Anu Baruah can’t cycle her way through her native village of Bhurbanda without someone stopping her to ask about a toilet for her/his home. After all, this frail 40-something woman has helped build a whooping 2400 plus toilets so far. She heads a self-help group that helps built toilets for BPL card holders. Not only has she dedicated her life to the ‘Total Sanitation Campaign’ that aims to eradicate defecating in the open, she has also personally made sure that many whose names do not feature in the Sarkari BPL holders list also have access to these toilets. To that end, she has provided a survey of her area which recommends non-BPL families for BPL cards based on their economic condition. Assam is lagging behind in its targets for The Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) which is a community–led total sanitation programme launched by the Government of India in 1999 but people like Anu are trying their best to move the movement forward.
Working for sanitation
It is a demand–driven and people–centred sanitation programme where R 2700 is provided by the government and R 300 is added by a particular householder. The main goal of the Total Sanitation Campaign is to eradicate the practice of open defecation by 2017. Villages that achieve the ‘open defecation free’ status receive monetary rewards and high publicity under a programme called Nirmal Gram Puraskar. Anu hopes she will soon live to see that day.
How she got associated with the campaign is a story in itself. ‘I had initially started a dairy farm which could not be marketed well and as such suffered losses. Dejected and in debt, I was left with little option but to let it go. It was then that I realized my strengths lay more in activism than in business. I threw myself heart and soul into the TSC campaign and I have never looked back since’, says Anu. Even after the toilets have been built and handed over to a householder, Anu revisits the household to make sure the nearest water source is 20-30 feet away or if the toilets are actually being used. ‘Some people call me the latrine lady, I do not mind that. Now that I have realised that a toilet near a house is as essential as the house itself, such names tell me that I am on the right path’.