RAIPUR: Having gained popularity as ‘Red Brigade’ in Chhattisgarh’s backwards district of Mungeli, they remain in command to maintain open defecation free (ODF) status in the region. None can muster the courage to ignore their assertion here. Hold on! They are not the Maoists, who also are cited notoriously as ‘red brigade’ in the states affected by left-wing extremism.
Young girls groups venture out every morning in every gram panchayat in the region. Donning a white cap, red T-shirt and blue trousers, they pedal their bicycles covering the every nook and corner of the villages. The ‘Red Brigade’ operates in every village panchayat and comprises of 15-20 energetic girls from high school and above.
“Many members of Red Brigade were initially quiet, shy and non-assertive. Now, they have turned into confident and assertive individuals. All 350-gram panchayats in our district have now achieved the ODF status”, the Mungeli district collector Kiran Kaushal told Express.
Through an orientation programme in June last year, the girls were enlightened about the concepts on good sanitation, health and ODF in ‘Kishori Balika Sammelan’ (Adolescent Girl Conferences) organised by departments of women and child development department across the district.
“Besides the attention, we feel stronger as we see people listening and complying with what we tell them. That, in turn, gives us more confidence in working towards our goals”, said Sangita Nagpal, a Class 11 student.
Elaborating on the tasks they carry out daily, one of the groups from Patharia block told Express that they stand up to their mission and convince the women, men, elders and even children through interpersonal communication, encouraging them to use their domestic toilets.
The villagers are explained about the impacts of open defecation, lack of sanitation and poor hygiene on health. They take out rallies, perform nukkad sabha (corner meetings), nukkad natak (street plays) on cleanliness habits, sanitation and promote healthy lifestyle.
Kamlesh Sahu, Pandiyain village sarpanch gives credit to Red Brigade for creating a positive environment in the rural habitat. “Their efforts led to achieving an ODF status in my village”, he said.
The district administration is delighted with the experiment to harness the energy and enthusiasm of young adolescent girls who now command sanitation drive and maintain ODF status. The Red Brigade has emerged as a major breakthrough to promote the usage of Indian household latrine in villages, where women, elderly and children have shown wide acceptance to the endeavour of these girls, the collector said.
The Brigade members are also counselling girls in the region to attend schools while also campaigning against malnutrition and superstition. Recently, they have also started working towards the prohibition of liquor consumption.
The Mungeli experiment shows how gender-sensitive sanitation initiative can ‘fix’ things ranging from sanitation to public health to education to women empowerment. Meanwhile, to the surprise of the rest of the country, all senior administrative positions and the urban local bodies in Mungeli district are headed by women.