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Picture this: a shadowy figure squats by the village pond. Suddenly, a piercing whistle sounds. She finds herself surrounded by her neighbours. “Chachi, why are you doing this?” asks one. “Do you realise that your filthy habit will cause your own children to get all sorts of infections?” asks another. She scurries away, embarrassed. Meanwhile the members of the Village Vigilance Committee of Lalpur (Mohanlalganj Block in Lucknow District) go off to look for more people defecating in the open. Soon another whistle breaks the silence of dawn, and then another. In a matter of three months, 15 men and women from the community were able to get their village declared Open Defecation Free on 3rd August 2016.

Blowing the whistle on open defecation

How were these determined individuals were able to bring attitude and behavior change? “Our aim was to change people’s behaviour with pyar-mohabbat (love),” 50-year-old Nirmala Devi, member of the vigilance committee recalls. Every time their group found anyone defecating in the open, they would talk to them first. Many, however, didn’t want to listen. “They’d abuse us for disturbing their morning activity,” she recalls. “An elderly lady told me that she blamed us for her constipation!”

They also identified open defecation `hot spots’ – places which were favoured mainly because of their proximity to a water source. The far end of village pond was one such hot spot. “Every morning, we would go to these spots first,” she recalls. “We’d explain that human excreta could contaminate ground water and lead to all manner of disease.”

Blowing the whistle on open defecation

When the softer approach failed, the vigilance committee devised ingenious ways to embarrass defaulters. Nirmala Devi recalls laughingly how they often threatened to take photographs of all the defaulters they found squatting in the fields and send them to Prime Minister Narendra Modi! However, they did not do so in reality.

A concurrent effort to build toilets in every household was also under way in Lalpur. “This definitely made our job easier,” she says. “But still I feel that had it not been for our dedicated patrolling of the village every single morning, we’d not have been able to achieve our target in such a short time!”