The protagonist has already made a conscious choice, good or bad; it drove the rest of his narrative. The emotional energy he carries with him delivers a morally significant choice to stay put and squabble the cynical standards of the community life.
A site, beyond your fancy, masked among the many cascade that flows divinely into the tributaries and some in the lakes nearby. Our protagonist is a resident of this unruly beautiful place called Mokhada in Palghar district of Maharashtra. Uneven plains and hillocks all around, and among one of these hillocks is a small town unmindful of the chaotic high life just four hours’ drive from Mumbai. This hidden gem, not less than a tourist spot is native to most Schedule Tribes and Schedule Caste that reside there with a few others. Noteworthy, there is good connectivity via the roads even among the hills if you have a personnel vehicle. It is a sight to mesmerise, if you visit the place during the autumn and early winters. Electricity is within reach but scarce. It is difficult to imagine a place so serene with crystal clear water falling down the falls into the streams, hills filled with mist, and the aroma of greenery befitting the hearts of any visitor to arrive at a conclusion that the homes in the town and in the nearby places do not have access to clean and safe water, lack in sanitation practices, and a slew amount of children falling prey to malnourishment.
Indeed, life is tough there, families gather around wells within the communities since early morning with empty pots to fill with water for the day. Girls, who should have been at school by-then, are busy making trips to these wells along with their parents or sisters. Water is necessary. Indeed it is one of the most essential components for daily lives. Likewise, when an assessment was carried out for water & sanitation practices within 3 villages of the district by the organization, it was found out that more than 84% of the dwellers rely on wells for water followed by rivers (26%) and bore-wells (4.3%) or tankers (2.7%). Although the responsibility to fetch water for household usages rests on both males and females, the assessment reveals that 91% of them are adult women (including daughter-in-laws and daughters) and 10% men. Where there are no young members in the families, the elderly often makes exhausting trips or pays other young people to fetch water for them. Even though the dwellers do not agree on children fetching water, evidence shows that they often do. The assessment also reveals that the months of March, April and May face severe scarcity of water and the dwellers spends on an average 2 hours daily to fetch water whilst covering 3.5 kilometres.
Here water for toilet usages seems rather more difficult under these circumstances. Sanitation practices are unruly low and instances of open defecation are partly akin to these prevailing circumstances. Prior to the year 2000, only 4.5% of the households in these 3 villages had toilets built. Today, after the implementation of the various schemes of the government of India like the Indira Awas Yojana (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana), Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan and the Swachh Bharat Mission the percentage have risen to around 88. Two-thirds (62%) of the households have built toilets outside the premises, while the rest (36%) has toilets inside. Interestingly, only 70% of the toilets were functional when the assessment was conducted, which takes us back to where we started. Most non-functional toilets were because of scarcity of water, followed by structural problems and acceptability issues (behaviour).
Incidentally recorded evidence also showed that, some of the poorest people without a roof over their houses prefer to sleep in the unused toilets rather than sleeping in the sun; perhaps one of the drudgeries associated with scarcity of water and toilet usages in the communities. The assessment also reveals that about 80% of the adults regularly use the toilets, while only a mere 59% children & 57% of the elderly use those. For children not using toilets is because they are not habituated and toilets are not child friendly leading to 40% of the households with infants to dispose the faeces out in the open or cover with sand or mud.
These are not unfamiliar situations in rural places of India. People subsist akin to these circumstances in most parts of the land mostly unaware of the ramification it brings into their lives. In context of the implications it brings about in the health conditions of the individuals, most children suffer from diarrhoeal and stomach ailments leading to anorexia and further to malnutrition in absence of proper health care services. This might be equally applicable to young adults and old one too.
Action Against Hunger – India/Fight Hunger Foundation
(Views expressed are personal)