CFAR and Community Mobilization for Water and Sanitation in Uttor Kumrokhali and Stadium Para in West Bengal

Recently I visited the above two sites to see for myself the work being done by a small team of my colleagues over the last 18 months or so.

The work involved mobilizing individuals belonging to marginalised community, creating awareness about hygiene, clean water and sanitation, training them to advocate for the same with government officials and sustain this through building leadership within the community creating community ownership.

Meeting the community has always been a energising experience and this was no different. I met members of two communities, one for women called ‘Alor Disha’ and the other that of school children called ‘Taru Sangho’

The leadership quality shown both by the women community and that of the school children were of very high order. The work done also worked as motivation for other wards seeking to form their own and interact with the government officials.

I am quite sure that over time this will spread to larger geographies and bring the much needed change in the lives of our people.

Here are some interviews and photographs

By Dwipal Kumar Bose, Mentor and Adviser; Social and Rural Enterprises

Part 1- School students speaking on how they worked together to bring about changes on sanitation

Part 2-A student (member of Tarun Sango community) explaining how she worked to promote sanitation and hygiene practices among others

Part 3 – Community embers playing a small skit (nukkad natak) on sanitary napkin

Part 4 – Student of Class -10 explaining how she mobilised other students on sanitation changes

Part 5

 

Vimla

DSC00361Vimla was born in 1952 in the state of Uttarakhand. Given her father’s job as an RFP in the Army, at a young age, Vimla had the chance to travel and live in different locations. Some of the cities she lived in were, Saharnpur, Meerut, Sakurbasti, Muradnagar and finally, Delhi.

Vimla had a tough childhood with limited means, her parents tried hard to make ends meet for their three children. Due to financial crisis, Vimla’s mother took her children to her maternal home in Almora where she tried to educate all her children as best as she could. Illiterate herself, Vimla’s mother, Nanda Devi had big dreams for her children. Vimla was the first one in her village to have studied till class XII.

Vimla recalls her childhood as carefree, where she hardly indulged in any ‘girly’ stuff so to say. She did all the naughty stuff a boy her age would have done. But she was also good at her studies. She saw her parents work hard so that the children could get a good life. Her mother worked laboriously from the early hours of morning, feeding, cleaning and preparing to send her children to school. They were simple people but also very liberal for their times, as she recalls. This probably helped build her personality of a woman who was strong and outgoing. Vimla never saw her parents discriminate against anyone on the basis of their caste, religion or economic status.

Early years

Vimla had to go through a lot of hardships to become the person she is today. From an early age she saw her family struggle with problems of all kinds. Her sister married for love and yet was deceived by her husband. She had to come back to her parents’ house who helped her raise her two children, unmoved by all the social pressure. Vimla also lost her father at a young age, leaving her mother alone to run the household and raise her children as well as her grandchildren. But 36 year old Nanda Devi was a strong woman, who somehow managed to make ends meet, and this inspired Vimla, to grow up and become like her mother. Nanda Devi took up odd jobs to feed her family, she started selling tea to ensure that her kids get an education. Later, with the help from some neighbors, she opened a grocery store that took care of the immediate needs of her family.

Vimla however had more trouble in store for her. She was forcefully married off to a man 14 years older. Abused in her marriage, Vimla turned bitter towards men in general. She saw herself turn into ‘Phoolan Devi’, gunning down men in order to avenge herself. She had three children from this marriage whom she struggled to raise, hoping to give them a decent education. After her first child, Vimla also suffered from a sexually transmitted disease. At this critical juncture in her life, Vimla’s mother once again stepped in to take care of her daughter. She had no support from her husband at any stage and this multiplied her hatred for him. To sustain her family, Vimla took up odd jobs. She worked for a Police DIG as a housemaid. But even in those difficult circumstances she managed to educate her children and bring them up well, so much so that people mistook her children as those of the DIG. Finally with the help from a few friends, she set up a small business of selling clothing material. This economic relief enabled her to attain self confidence, readying her to brace for further challenges in life.

 Rise of a social activist

100_8042Living in Railway colony in Azad Market, Filmistan, Vimla met a dynamic woman named Tajdar Babur. Tajdar was a Congress member who was at the time, participating in an anti-dowry campaign. Vimla was encouraged by Tajdar to participate in party meetings, slowly initiating her into community welfare.

On the lookout for a job, Vimla met an old friend who introduced her to the NGO, Action India. Vimla underwent a 15-day field training with Action India, on community mobilization on women’s issues. In the course of her training, she identified with other women’s difficult circumstances and also gained a deeper understanding into men’s attitude towards women in general. At Action India, Vimla learned to mobilize women, form groups and fight for specific issues like, dowry, sanitation, reproductive health, water, ration and so on. She worked alone in C-block of Seemapuri, mobilizing a group of Bengali women living in the resettlement colony. Slowly she developed confidence, forming and mobilizing many such groups.

Vimla continued her social work in the years to come. She worked with residents of Sundernagari in 1988 after the cholera outbreak. She participated in several movements on reproductive health and even fought for the rights of widowed Sikh women after the 1984 riots. Through a series of street plays, Vimla started an awareness campaign on various issues. Some of these issues were women’s rights, communal harmony, dowry deaths and so on.

In 1993, Vimla went to Tehri Garhwal for an evaluation by Action India. In the course of retreat she realized that all laws seemed to be an outcome of a patriarchal mindset. Vimla was intrigued by the absence of a woman’s point of view in all functioning, whether it was legal framework or any other government agency. She raised her concern with the then Director of Action India and facilitated by the organization, a project on ‘Women’s Law and Social Change’ was initiated. This was also the first step towards ‘Mahila Panchayat’. Vimla worked closely with lawyers trying to understand all nuances of women’s rights in the word of law.

CFAR: Beginnings

With a focus on media advocacy, CFAR was formed in 1993. As an Action India representative, Vimla had participated in debates organized by CFAR with various groups. In 2000, she joined CFAR, working closely with different settlements on issues like, menstrual hygiene, child labour and the impact of Television media on these issues. She organized debates between the resident groups of these settlements and renowned TV journalists, trying to raise awareness on the impact of media on the lives of common man. She worked with different groups of people, women, adolescents and even disabled, engaging them in active open debates on issues facing their settlements.

Personal challenges

Vimla’s family life was no different than her social one. She exercised the same principles at home as she taught communities across various settlements. The lessons of menstrual hygiene were given to her daughter as she was growing up. She insisted on equal education for her sons and daughter. And she enabled her children, including her daughter-in-law to be financially independent.

Like her mother, Vimla did not suffer from any social stigma. Her daughter had a tough marriage, facing the wrath of her in-laws but social pressure did not deter Vimla from supporting and fighting for her daughter. She took the matter up with the Panchayat to help resolve issues within the families.

Vimla realized that if women taught their sons well at an early age, their patriarchal attitude could be altered towards women in general. She practiced what she preached with her sons. When she learnt that her daughter-in-law was a school dropout, Vimla helped her complete her education and become financially independent. She supported her daughter-in-law fully even when she could not conceive following two years of marriage.

Vimla even supported her sister’s daughter in her decision to marry out of her own caste. Despite resistance from the rest of the family, Vimla extended her support to her niece and helped her with the decision to marry for love.

One of her sister’s sons grew up to be like his father and abused his wife physically. Vimla could not tolerate it and she stood up in arms against her own nephew to protect the daughter-in-law.

Vimla also formed an NGO named, Sehwagi Manch which aimed at empowering women. She partnered with Maruti Udyog to help women train as drivers, under the ‘Pehla Mahila driver’ (first woman driver) scheme. Under this scheme, she trained her nephew’s wife in self defense as well. She got the daughter-in-law to train for driving thus making her financially independent. The girl who came from a remote village with no courage to voice her opinion, later turned into a driver, driving around private cars in the city. Such was Vimla’s role in touching and altering people’s lives.

Strengthening community engagement

DSC09414.JPGAt CFAR, Vimla worked closely with women from different settlements on issues like domestic violence. All field based planning was done under her supervision. She realized that in order to empower women, they had to be organized in active groups. She formed a group for such women, called the ‘Mahila Pragati Manch’. She then started to connect Mahila Pragati Manch with various government departments, facilitating them in taking up their own issues with the authorities. Vimla gained a lot of experience in her association with Mahila Pragati Manch, learning about new things like filing an RTI application, learning how to mobilize women and youth groups. Some of the settlements she fondly recalls working with are, Sunlight Colony Old Seemapuri, Janta Mazdoor Colony, Tigri and Kalyanpuri.

Way forward

From washing dishes for a household, Vimla has come a long way, where she is working at empowering every such woman who feels weak in her domestic struggle for existence.  But 63 year old Vimla feels she still has a long way to go.

She misses her mother who was her sole inspiration, and she wants to inculcate the same values in her grand children, especially her granddaughters.

In the past years of her social work, Vimla has touched many women’s lives, motivating them to stand up for themselves. She dreams of seeing every woman become an independent woman in the true sense of the word, and she wants to keep working with women to help them attain that level of self sufficiency.

By Shruti Pushkarna

Ahmad Raja- NTPC Subhash Camp, Delhi

Ahmad Raja is an independent professional at 23 years. Graduate in Medical Laboratory Technology, he works in the Safdarjung research lab. Ahmad feels he is lucky to have had his education which enabled him to work and earn for his family. He has similar dreams for hundreds of children living in the NTPC Subhash camp. And to realize this dream, Ahmad attached himself to the youth group in his camp a couple of years ago.

There were several issues in Subhash camp like health, safety, education, for which we didn’t have a proper platform. Facilitated by CFAR, we thought of creating a youth group. When locals come together to raise their collective concerns, it has a wider impact than having someone from outside the community fighting for local issues. Every human being has potential, you just need someone to recognize it and encourage them to grow. We learnt this and that’s what we are trying to achieve through our youth group, encourage people to come forward and deal with their own problems.

The youth group worked closely with the community on several issues. Some of these were health, sanitation, CTC, water, education and so on. Encouraged by the positive response from the community, Ahmad and his group decided to continue with their efforts on bringing about a change in their cluster.

We got a lot of positive response from the community. We ran awareness campaigns on health, education, fundamental issues like water, electricity, ration etc. We conducted meetings outside people’s houses across all lanes in the camp. And we connected people with the respective responsible authority through direct conversations between them.

On the issue of health

People used to defecate in the open. We told them of the ill effects on one’s health of defecating in the open. Authorities don’t visit a particular area without a reason. So we organized an event around sanitation and health where we invited officials. We showed them the condition of the CTC and got people to talk to them directly about the problems related to the toilets. The authorities then decided to reconstruct the CTC and even build an additional new CTC within six years. We managed to get the CTC repaired and reconstructed. Within one month, the CTC will be ready to use.

On the issue of education

Children used to play around and not attend their school. Parents were also careless about their attendance in schools. We educated the parents, made them aware of how if their children go to school regularly, they can grow up to become the Prime Minister or the President of this country. How they will become responsible and self sufficient citizens of this country. Parents understood. There was a noticeable change. Now they are strict about sending their children to school.

On the issue of safety around the CTC

About a year and a half ago, women were scared of using the CTC, they didn’t feel safe, there was a constant fear of being harassed by anti social elements. We worked with the community on this issue and also followed up the matter with the Police. Now the situation is better. Women are no longer scared of using the CTC now. We spoke to the alcoholics who used to harass women outside the CTC. We educated them on the ill effects of alcohol on human body. Some listened to us and altered their behavior and the ones who didn’t listen to us, were arrested by the police and fined on several occasions. Now the situation is much better.

On the issue of irregular water supply

Many lanes didn’t have regular water supply. We got all residents facing water problem to write applications to the concerned department. As a result, we now have a pipeline which supplies water for daily chores. Still there are some lanes which don’t get water, we have been following up on their case with Delhi Jal Board.

 Ahmad admits that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the area of sanitation in the camp. He feels apart from following up the problems with the authorities, a whole mental change also has to be brought about across generations for actual changes to reflect on the ground.  

Ahmad_1.JPG We still have to work a lot on the issue of sanitation. Nobody pays attention to the drains in the lanes or to the garbage that keeps lying around. Unless the residents get support from MCD, they won’t be able to bring a change into effect. Residents used to dump garbage in the open outside their houses, but then we made them aware, asked them to throw garbage in the MCD truck, but still we don’t have enough support from MCD. They are not regular in cleaning or collecting garbage. We need to work harder on this issue. We are thinking of uniting all residents and taking them together to the MCD office to convey the problem and ask for a solution.

We have been working with the youth of the community but I feel there is a need for the older generation to participate more actively in our meetings. 70 per cent problems arise from a certain mental make-up of the elders in the community, which needs to be changed. Youth alone can’t bring a change, the older generation has to listen and adopt the change that we teach. We will conduct meetings with the parents of all youth, so that they become active participants in this movement for change.

As a result of his regular follow ups, Ahmad’s potential was recognized by the local authorities who appointed him President to represent the community issues of NTPC Subhash Camp.

I used to go to the MLA’s office regularly to follow up on issues facing Subhash camp. The MLA recognized my initiative for the community and made me the President from his party (AAP) to represent Subhash Camp. It is more effective if a local resident, who understands the community’s problems, takes them forward with the officials. Outsiders can’t understand the complications of issues facing the community.

Ahmad is hopeful of a better tomorrow for his camp. He feels if the authorities are pursued collectively and regularly, matters can be resolved. But change, he feels, has to come from within. He feels people have to actively engage with each other in order for the change to come about.

In the next few years, I want Subhash camp to be known as a model settlement and not a cluster full of thieves and drug addicts. We will work towards this with as many community residents as we can. We will continue with our efforts with or without any external support. I want to request the community residents to give us their full support. Whatever meetings or events we organize, they should all attend these so that we can understand their problems and contact the local authorities and start a dialogue towards resolutions of all the issues.

By Shruti Pushkarna

Jyoti’s Narrative

Jyoti14-year old Jyoti lives with her family in Shastri Mohalla, Delhi. She dreams of becoming a singer one day. She is very close to her grandfather who encourages her to follow her dreams. Full of aspirations and hope, Jyoti is keen on bringing about a change in the cluster she lives in. She realizes that every citizen has to be responsible in their actions for a change to come about.   And she feels that no one should shy away from cleaning their own surroundings.

We should not only clean our own surroundings, but even tell other elders to do the same. If we spot garbage in front of someone’s house, we should remove it. When we go out we should not throw garbage anywhere. We should find a dustbin to throw the waste. If there’s no dustbin available, we should keep it in our bag and throw it later when we spot a dustbin. We have to keep our house and surroundings clean. We also have to keep the roads and parks clean. And we have to do this together. If one person will start this practice, others will soon follow. Cleaning your house and surroundings is not a shameful thing.

Jyoti is a young but well informed citizen who is aware of what practices to follow when it comes to sanitation and hygiene.  She strongly believes in every (wo)man’s potential to maintain cleanliness around them.

If there’s any water standing, we should put petrol or kerosene to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in it. Instead of waiting for some authority, if we spot any ditches, we should fill them up on our own. If we can’t do it on our own, we should seek help from someone elder. We can also request the official authorities for help.

In case the garbage collection van is not coming, we can volunteer one by one to collect garbage from all houses. We can take turns for this task. We have to do things on our own before we expect authorities to do their bit.

Jyoti feels that instead of blaming the authorities for everything, community residents should take responsibility of first correcting their own habits. Once everyone takes a step in the right direction, she feels the desired change will be inevitable.

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

Kaushalya

40 year old Kaushalya has lived in the Jain Mandir cluster, Delhi for the past three decades. Her husband works for a travel agency and both her daughters are working. Like every mother, Kaushalya has dreams for her daughters and she thinks that her daughters are capable of realizing them. She is happy in her little home but is affected by the community’s collective problems.

Kaushalya decided to be part of the women’s group in Jain Mandir to bring about a change in her cluster. She feels that it is important for women to mobilize other women for collective concerns.

Women have to come together to educate others in the community. A lot of us associated with the committee and we have seen the changes. We didn’t know how to talk earlier but we have learned to voice our issues. We didn’t use to get time from daily household chores earlier but now we make an effort to take time out for the meetings. People have to associate with these meetings to step forward. We can put forth our issues with the authorities with the help of these meetings and our committee.

Kaushalya has seen the changes that the committee has helped bring about in the cluster. She acknowledges the work done by authorities when they were pursued collectively.

Our toilets were so bad but now there is a lot of improvement. We filed an application after getting it duly signed by all women in the committee. All the seats were broken, there were no doors, walls were broken. All this was repaired. Whitewash was done. There was no water, so water tanks were installed in various places. I thank the authorities for all this. This was possible only when we got together to complain.

Kaushalya has a long list of pending issues that she would like to take forward with the committee but she is also aware of irresponsible behavior of certain residents towards the facilities provided. She urges them to take up good practices of health and hygiene.  

We should get all facilities but if we don’t take care of these facilities then it is our own fault. We cannot blame anyone else. We have to teach the others, make them aware of good practices of hygiene. Take the garbage in the dustbins and dump it in the collection van. Don’t throw garbage outside, keep cleanliness in your households. Keep the drains clean. When we follow good practices of hygiene, we can tell the others as well.

I want to see many changes in my cluster. Sewer needs to be repaired. We should have a bigger CTC here. There should be a separate toilet for the kids. There are only three toilet seats for kids so they defecate in the open.

Kaushalya is ready to work with other women as one community to bring about the changes she feels necessary for her family to live in a clean environment.

We have to keep our cluster clean. We can train other women to not dirty their surroundings. We can even get together to scold the alcoholics so they stop creating nuisance for all of us here. We have to unite the entire community to bring about a change. One person has no impact but the entire community has a huge impact if they all decide to stand together.

By Shruti Pushkarna

Tahir

27 year old Tahir is a carpenter by profession. His father is a tailor and brother, a painter. But Tahir’s work is not limited to carpentry. He feels for his cluster and the surrounding areas and he is keen to bring about a change.

Tahir and his friends got together to form a Jain Mandir Sudhar Samiti to tackle with problems faced by the community.

One day all of us friends were sitting and we thought to ourselves that the park is so dirty and that we should do something about it. If our relatives or friends from outside come to our cluster, they will carry such a bad impression.

His friends decided to form a committee and they collected a sum of 100 Rs. from all members to execute the required changes.

We managed to bring together 45 boys who gave 100 rs from their pocket to contribute to this drive. We swept the park and picked up the garbage. We also bought and planted many plants here so the park looks pretty. We didn’t seek any government help, but did this on our own.

But Tahir and his friends did not have full control on the community members who started using the park for their personal purposes and leaving it dirty once again.

A lot of boys in the committee lost interest because people started dirtying the park again, using it for their personal use. We are not able to do as much now as the community doesn’t cooperate. People are selfish, they don’t realize that we have to live as a community together.

Tahir has also been involved in organizing other public events in the community.

We organized a Ram lila here. We also distributed sherbet on muharram.

He feels, people show interest only in those activities that concern them and turn their back towards any collective concerns.

Tahir and his committee members of the Sudhar Samiti also tried to stop water wastage in the cluster.

We installed nuts on people’s water tanks to stop water wastage but people threw those away.

He feels strict fines have to be imposed on defaulters to bring about a change of any kind. He also feels that a committee has to be in place and for any change to come about, people have to give their time to it.

People who are defaulters should be heavily fined. Even rich people have to buy water to use and here these people don’t realize the importance of free water being given by the government. I’m not very educated. We need someone who is better educated to head a committee that raises issues of the cluster as a collective. But the committee can only be successful if people give time to it. Otherwise like our committee which fell from 45 to 20 members, this committee will also be ineffective.

Tahir is willing to come forward and take the next steps towards change but he realizes his limitations.

We no longer have money to put in from our own pockets. Everyone has to contribute to it and not just a handful of people.

Tahir has a few suggestions for the government authorities. On the issue of alcoholism, drug abuse and eve teasing he urges the government to install lights in the dark corners of the cluster. He also wants the government authorities to utilize the plot behind the CTC in Jain Mandir-Delhi.

If there are big flood lights, the defaulters will be scared of doing anything. They will think twice about it. They should make a baarat ghar or a small dharamshala on the empty plot so that people stop throwing garbage in that open space.

But above everything, Tahir feels that the community has to become aware of its own issues, and willing to take steps in the right direction. Laziness and selfishness, he feels, add to the existing problem and a mental change has to come first for actual change to be seen in the cluster.

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

Waziran’s Narrative

Waziran.JPG60 year old Waziran has lived in Shastri Mohalla, Delhi for the past forty years. Her husband remarried and moved out, leaving her alone to take care of her two sons. She now lives with one of her sons and six grandchildren. She hopes that her grandchildren will one day grow up to become good citizens, probably working in respectable positions, like a police officer or even a bureaucrat.

Four decades in this cluster make her well verse with all the issues facing the community. A couple of years ago she had a terrible accident which left her crippled. A steel rod in one leg and a walking stick in hand, she walks around Shastri Mohalla actively pursuing the day to day issues facing the community. She wants to see the changes she hopes for in her lifetime. She doesn’t know what the future holds for her but she is sure of the fact that if everyone works towards making it better, it will be better.

Talking about the problems facing the cluster, she mentions the frequent tussle between the residents and the MCD workers on cleaning drains. She sees no point in fighting over the issue, instead she has worked out her own solution.

I started removing the cover from the drains so that the drains could be cleaned properly. If everyone starts doing the same, the situation can improve. I don’t depend on the department worker for this, I tell everyone to remove their covers/lids on their own.

Garbage dumping is another big problem faced by Shastri Mohalla residents. Waziran urges everyone to use a dustbin in their houses.

We can keep dustbins outside our doors in which we can store all garbage. When the garbage collection van comes, we can all dump the garbage in the van.

Her continuous association with the committee has taught her a few things. She can differentiate between the different government departments and their responsibilities. She acknowledges the sorry state of drains in the cluster but understands that the right department has to be approached for the problem.

The drains need to be repaired. We understand that this is not the MCD’s job but the department responsible should repair it. Once they repair it and make it pucca, we can clean and maintain it on our own. Even now, I clean it on my own, I don’t wait for them to come and clean it. Before taking a bath, I clean the drain. Everyone has to be responsible for their own surroundings. The department workers can come and clean it occasionally.

With six children and four adults in crammed two small rooms, Waziran has her own battles to fight. But she is also sensitive to the community’s troubles. She realizes that not everyone in the community can afford to spend money on their children’s weddings. She too has three granddaughters to be married off one day. Looking at the park adjoining the cluster, she wants the concerned authority to convert it into a community centre, to be used as a wedding hall by residents.

The park should be partly converted into a baaraat ghar. Otherwise people drink alcohol here and create nuisance for us. Residents any way cannot afford to spend a lot of money on weddings, this will help them.

Despite all her problems, Waziran is not gloomy about the future. She looks at the glass half full rather than half empty. She describes how things have changed over the course of time.

Earlier garbage used to be sitting around, we were not aware of its harmful effects. We used to hesitate asking the department worker to clean it, thinking that he in a higher position than us. Now there is a change. Now we don’t hesitate in reminding the department worker of his duty. We also consciously clean our houses and adjoining areas. We are better informed now. We know that we should not keep any kind of waste in the house. We know that we have to keep the water tank clean and always keep it covered. If we keep our surroundings clean, we can prevent diseases like dengue and malaria.

She understands the important role being played by community meetings in bringing about this change.

We know it’s important to attend meetings because we gather useful information in the meetings. I’m part of the Mahila Samiti as well and attend all meetings. We should all definitely go for these meetings as many issues can be resolved in these meetings.

Waziran is sure of the fact that the community can get its issues resolved. She feels that the change that has come about with better awareness will help the likes of her to take the next steps.

We’ve seen the corporation office. Other offices and authority that we’ve seen, we can approach them on our own. We will get our issues resolved.

By Shruti Pushkarna