ODF State: Kerala govt in dilemma for creating awareness on using toilets in tribal hamlets

Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 21: Kerala was declared as ‘Open Defecation Free’ (ODF) state on November 1- Kerala Piravi Dinam (Formation day of Kerala). But ensuring the utility of 1.74 lakh odd toilets set up including in the hilly and tribal hamlets of the state seems to be a herculean task for the administration.

The behavioural practices and gender inequality, persisting in the rural society tops the list of hindrances for the same. Though,  the government can boast of number of toilets constructed across the state, the ground reality on open air defecation hasn’t changed much.

“Many cultural issues are exists in our village. Even if they have toilets, many don’t use them. Most of the elderly prefer to defecate in the open air as they  are surrounded with forest. This is because of being habitual of it. In some tribal hamlets, if a father-in-law uses a toilet, then the daughter-in-law cannot use it,” Arun K R, a social worker from Attapadi.

Dr Seema Bhaskaran, coordinator of Attappadi Comprehensive Tribal Activity Development and National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) opines that community toilets are the feasible ones at  the region.

“In 2014, faced with severe malnutrition and high infant mortality rates, we had started community kitchens in the Attapadi block, which is inhabited largely by tribal communities. At that time itself, we realised open defecation was a serious health issue,” says Dr. Seema.

“We are focusing on community toilets, separated by gender, in such areas where there is water facility – where they can wash their clothes, bathe the children, etc., and thereby reduce the burden on women,” adds Dr Seema.

Lack of water supply in some of the villages is the major issue faced in the hilly regions. Idukki district was declared ODF in October. A total of 21,081 toilets were constructed in 52 local bodies.

Kattapana municipality in the district had become the first ODF municipality in the country and Muttom the first grama panchayat in the district as ODF.

“Most of the hilly areas are surrounded by tea, cardamom and other spice estates and these areas are usually used for defecation. Though the authorities have constructed around toilets in 851 houses, the water  scarcity is a big issue. Many of the  villages don’t even have proper water supply,” said Derik D of Idukki.

He claims that even the  new toilets either remain unused or  used as a storage space of fire-wood.

As part of the programme Suchitwa Mission, the nodal agency for sanitation has completed the construction of 1.74 lakh toilets in its 941 village panchayats.

K Vasuki, Executive Director, Suchitwa Mission, said it is a tough and challenging task to implement the ODF programme in a state like Kerala having different geographical terrain ranging from hillocks to coastal regions.

“ODF programme will be carried for next three years. We are planning an extensive awareness programme for the villagers with the help of several agencies and other stakeholders. We are also considering the feasibility of innovative ideas for toilets set up in the regions with water scarcity,” said Vasuki.