lot of mental stress and health complication for them.” In order to enable girls and women to break out of this vicious cycle of apprehension, misinformation and taboos and to ensure that not only do they have a comfortable and stress-free period but that they also don’t have to put normal life on hold – whether it is going to school or working at home or in the fields – the state government has decided to work towards achieving 100 per cent menstrual hygiene and sanitary napkin coverage by 2017. The idea is to ensure that each girl remains healthy and has access to affordable sanitary napkins.
    Many women and girls, especially in the rural areas, do not use sanitary napkins and often catch infections,” observes State Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, adding, “While many are ignorant about the biological changes in their bodies others simply cannot buy expensive sanitary napkins.”
    Considering these challenges, the government has sanctioned an initial budget of approximately Rs 100 crore to produce low cost sanitary pads.

    Arunachalam Muruganatham, the man who introduced inexpensive sanitary pads to his home state, Tamil Nadu, has been roped in to lend his considerable expertise in Uttar Pradesh (UP) as well.

    [caption id="attachment_32229" align="aligncenter" width="652"]About 2 million girls, between the age group of 10 and 19 years, are to be benefitted with the distribution of low cost sanitary napkins that are being made available to all girls studying in Class Six to Class 12 in government-run schools in UP. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS) About 2 million girls, between the age group of 10 and 19 years, are to be benefitted with the distribution of low cost sanitary napkins that are being made available to all girls studying in Class Six to Class 12 in government-run schools in UP. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS)[/caption]
    “Apart from the urban pockets, the penetration of sanitary napkins in UP is less than five per cent. There is definitely the question of availability and affordability. But there are other factors at play, too. For instance, in small towns, the product is available at the neighbourhood grocery store or at the pharmacy, which are run by men. Girls feel hesitant to buy from them. Moreover, most major sanitary napkin manufacturers have positioned the product in the comfort domain rather than as a necessity and the emphasis is not on hygiene. All this, combined with the social aspects, has created a difficult situation,” he elaborates.
    Low-cost sanitary napkin units set up under Muruganatham’s guidance have made the macro industry micro, in which women are both the producers and the sellers. “We are speaking to the Indian government to expand this micro industry to the rural areas. This will facilitate women, who are currently producers and sellers, to become the ambassadors of change,” he remarks. At present, in UP, low-cost sanitary napkins are being produced and sold by women’s groups in Barabanki, Mathura and Mahoba districts, as pilot projects. These units have given women jobs and assisted them in adopting a healthy lifestyle. Encouraged with the help extended by Muruganatham, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has asked all district magistrates to support endeavours towards the production and marketing of low-cost sanitary napkins through Panchayat udyog (industry) or the public-private-partnership model.

    The target is to ensure that all girls between the age group of 10 and 19 years, studying in Class Six to Class 12 in government-run schools, including the Kasturba Gandhi Bakila Vidyalaya (KGBV), get their quota of low-cost sanitary napkins free from August 2015 onwards.

    [caption id="attachment_32227" align="aligncenter" width="611"]In Uttar Pradesh, many NGOs and the state government are adopting measures to enable girls and women to break out of the vicious cycle of apprehension, misinformation and taboos attached with menstruation. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS) In Uttar Pradesh, many NGOs and the state government are adopting measures to enable girls and women to break out of the vicious cycle of apprehension, misinformation and taboos attached with menstruation. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS)[/caption] There are nearly two million girls in the state, who will benefit from this move. Of course, till the time low-cost sanitary napkins manufacturing units are set up and fully functional in every district, the government is negotiating with various companies to procure sanitary napkins. No doubt low-cost sanitary napkins can prevent many women from developing serious physical ailments but that is dependent on getting them to use the product in the first place. So, along with equipping women with the means to buy safe, hygienic sanitary napkins, a great deal of work has to go in to change attitudes. And that is where interventions by organisations like Vatsalya come in.
    Shares Shukla, “Over 85 per cent girls use tattered pieces of cloth during their period, which is extremely unsanitary. But even as they are given free sanitary pads someone has to acquaint them with the benefits of using them and demonstrate its use and proper disposal.”
    Agrees Dr Neelam Singh, the founder of Vatsalya, “There are girls in villages who have never seen these napkins and they neither know how to use them nor have any knowledge about their disposal. The need for aggressive orientation and training, which is being given to teachers and students now, has become imperative after the state announced the free distribution of sanitary napkins in all upper primary schools for girls. Government efforts will have no meaning unless teachers are sensitised towards the issue. With enhanced awareness they will no longer feel hesitant to discuss this issue with their students and can help them understand their body better.

    So far, Vatsalya has trained more than 300 teachers on menstrual hygiene management after its team of committed volunteers extensively researched on the practices on the ground and the information levels of the educators.

    [caption id="attachment_32228" align="aligncenter" width="568"]Misconceptions such as menstruating women are unclean or impure and, therefore, should not step inside a temple lest its sanctity is compromised, fills them with feelings of being lesser humans. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS) Misconceptions such as menstruating women are unclean or impure and, therefore, should not step inside a temple lest its sanctity is compromised, fills them with feelings of being lesser humans. (Credit: Alka Pande\WFS)[/caption]
    “The teachers who had felt ashamed and troubled at the mere mention of menstruation in a crowd of strangers have been transformed into master trainers equipped to tackle any question or myth associated with it,” says Singh.
    Various studies suggest that there are over 2.8 million adolescent girls in UP, who end up missing out on life and studies during that time of the month. However, if the empowerment agenda goes as planned that would soon be in the past – as it very well should be.

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    Written by Alka Pande for Women’s Feature Service (WFS) and republished here in arrangement with WFS.

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    Five panchayats in Gajapati district of Odisha overcame all hurdles to get finally declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). Now, the aim is to make all 119 panchayats in the district ODF by 2016. Read how the administrators, volunteers and villagers themselves are coming together to make this happen. As per census reports, 76.6% of homes in Odisha do not have toilets. This state with the largest number of tribal communities in India, is divided into 30 districts. Due to their remote location, many of the villages in these districts do not have access to proper health care services, which makes the need for sanitation all the more important. However, there is one district in Odisha that has chosen a fast track to development. Welcome to Gajapati district, which now proudly boasts of five Open Defecation Free (ODF) panchayats.

    The Campaign: Mo Swachha Sauchalaya (My Clean Toilet)

    [caption id="attachment_30368" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]A beneficiary of Kijanga Village of Luhangara panchayat starting the constuction work of his toilet A beneficiary of Kijang Village of Luhangara panchayat starting the construction work of his toilet[/caption] In February 2015, the district administration in Gajapati started a campaign for the building of toilets, under the leadership of the District Collector Mansi Nimbhal. Even though the campaign comes under the Swachha Bharat Mission of the Government of India, the administration here wanted people in the community to consider it their own campaign. Hence the name, Mo Swachha Sauchalaya, signifying the two basic things that the campaign is aiming for: • To build toilets in the district by actively involving the community. • To concentrate on behavioural change aspects when it comes to the attitude of people towards sanitation. As per the Swachha Bharat Mission, the government gives a sum of Rs. 12,000 per toilet to every beneficiary who builds a toilet at his/her home. The first step was to study and analyse the challenges in the district. Out of the seven blocks in Gajapati district, five are dominated by the tribal population. The major challenges here include difficulty in supply of raw materials and trouble mobilizing the community. Here are a few steps that are being taken towards the mission of making the entire district (119 panchayats) Open Defecation Free by April 2016.

    The Learnings and Training

    [caption id="attachment_30369" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]A meeting inside a church of Muri village of Luhangara panchayat, discussing how to include the left out beneficiaries in the campaign A meeting inside a church of Muri village of Luhangara panchayat, discussing how to include the left out beneficiaries in the campaign[/caption] The district administration first formed a team of ten members, which included Block Development Officers, a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow, and a few Self-Help Group (SHG) members. This team was sent to the Nadia district of West Bengal to learn about their Sabar Shouchagar (toilets for all) model—because of which Nadia was declared the first Open Defecation Free district in the country. Comprehensive guidelines, pointing out the local challenges and possible solutions, were then framed by the team. Following this, the administration formed two teams at the District and Block levels—the District Resource Team (DRT) and the Block Resource Team (BRT). Every block comprises 15-20 panchayats. The BRTs include engineers and staff members to implement the project, who in turn report to the DRT, which is made up of three Prime Minister's Rural Development Fellows and some development fellows and consultants from the District Water and Sanitation Mission. The DRT works directly under the Collector and looks at smooth functioning at the panchayat level. These teams then began with the CLTS (Community Led Total Sanitation) training, which is very important when it comes to changing the mindset of the people towards sanitation practices.

    Under CLTS activities, all the villagers, Sarpanch, and Anganwadi workers of the concerned panchayats were included for training.

    [caption id="attachment_30370" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]A morning CLTS activity meeting, headed by district collector, BRT members and DRT member A morning CLTS activity meeting, headed by district collector, BRT members and DRT member[/caption] [caption id="attachment_30458" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]An evening meeting with villagers as most people work during the day An evening meeting with villagers as most people work during the day[/caption] CLTS meetings are very interactive in nature. Villagers ask questions and learn why toilets are necessary and why people are falling sick with diarrhoea and various water related diseases. Some experiments, showing the spread of insects and germs because of open defecation, are also demonstrated. Just a simple demonstration sometimes leads people to immediately decide that they should have toilets in their homes. The sessions usually end with villagers taking an oath to contribute towards the construction of toilets and using them.

    The Luhangara Panchayat

    [caption id="attachment_30371" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]A beneficiary of “Mo swachha sauchalaya ” of Kijanga village, Luhangara panchayat Prakash Kumar Sahoo (right) with a beneficiary of “Mo Swachha Sauchalaya” of Kijang village, Luhangara panchayat[/caption] DRT member, Prakash Kumar Sahoo, who is working as a Prime Minister's Rural Development Fellow in the district since the past three years, was given charge of the Luhangara panchayat, with the deadline to make it Open Defecation Free by the second week of July. "This panchayat consists of more than 1000 households and has 17 villages and hamlets. Most of its villages are situated in hilly terrains." Some of these villages already had toilets because of the work of Gram Vikash NGO in the district. Hence, there were around 540 households that needed toilet constructions.
    “Initially, one Self Help Group (SHG) was formed in each panchayat and the group was trained about the basics of toilet construction, how to obtain the materials, and the entire building process. However, this idea did not work well because we soon found that most of the people in the community wanted to build their toilets on their own, using their own manpower. Hence, individual trainings were then given.”

    After the CLTS meetings here, the community started taking ownership of the campaign and started building toilets in their homes.

    [caption id="attachment_30372" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]Kudinda vilage Prakash Kumar Sahoo (right)  interacting with a volunteer of Kudinda village who is building his own toilet[/caption]
    "School children were also mobilized. They used to offer polythene bags full of sand to those people who went to defecate in the open so that they would feel ashamed of their regular habit," says Prakash.

    District administration teams were involved in follow-ups throughout, to make sure that toilets were being constructed.

    [caption id="attachment_30459" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]Prakash Kumar Sahoo with Junior engineer of Nuagada block inspecting toilet construction work during a field visit to Kudinda village Prakash Kumar Sahoo with Junior Engineer of Nuagada block inspecting toilet construction work during a field visit to Kudinda village[/caption] At the village level, local volunteers were selected who had to motivate people to construct as well as use toilets. They were encouraged to build toilets using locally available material like stones and soil, because the supply of bricks was extremely difficult in the hilly terrain.

    This panchayat was finally declared Open Defecation Free on 11th July, 2015.

    [caption id="attachment_30375" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]odisha6 District Collector addressing the crowd on the occasion of Open Defecation Free panchayat celebration day at Luhangara panchayat[/caption] [caption id="attachment_30460" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]Volunteers awarded with a certificate of appreciation by the District Collector Volunteers awarded with a certificate of appreciation by the District Collector[/caption] [caption id="attachment_30461" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]The celebration The celebration[/caption] “Good times start from today for people of this panchayat,” said Mansi Nimbhal, on the occasion of the Open Defecation Free panchayat celebration at Luhangara. For more details about the work being done, you can write to Prakash Kumar Sahoo at In order to know more about the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship, visit here.
    Valuable inputs from: Prakash Kumar Sahoo (Prime Minister's Rural Development Fellow), currently posted at Gajapati district

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    Shyamsunder Bedekar from Gujarat has come up with a brilliant innovation which has the potential to change many lives in rural India. A low cost sanitary napkin incinerator, which he calls the Ashudhdhinashak, will help numerous women in discarding sanitary napkins in an environment-friendly way. This is how it came into existence. Why would a man be even remotely concerned about what happens to soiled sanitary napkins? And why would he use his innovative mind to resolve the vexed issue of disposing sanitary napkins in a clean and environmentally safe manner? Especially considering the fact that he himself will hardly benefit from the findings in any direct way! Meet Shyamsunder Bedekar, an innovator from Vadodara, Gujarat, who decided to solve the disposal issue of soiled or used sanitary napkins, and came up with his brilliant innovation - the “Ashudhdhinashak”.

    It all began by chance

    shyam1 53-year-old Shyam has a B.Sc. in Chemistry and a B.Sc. Tech degree in Textile Chemistry. He began working as a quality control head, first with textile mills and later with dyestuff manufacturing units. Shyam’s wife, Swati, a science educator, used to address the issue of menstrual hygiene by creating enterprises consisting of tribal women who manufactured low cost, yet high quality sanitary napkins. Though her work helped women maintain menstrual hygiene and also earn in the process, the issue of safe disposal of sanitary napkins had to be resolved. Shyam could see the predicament that Swati was going through. And it was his innovative thinking that came to her rescue. Shyam realized that there was a need to develop a low-cost incinerator for disposal of sanitary napkins, especially for rural areas where there is no system of garbage collection like in cities. If the disposal aspect was taken care of, it would become easier to convince women to use sanitary napkins.

    Design Considerations

    shyam2 As the first step, Shyam created a vision for the incinerator. It had to be low cost and required work on three major aspects – technical, commercial, and aesthetics. Understanding that the technical aspects had to be given the maximum weightage, Shyam focused on the combustion action of the incinerator. He also worked on the accumulation chamber that would hold 5 to 20 soiled sanitary napkins. The protection aspects, like reducing attacks by rodents and ants, were also looked into. Then came the question of materials - wood was out of question; steel is too expensive, is not rust proof and has a high chance of being stolen. After toying with multiple ideas, Shyam decided to design the incinerator with terracotta and concrete.

    How does it Work?

    shyam3 Shyam created a sub compartment in the accumulation chamber. This accumulation chamber rests on a mesh. The mesh is big enough to allow the ash to fall down, but small enough to restrict rodents from entering. The sub compartment primarily aids the ignition process. The hole allows oxygen to enter the chamber, thereby sustaining the burning process. Step 1: A woman opens the top lid and throws soiled sanitary napkins into the accumulation chamber. She does not have to touch or look inside the chamber. Step 2: She uses either dry grass or paper to ignite. Step 3: The soiled sanitary napkins burn out. Ash falls at the bottom. Step 4: There is a need to clear the ash. This ash can be used as a fertilizer since the burnt material is wood pulp. The base of the incinerator is filled with water to provide stability and to keep the ants and rodents at bay. Shyam has also put a lot of thought into the aesthetics of the incinerator, taking special care to make it appear very basic and uninteresting, in an attempt to ensure that it does not attract attention. The best part is that the incinerator requires no electricity or fuel to keep it operational. Easy to make, easy to assemble and easy to install, Ashudhdhinashak is the innovation that may redefine lives in rural areas. At the cost of Rs. 2,000 per incinerator, Shyam has been able to install more than 2,000 such machines at universities, hostels, schools that come under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), and in villages near water points.


    Between 7th and 13th March 2015, Shyam was invited by the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) to present Ashudhdhinashak incinerator at the Festival of Innovations. It was held at Rashtrapati Bhavan. While Shyam has many more innovations to his credit, including a roti/papad maker, a pesticide pump, etc., it is Ashudhdhinashak that perhaps has the potential to change the face of rural India To connect with Shyam, you can write to him at or call him at +91 9824074940.

    Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

    About the author: Sanjay Joshi is a development worker, focused on enhancing lives of women. He has worked in maternal and child health, water and sanitation, HIV and is currently focusing on sanitation access to women through micro-finance. He is the CEO of Shanti Life India Foundation, a new start up that aims at providing credit access to vulnerable women for sanitation and small businesses.

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    This article on using mobile technology for social good is part of the #Mobile4Good series & is made possible by Vodafone India.

    Finding a public toilet, leave alone a clean one, can often prove to be a challenge in India. But this brilliant app not only helps you find one, but also allows you to add new ones that you discover to the database, so others can be helped too. It was on a road trip from Meerut to Delhi that Mudit Tyagi realised for the first time that finding clean and usable public toilets in India is a very big, and a very real, challenge.
    “We faced the problem when we were travelling with our mother, who suffers from Parkinson's disease. We were taking her to Delhi for her medical appointment, and I saw that it is very difficult for people in her condition to find clean public toilets and washrooms,” he says.
    This inspired Mudit, the founder of an organization called DevJiva, which makes socially useful applications, to develop a unique app called Susuvidha.

    The app collects information about all public toilets located in the vicinity and presents it to users in an easy-to-use format.

    [caption id="attachment_35683" align="aligncenter" width="330"]Mudit Tyagi Mudit Tyagi[/caption]

    Susuvidha has been downloaded by over 1,500 users already. The app is not just confined to India but covers the entire world.


    How does it work?

    The globe is divided into 20 km segments and the latitude and longitude of the mid points in each segment is noted. Then, the Susuvidha servers run a very long Google search in the backend. It is a vast search, which includes all cafes, restaurants, and words like toilet, loo, bathroom, washroom, etc., at each latitude and longitude. This search is constantly running in the backend of the app and the results get saved into a database. Thus, when a user runs the app on a GPS enabled phone, he/she can spot all the toilets available in and around that specific area, in the form of red pins.

    As of now, over 4,000 toilets from India are present in the Susuvidha database and can be found by users when needed. The app is available on both Android-based phones and iPhones.


    What else can it do?

    In addition to the algorithm that is constantly searching for toilets, the app also has a feature that allows users to add new toilets to the database. If a user is present at the location of a public toilet and finds that it does not show up in the app, he/she just has to click on the ‘add new location’ option. The phone picks up the address with the help of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and sends it to the database. All toilets added by users are verified before they are visible in the app. This is done with the help of Google Earth to ensure that the location that has been added is actually a toilet and not something else.
    “Our hope is that if there is more adoption of the application, more and more people can share the toilets they find, and the data gets crowdsourced further...You cannot do community development alone. The community has to get involved. So, we can create these platforms and develop the technology, but it will become truly useful only after people start participating,” says Mudit, talking about the user involvement feature of the app.

    Susuvidha also provides the option for users to read or write reviews and ratings on each toilet.

    Screenshot_2015-09-07-12-00-09 On selecting the pin that marks a particular toilet, users find the address, the distance from their location, the ratings of the toilet, and options to read and write reviews. This feature has been added to ensure that the standard and cleanliness of the toilets can be verified with the help of comments coming in from the users.

    The bigger picture?

    Mudit, a graduate of Columbia University in the US, has been involved in four startups and now runs two companies in India and the US. One of these is DevJiva, which has offices in Pune and Hyderabad, and has a team of 16 people.

    For Mudit, the Susuvidha app is only the starting point for solving the problem that he first encountered when travelling with his mother. The larger goal is to contribute to the construction of toilets in the country.

    4_add_toiletBut, first things first. Let’s try and figure out where the existing toilets are," he says. The major problem, he says, is that toilets for the use of the general public, those who do not belong to the more affluent sections of society that visits malls and cafes, are few and very far apart.

    How much does it cost?

    The app is free and will remain free for all users, but Susuvidha plans to introduce a revenue model in the later stages by adding options for travellers to find bus stops and hotels, features that might be of interest to the travel industry.
    "Twenty percent of Susuvidha’s profits will be donated to Sulabh International Social Service Organization to support its adoption of Indian villages, and its research in the development of safe and cheap toilets, with water treatment and energy generation units that use the waste products. Furthermore, fifty percent of profits will be invested to support small entrepreneurs who set up and operate Sulabh-style toilets," says Prashant Bharam, an employee of DevJiva.

    In parting

    “To bring about change, you need three things. You need to have an idea. You need to implement it. And then you need to involve people. We have done the first two, and are now working towards the third,” concludes Mudit, the man who has played a very important role in teaching his employees that the technology they learn can be used to solve real problems. You can download the app on Google store here and Apple store here. You can also use the app online, at this website.

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    From starting a Rural Sanitary Mart for villagers for buying toilet construction material on credit, to setting up vigilante committees for catching people defecating in the open, Rampur Panchayat left no stone unturned to become 100% open defecation free in just 4 months. All thanks to the pro-active 60-year-old mukhiya of the village, Nirmala Devi, and her incredible use of the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach. Anil Shah, a local tea vendor in Rampur village of Bihar, decided not to serve tea to people who defecate in the open. His business went down for a while, but he said he would rather think about the welfare of his village than worry about a few rupees. Just like Anil, a polio-afflicted young man, Dheeraj, took a pledge to stop open defecation in his village. Dheeraj found out that the polio virus can spread through open defecation and he’s been working to stop this practice in his village. “I don’t want any other human being to get this crippling disease,” he says. [caption id="attachment_33716" align="aligncenter" width="663"]Dheeraj is a polio patient and sanitation champion Dheeraj is a polio patient and sanitation champion[/caption] Anil and Dheeraj are just two examples among the thousands of villagers who have contributed to making Rampur panchayat 100 percent open defecation free in just four months since the launch of Mission Swachh Bihar in April, 2015. The panchayat created about 1100 toilets in just 25 days and made sure the villagers started using them regularly. The two villages that fall under Rampur panchayat are Rampur and Fatehpur. These villages, with a combined population of about 10,000, were, till a few months ago, dealing with unsanitary conditions like other villages in India where there are hardly any toilets. According to the 2011 census, despite several attempts by the government, 75 percent of Bihar’s population defecates in the open.

    But thanks to the 60-year-old mukhiya of Rampur, Nirmala Devi, and the aggressive Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach adopted by the state, Rampur panchayat has set an incredible example with its safe sanitation practices.

    [caption id="attachment_38302" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Tea Vendor Anil Shah risked his business to spread awareness about safe sanitation. Tea Vendor Anil Shah risked his business to spread awareness about safe sanitation.[/caption]
    “It was very difficult to bring about a behavioural change among the villagers. They have been defecating in the open all their lives…introducing the idea of a toilet itself was a challenge,” says Bishwanath Jha, the District Coordinator of this successful CLTS initiative.
    Bishwanath was fully supported by Nirmala Devi and her dedication to free her village from the unsafe practice of open defecation. She, along with Bishwanath's team, started her job with first identifying the number of households without toilets and bringing this to the attention of the Water and Sanitation Department. This was followed by an extensive counselling programme for all households in the area. Team members spoke to the villagers about the importance of having a toilet in the house and focused on spreading awareness, especially among rural women.
    “We spoke to the villagers about how they keep their daughters and sisters under the veil but send them to defecate out in the open. How does that make sense? Is that respectable? We thought if we wanted to bring a change, we first had to get the women on our side,” says Bishwanath.

    By the end of the awareness sessions, many households agreed to construct toilets in their houses. But this wasn’t as simple to implement as it sounds.

    [caption id="attachment_38303" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Women played a crucial role in making Rampur Panchayat open defecation free. Women played a crucial role in making Rampur Panchayat open defecation free.[/caption]
    "It was very difficult to change the mindset but I was adamant on doing it. I had seen the girls and women of our village taking the unsafe pathways every day. Many got injured and there was always the danger of snakes and thieves. I thought that if I had to bring a change, I should start from my own house. I constructed a toilet in my house first and then launched the mission of safe sanitation in my village," says Nirmala Devi.
    A big issue arose at the time of construction of toilets. Though the government had sanctioned an amount of Rs. 12,000 per toilet, the money was to be given only after the construction of the toilet was complete.

    Many households were not ready to spend money from their own pockets. This is when Bishwanath introduced the Rural Sanitary Mart (RSM) – a one-stop shop for all construction material related to toilets.

    [caption id="attachment_38304" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]The village became open defecation free in just four months. The village became open defecation free in just four months.[/caption] Opened in a local school compound, RSM enabled villagers to buy toilet construction material on credit and pay the money when they got it from the government. In order to ensure that the toilets were constructed soon, the CLTS team started putting pressure on the villagers by telling them that if they didn’t construct the toilets within a month, they wouldn’t be given the sanctioned money from the government.
    “Though we had to give the money anyway, our warning worked. The village people thought that eventually they’ll have to construct a toilet anyway, so why not do it now to avail the government benefit,” says Bishwanath.
    But, even after the construction of toilets, many people continued to defecate in the open. It was crucial to defeat this practice and the CLTS team kicked into high gear to deal with this problem. The team formed Nigraani Samitis (vigilance committees) with the help of some villagers. Nirmala Devi went door-to-door to spread awareness about safe sanitation. She helped the CLTS team to connect with the villagers and made sure that the volunteers kept an eye on the offenders. The members of these Nigraani Samitis took the responsibility of ensuring that no one defecated in the open. The Samiti members would start clapping and shouting as soon as they saw an offender. The Nigraani Samitis started their work early in the morning at 4 am, but a few people changed their defecating time to even 2:30 or 3:00 am. Then, Bishwanath and the members of the Nigraani Samitis decided to stay up overnight. The Samiti members started taking shifts of two hours each to keep a look-out for offenders.

    If the government will ask us to go and assist neighbouring villages become ODF, we will all participate wholeheartedly. We do not want anyone to practice this disgusting habit anymore,” says Nirmala Devi.

    [caption id="attachment_38307" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Nirmala Devi Nirmala Devi[/caption] There are currently about eight Nigraani Samitis with 10-15 members each who ensure that no one defecates in the open. Bishwanath recalls an incident where one household didn’t have a toilet and the family had a guest over from a different village. Since there was no toilet in the house, they asked him to go in the fields for defecation. When the women of the village saw the man defecating in the open, they raised an alarm and chased him back to the house. The man told his hosts that he would never return to their house till they constructed a toilet. Eventually, that family had no choice but to build one.

    Thanks to the determined efforts of the CLTS team and many villagers, Rampur panchayat continues to enjoy its open defecation free status. The villagers now impose a strict fine of Rs. 251 on anyone found defecating in the open.

    [caption id="attachment_38306" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Every house has toilets in Rampur Panchayat Every house has toilets in Rampur Panchayat[/caption] Another CLTS initiative involves educating schoolchildren about good sanitation practices and enlisting their help in getting family members to change their behaviour. We hope the success story of Rampur panchayat will inspire other villages to replicate this model and adopt the practice of safe sanitation.

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    More Indian households today have mobile phone than toilets. Over 500 million people in rural India continue to defecate in the open. This is a huge problem, especially since 1 in 10 deaths in India is due to improper sanitation. Poor hygiene and sanitation also disproportionately affect young children, which makes it vitally important to address this issue as quickly and efficiently as possible. The loss of human capital is deafening – and these deaths are preventable. To help address these issues, the World Bank has approved a $1.5 billion (Rs 10,000 crore) loan to support the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, or Clean India Mission. Specifically, the project will support the SBM-Gramin, or rural component of the campaign.

    80 percent of Indians who lack access to proper sanitation live in rural areas.

    world bank loan
    Image for representation only. Source: Wikipedia
    "This project, aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Swachh Bharat initiative of the government, will result in significant health benefits for the poor and vulnerable, especially those living in rural areas," said Onno Ruhl, World Bank Country Director for India.
    Funds will be allocated to states and state agencies on a performance-based system. The parameters against which states will be measured will be their capacity to reduce open defecation and implement solid and liquid waste management processes in villages. These changes will have to be such that they can be maintained over the long-term.  Progress towards key indicators will be assessed and verified independently. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) will oversee and coordinate the program and its implementation in states. World Bank funds will also be used to train MDWS personnel and for capacity building. In addition, the Bank will provide $25 million in technical assistance to select states to aid in implementing community-led change that will sustain positive behaviours related to sanitation and hygiene.
    "India has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in pursuing the ambitious SBM [Swachh Bharat Mission] campaign and embracing the focus on behaviour to complement the construction of toilets," said Annette Dixon, World Bank vice-president for the South Asia Region.
    The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched in October, 2014. It's key objectives include:
    • Eliminating or reducing open defecation
    • Constructing toilets and monitoring latrine use
    • Changing public attitudes and mindsets to encourage good sanitation behaviours
    • Establishing solid and liquid waste management processes to keep villages clean
    • Ensuring water supply to all households by 2019
    Featured image credit: Wikipedia

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    Mizoram has seen a commendable decline in stunting and it is directly related to improved access to sanitation. Here is the complete report on how it happened. The north eastern state of Mizoram has reported a 13 percentage-point decline in stunting (below normal height for the age) and five percentage points decline in underweight children (underweight and short), according to a new report. The reason: Improved access to sanitation. As many as 92% households in Mizoram had access to sanitation at the end of the 2011 Census, against 82% during the 2001 census, the India Health Report for Nutrition Security in India, 2015 released last month said. 2642788348_e81a314ba4_b
    Photo: Flickr/Overseas Development Institute
    As many as 522 million people gained access to improved sources of drinking water between 1990 and 2000, said the report, published by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). Open defecation and inadequate hand washing have been cited as reasons for poor health among children, leading to undernourishment. India’s 40 million stunted and 17 million wasted children below the age of five are a challenge for a country whose health indices lag its economic growth.

    Not enough being spent on drinking water and sanitation

    Poor sanitation makes for unhealthy children, susceptible to water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and jaundice. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had set a target of halving the population without sanitation facilities by 2015. UNICEF launched the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme in 2006 to promote this goal. The Government of India has been focusing on improving drinking water and sanitation facilities across the country since 1999. The Total Sanitation Programme was launched in 1999 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. It was changed to Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) in 2012 and renamed Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014. Rs 25,387.5 crore ($3.8 billion) has been spent on drinking water and sanitation since 1999-2000, the data show. For comparison, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa sought more money, Rs 25,912 crore, from Delhi, to address the ravages of the state’s December 2015 floods.

    More than 93 million households still don’t have toilets

    Almost 90% of child deaths from diarrhoeal diseases are directly linked to contaminated water, lack of sanitation or inadequate hygiene, a UNICEF report said. India’s infant mortality rate (IMR) has come down from 66 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to 42 in 2012 but it is still equal to poorer African countries, such as Senegal (42), Malawai (41) and Ethiopia (43). Only 47% households in India had toilets, according to the 2011 Census data, an improvement of 11 percentage points over 2001 figures. As many as 181.5 million rural households were surveyed in 2012 to assess the requirement of toilets in individual households; this survey served as the baseline for the Swachh Bharat Mission. As on December 22, 2015, 93.1 million households in rural India had no toilets, according to government data. As many as 46% households in India defecated in the open as of 2013-14, according to data from the Rapid Survey on Children (RSoC). This was an improvement of nine percentage points from 2005-06 data, when it was 55%.

    Mizoram’s progress reflected in healthier children

    The states that were better-off in terms of child nutrition show a strong co-relation between sanitation and child nourishment. The best example is Mizoram, where the prevalence of stunting declined by 13 percentage points, and underweight children by five percentage points between 2006 and 2014. The worst states in terms of nutrition parameters had fewer households with toilets. There has been little progress in sanitation facilities in the worst-performing states. Figures for stunting have only improved eight percentage points in Bihar, three percentage points in Jharkhand, and there was no improvement in Chhattisgarh. However, there was a decline of 10 percentage points in stunted children between 2005-06 and 2013-14. After the Swachh Bharat Mission, since 2014, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have managed to fulfill about 44%, 52% and 50% of the requirement as per the baseline survey. Sanitation is only one factor affecting nutrition; for instance, data from what was once Andhra Pradesh show that the proportion of wasted children increased by six percentage points between 2006 and 2014, despite an improvement in sanitation. Studies conducted in the past decade have emphasized on the need for sanitation to improve nutrition. The example of Bangladesh is often cited. Between 1990 and 2012, open defecation dropped from 34% to 2.5% in that country, accompanied by a reduction in undernourishment, according to a report by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Washington-based think-tank. This is the third part in the series on child malnutrition in India based on the PFHI report, where IndiaSpend tracks the states with worst and best nutrition figures and sanitation data to examine the relation between poor nutrition and hygiene. While the first part looked at public spending on child health and nutrition, the second part looked at the impact of maternal health on child nutrition. Series concluded. You can read the first part here and the second part here. (Salve and Tewari are policy analysts at IndiaSpend.)

    Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia). is a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit/ is fact-checking initiative, scrutinising for veracity and context statements made by individuals and organisations in public life.

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    An Australian man, Mark Balla, has been raising funds for the construction of toilets in Indian schools since 2013. After making an eye-opening visit to a school in Dharavi, Mumbai, he decided to set up a charity that aims to build 20,000 toilets in schools so that teenage girls never have to leave their education midway.
    “On one of my visits to India about four years ago, I met a couple of young men who took me to a school in Dharavi, Mumbai. I was shocked to see that many teenage girls had dropped out of school because there were no toilets there. My own daughter was a young teenager at the time, and I remember thinking that such a situation is simply not acceptable,” says Mark Balla, a resident of Melbourne, who has been contributing towards the construction of toilets in Indian schools.

    For about a year and half after his trip to Dharavi, Mark talked to several people in Australia about what he had observed.

    [caption id="attachment_43998" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]Mark Ball in the centre Mark Balla (centre)[/caption] Other than wanting to understand this reality in depth himself, he also wanted to make others aware about it. And finally in 2013, after getting some of his friends on board, he started a charity named We Can’t Wait to help raise money and awareness about the lack of toilets in schools in India.
    “We started writing and speaking about it widely, so as to raise awareness as well as some funds. I also started working with Rotary International at that time, and my charity continues to work closely with Rotary even today,” he says.

    Rotary International is a group of individuals and community leaders, who come together to create positive change.

    [caption id="attachment_43993" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]toilet7 Mark Balla (third from left) with his team and members of a rotary club[/caption] Members of different Rotary clubs around the world work to solve several challenges in their communities, like fighting disease, providing clean water, enhancing educational opportunities, and more. Rotary International provides them support as per their requirements. Mark’s idea was to raise funds in Australia by conducting special fund raising events in schools, colleges and corporate organizations. Then Rotary International would help him transfer these funds to other Rotary clubs in India, which would collaborate to construct toilets.

    The plan worked.

    [caption id="attachment_43996" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]toilet4 Completed toilets[/caption] We Can’t Wait has raised more than Rs. 75 lakh till now. The organization’s first project was in New English School located in Nashik, Maharashtra, which had no toilets. Mark’s charity built 15 toilets there, impacting the lives of over 500 children.
    “My charity selects the schools and ensures that the whole process is followed. There are a lot of schools in need and we can’t help all of them. So we carefully select those where the likelihood of a successful project is high. The number one issue for us is that the headmaster, teachers and school board must be genuinely focused on bringing improved hygiene and sanitation to the children. The school must be willing to contribute financially if possible and must take overall responsibility for cleaning and maintenance. It must also agree to incorporate hygiene and sanitation education in the curriculum. If we see signs of disinterest in these issues, we will probably choose to work with a different school,” Mark explains.
    We Can’t Wait does not take on the entire responsibility for funding the toilets. Rotary clubs in India also contribute and the schools pitch in as much as they can. The charity helps in the background, providing additional funding and technical expertise.

    We Can’t Wait is currently working on the construction of 150 toilets in seven schools in Nashik; these projects will be completed in a few months and impact about 5,000 students.

    toilet6 Other than raising funds in Australia, Mark is also getting help from different organizations in the UK and the US. This has helped the charity plan three more projects in the near future. Some organizations in Kolkata are willing to collaborate with him and Mark wanted to expand to South India as well.
    “Our aim is to help, just to help – we want to show people in India, particularly those in schools, that this is something the whole world is interested in. The whole world wants to help the country tackle its sanitation problem successfully,” he says.

    Mark wants to contribute towards the construction of 600-700 toilets by the end of 2016. The final goal is to construct 20,000 toilets by 2019, the year of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday.

    toilet8 The results until now have been very exciting for Mark. The absentee rate in New English School has gone down because children have stopped taking leave if they have stomach problems. The girls attend classes even during their periods. Sanitary napkin bins installed in the school are being used without any hesitation.

    A number of school children have had toilets constructed in their homes as well, by pressurizing their parents and getting help from Rotary clubs.

    “After we completed the first 15 toilets, the school’s headmaster called me and said ‘Mark, we have a problem. The boys are complaining.’ I couldn’t imagine why the boys would be complaining. He said it was because the line for drinking water has become longer since the girls had started drinking water during the day. Earlier, they used to stay without water the whole day, fearing they might need to go to the toilet. We didn’t know about this before. It was a complete surprise. I was extremely excited to see such immediate impact,” he concludes proudly.

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    Abdul Kalam is said to have touched the lives of many people in India. One such person, whose life changed after meeting the late President, is Madhusudhana Gupta, a civil engineer from Chennai. "I was working with L&T, when I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Kalam in 2003. A 45-minute discussion with him changed my life. The social inequalities and problems in our society used to trouble me. However, Mr. Kalam told me to find remedies to these problems and write about them," he says. And so Madhusudhana wrote on the various problems people were facing and the probable solutions to tackle these issues. But after some time, he felt that his writing wasn't gathering much of a response.
    "I realised that writing also meant that only a few people would be able to access the information. I wanted to bring about a change to society as a whole and realised this can only be achieved through action," he says.
    Since the last two years, Madhusudhana has been at the forefront of a host of philanthropic activities.

    His latest initiative is a called 'Feel of Birthday'.

    The Better India (32) "I was wondering how best to spread the word on the Swachh Bharat movement. It is something I hold very close to my heart. The idea of spending the money one keeps aside for one's birthday to clean up the surroundings, struck me as interesting," he says. And as per his decision, Madhusudhana went ahead and celebrated his son Kushal's 4th birthday by cleaning up a slum in Chennai's Perambur locality. Madhusudhana, his friends, and around 15 local residents cleaned the area and painted the walls. With the help of Corporation personnel, they cleared the garbage from the area. "Earlier, people couldn't even walk in the area as the stench was that bad. We have now given dustbins to a few families in order to encourage the practice of segregation," he says.

    He and his friends (a network of civil engineers from Anna University) have decided to make this a regular practice.

    The Better India (33) Next month his friend's son's birthday is coming up and they plan to celebrate in the same manner too.
    "The best takeaway from this event was when my daughter's friend Varshita (who had accompanied us) went home and told her father that she wanted to celebrate her birthday like this too. This is my motive. To encourage as many people as I can to spend some time and clean up their surroundings," he says.

    His son Kushal was thrilled to have his birthday celebrated in such a different manner and wants to continue this every year.

    The Better India (34) Madhusudhana is involved in other philanthropic activities as well. He and his friends have sponsored chairs for teachers at a Corporation-run school, where they didn't have any.  The school also had a high dropout rate. In order to get the children back to school, they donated game kits - containing football, badminton racket, cricket bat - to the school. "You won't believe it. As many as 10 children have started coming to school again," he says. Madhusudhana is also the creator of Through this website, he plans to organise people to promote the Swachh Bharat campaign and contribute actively to it. Here's wishing you all the luck for the future, Madhusudhana.

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