BENGALURU: Much before Swachh Bharat became a household name, thanks to the publicity and cyber campaigns, one woman has been quietly working as a crusader for cleanliness in one of the hinterlands of Karnataka.
Bhavya Rani, 30, has been on a mission for the past six years to make a gram panchayat in Tumakuru open defecation-free, with almost no support from the government. At an age when youngsters struggle to find a decent job, she quit her well-paying one to create awareness about sanitation in Shettigondanahalli Gram Panchayat of Turuvekere Taluk in Tumakuru district.
Hailing from Ananthady in Bantwal in coastal Karnataka, Bhavya completed her Master of Social Work degree from Alva’s College in Moodbidri. She began her career working for Swasti, an NGO in Bengaluru. In 2010, she happened to visit a village in Tumakuru for the wedding of her friend’s sister, which changed the course of her career and life.
She quit her job and started working in one of the villages in Shettigondanahalli Gram Panchayat that comprises 24 villages. After much ground work, Bhavya, with her `2 lakh savings and family support, bought all the necessary materials sufficient to build about 100 toilets. And as they say charity begins at home, she built the first toilet in the house where she was staying.
“The village was beautiful but I was horrified to see open defecation still being practised there. Coming from a place where cleanliness and sanitation are given utmost importance, I started wondering why these people were unaware of the need of basic facilities. There was zero knowledge about government schemes among the villagers.
Hence, I decided to take up the responsibility and dedicate my life to the mission of cleanliness,” says Bhavya. Over the last six years, Bhavya has helped build 443 toilets in Shettigondanahalli. Currently, the region has 1,343 houses of which 884 houses still do not have toilets.
Hurdles failed to deter Bhavya
It hasn’t been an easy journey for Bhavya. “Back in 2010, only eight of about 1,280 houses in the region had toilets. Apart from building toilets, changing the villagers’ mindset to use them was a tedious task. Open defecation is an age-old practice. Convincing villagers to construct and use toilets consumed more time,” she recalls.
Initially she ran from pillar to post seeking help from the government and Gram Panchayat but nothing came of it. “That is when I decided to do it on my own. PM Narendra Modi branded Swachh Bharat and prior to that, there were initiatives like Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan and others. Government provides `12,000 (for General Category) and `15,000 (for SC/ST) to build toilets but since it involves a lot of paper work, many people, especially villagers, don’t come forward. There is no awareness too,” she said, adding, “That is where people like you and me should come out to fill the gap.
The Centre wants to make India open defecation-free by 2019. But without support from educated people, it is impossible.”
Bhavya has another mission: “I want to create a model Gram Panchayat with my efforts, which can inspire individuals and officials concerned to take up similar initiatives.”