Re-Inventing Toilet Talk in India with Cricket and Bollywood

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Cliff Abenaitwe
October 06, 2012

India is taking sanitation to another level thanks to the campaign Nirmal Bharat Yatra (NBY) a brain child of WASH United and Quicksand Design Studio.

This campaign focuses on the utilization of three different but popular stake holders in India (cricket, Bollywood and government) to drum support for sanitation and hygiene projects. NBY was launched on September 28, 2012 at the India Habitat Centre with the minister of Drinking water and sanitation Jairam Ramesh and Bolywood star Vidya Balan who has been appointed ambassador and messenger among many others all in attendance.

Participants in the 28 September Nirmal Bharat Yatra launch included (l-r) Mr. Jitendra Shankar Mathur, Joint Secretary, Drinking Water and Sanitation and chair of the press conference; Honourable Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation, Mr. Jairam Ramesh; and Bollywood star Vidya Balan.

According to Thorsten Kiefer, Executive Director of WASH United, the NBY will travel 2,000 km through villages from Maharashtra to Bihar. “ This is a toilet and hygiene mela that harnesses the passion for cricket, the glamour of Bollywood, the fun of interactive games towards creating a masala of positive excitement around the long-neglected issues of sanitation and hygiene across India”, Keifer said. He notes that there is need for everyone to take on sanitation and hygiene with a sense of urgency and make it a national obsession.

“For this, we are happy to welcome on board Vidya Balan as our ambassador and messenger. In India, Bollywood, cricket and the Government are omnipresent and known by all. We must use these to change the situation positively.” Keifer enthusiastically noted.

We have looked at the things Indians really are passionate and excited about and transposed them into a sanitation and hygiene context Kiefer further reveals adding that what they are trying to do with the Yatra is to make toilets and hygiene cool and sexy. “NBY will more specifically, raises awareness of and facilitate behavior change around sanitation and hand washing with soap”, he further elaborated.

The Cost of Poor Sanitation Hygiene On India

Lack of adequate sanitation is a huge problem in India, which loses approximately USD $53.8 billion (>6.4% of its GDP) due to increased health costs, productivity losses and reduced tourism revenue due to inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene (Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank, February 2011). In total, some 626 million Indians defecate in the open, making India the country with most people living without toilets in the world. This leads to severe problems spanning health, economics, human rights and the environment (UNICEF/WHO).

According to the Public Health Association, only 53 per cent of the Indian population wash hands with soap after defecation, 38 per cent wash hands with soap before eating and only 30 per cent wash hands with soap before preparing food (UNICEF).

The Issue at Hand and Way Forward

India is the reigning World Cricket Champion but with 626 million Indians using fields, vacant lots or railroad tracks as their toilet. India is also the world’s open defecation capital, resulting in more than 1,000 children dying from preventable diarrhea each day which is another world record.

Reflecting the great need to address India’s massive sanitation and hygiene crisis, the Yatra will see a high degree of involvement from the Minister of Drinking Water & Sanitation, Hon. Jairam Ramesh, and the Chief Ministers of several states. The Yatra works in close collaboration with the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), a government subsidization and awareness program that makes toilets affordable for poor and marginalized Indians. The Yatra’s key messages pertaining to toilet use, hand washing with soap and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) will supplement the NBA’s emphasis on prioritizing household spending on sanitation.

“India has a godliness surplus and cleanliness deficit,” said Minister Ramesh. “The Government of India has tripled its allocation to sanitation and hygiene, so money is not the issue, since we will spend 1lakh 7000 crores,” he added.

This major new campaign with the support of high-ranking public officials, cricket stars, a Bollywood celebrity, and leading development professionals is seeking to cut these numbers significantly over 48 days among the 90 million Indians.

Ms. Balan the Bollywood super star who is the program ambassador and messenger said that she is proud and honored to be the messenger of the Government of India for the cause of bringing about a clean India. “After all, celebrities such as I can use our position and presence for a social cause to make a real difference in the lives of people in this country. I have chosen sanitation.” She added

Bollywood star Vidya Balan

Nirat Bhatnagar, principal at Quicksand, added that “The Yatra represents a totally new approach to sanitation and hygiene campaigning in India in that it fully focuses on fun, positive messaging and super star role models. Basically, the Yatra is re-inventing toilet talk!”

On the possibility of the program enjoying the support of some of India’s biggest cricket heroes, Bhatnagar said that “Cricket stars and Bollywood actors are among the most powerful role models in India. The Yatra is a unique opportunity for celebrities to use their fame to help tackle one of the most pertinent social issues of our country in a fun and positive fashion. We invite everybody to come on board and help us build a popular movement for sanitation and hygiene in India.”

The NBY started immediately after Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary (October 3, 2012) from Wardha, Maharashtra, and will culminate almost 50 days later in Bettiah, Bihar. It will be the first in a series of Yatras that WASH United and Quicksand are planning over the next four years to help end India’s sanitation and hygiene crisis.

Inside The Yatra
The Yatra carries the following goals:

•Reach at least 90 million people with sanitation messaging through local, regional, national and international media, at least 82.5 million of whom live in India.
•100,000 total attendees at the carnival event in the towns and villages.
•30,000 children trained in appropriate hand-washing and sanitation behaviour at schools using fun and innovative sports-based games.
•200 teachers and 1,500 pupils trained to continue the WASH United educational program after the event’s conclusion.
• More awareness of Menstrual Hygiene Management. Long a topic surrounded by silence, it is now recognized as vital in achieving equity and dignity for women and will be accorded the space it deserves at the event.

Why The Focus on Menstrual Hygiene

By tackling Menstrual Hygiene Management, the NBY also tackles an issue facing persisting taboos in India. More than 300 million women and girls in India use unsanitary material such as old rags, husks, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspapers every month to try and contain the flow of menstrual blood, says Ms. Archana Patkar, Programme Manager at the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, a Yatra partner. These unhygienic measures during menstruation make women susceptible to infections and diseases pertaining to the urinary tract and reproductive system, reduce mobility and livelihood opportunities.

“Whilst global efforts on sanitation and hygiene have picked up momentum, women’s particular needs in sanitation continue to be forgotten or simply ignored,” Patkar says. “But women are the progenitors of the human race. Menstruation is therefore something of which they can and should be proud, so each and every one of us should work to improve the lives and life chances for women who do not have access to napkins and clean water and toilets with safe disposal facilities; who cannot talk about their experiences; or are not empowered to contribute towards a solution.”

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