Wednesday , 20 June 2018

Toilet: a love story!

Tanvir Ahmed

I am not planning to write a movie critic – that is not my strongest area! I recently have found that there is a movie to be released in India and the story is based on a toilet construction. I found it with interesting as because of my previous job I am somehow part of this massive movement taking place in India –the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign.

India is a huge country of 1.2 million square miles with a massive a population of 1.2 Bn. 600 Million of the country population (50%) defecated in the open, thus contaminating water supplies and spreading diseases. There is also a security risk for women & children who go for open defecation as seen in that movie trailer.

Prime Minister of India Mr Narendra Modi in 2014 started this campaign. The central aim of the campaign is to build 100 million toilets across India by 2019. That will be 150 years since the birth of Mohandas Gandhi, who said good sanitation was more important than independence.

Those without toilets are from the lower economic groups within India, with a large amount subsistence living. Paying for the toilets alone is difficult for them. So, govt. is supporting them to build those toilets and promoting the behaviour change so that they use those.

We talk about so many negatives on Bangladesh, overlooking the other side of the coin. If we compare the development of this sanitation area compare to other neighbouring countries, we are far more developed and advanced.

Movie poster

A new built toilet in rural India

I was part of a team responsible for developing cleaning solutions for those newly developed toilets. Scientist, NGO’s and others were supporting us to find the product to maintain those toilets in long run. I flew to India from the UK to join the local team. People from other countries also joined us. After attending a day long workshop in Delhi with the people who are leading this movement from NGO’s front, we went to South to experience the movement and understanding the need from the users.

First, we flew to Chennai, then travelled to a district called Tiruchirappalli. We have visited few villages there and spoke to the owners of those new build toilets (we had interpreters with us). The finding was really interesting, this movement has created a massive noise among that rural population. To them, that was the best thing happened in their life in years.

Several women narrated their traumatic experiences of having to defecate before sunrise or after sunset. So, in general women were more relieved as earlier they had to leave homes during the dark and many incidents took place across the country. So that safety concern was gone with the toilet. They also spoke about the awful experience of defecating in the summer heat and in the filthy & muddy waterlogged bushes and fields during monsoons.

Another interesting finding was that they were maintaining those toilets with the limited resources they had. In no time, those became an important part of their house. Although there was some initial rejection from people with old school thought, Govt, NGO’s and people of the village worked together to change those beliefs.

There is a portal of this campaign by the ministry of housing, which is showing that 33.6 million household toilets have been constructed after the campaign launch. Which is one-third of the target. There might be questions on the achievement of the target the Indian government had initially, however this surely has made a massive social movement. This was an initiative which required cultural change and it’s changing. I still remember speaking to that elderly lady in a village of Tiruchirappalli who initially refused to use her toilet. She loves those open air beside the river. It took her some time to change her habit, now she can’t think of going back to those fields for open defecation.


About the author:
Tanvir Ahmed is an experienced marketer & strategist, worked for a blue chip FMCG company across operational and global marketing roles. In his last role, he was located in the United Kingdom as an expat.

Now he is supporting few start-ups as a business development consultant based out of the UK and leading his own breakthrough innovation project jointly with UK central research lab. He is also founder and head of student relations of ALIANAZ Academy for Professional Qualifications.

A Photographer who loves to travel (covered 30+ countries in 4 continents), has a passion for innovation and (perhaps inevitably) a Bangladeshi cricket fanatic!

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