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In Assam’s Lakwa, use of toilets is a regular habit

Lakwa block is mostly inhabited by the tea tribe community, who were brought as indentured labourers to work in the tea gardens of Assam.

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Road leading to a village in Assam. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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Bornali Borah, a housewife in remote Holow Phukan village in Assam, no longer wakes up her mother-in-lawduring the wee hours of the morning when she wants to go out to defecate. Borah and other women of the village are now happy as each house has a toilet and it is being used. Borah’s village has been declared ‘open defecation-free’ (ODF) as other villages in Lakwa block of the state’s Sivasagar district.

“I am happy that we live like human beings now and do not go to the fields to defecate like the animals. Before the toilets were constructed, all of us had go out in the fields to relieve ourselves. The entire thing was disappointing but we did not have any solution,” Bornali, in her early 30s, told IANS.

The toilet constructed at Bornali’s home is among 5,319 toilets in Lakwa block, funded by the state government and the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects of companies like ONGC and BCPL (Brahmaputra Crackers and Polymers Ltd). The entire initiative was supported by UNICEF.

A baseline study done by the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) in Lakwa in 2015 had revealed that toilet coverage was 35 percent and about 51 percent toilets were found to be unusable.

Related Article: Vinod Kapri to build toilets with his National Award money

Sixtyeight-year-old Bohagi, another woman beneficiary in Lakwa block, told IANS: “People used to say that they feel suffocated to defecate in a proper enclosed toilet, but I do not agree with them. After all, the government has constructed the toilets not just to ensure proper sanitation but also proper security for people who had to sometimes go in the field in the dark,” she said.

Toilet in a village. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

She said it took a lot of efforts of the state government and the volunteers to change the mindset of people.

A government official said they began by sensitising district- and block-level officials.

“The next phase involved sensitisation of community, key front line village workers and school children. The initiative was led by the district deputy commissioner and succeeded in making Lakwa ‘open defecation-free’ by December 2015,” he said.

Referring to earlier efforts to construct toilets, he said temporary toilets made of bamboo and straw without proper sanitary pits had their problems, as the structure was damaged during rains, and there was the risk of skin infections and other diseases.

The official said that people stuck to open defecation and there was some resistance to initial efforts at toilet construction.

“But now using toilet is a habit here. There has been no recurrence of open defecation,” the official said.

Lakwa block is mostly inhabited by the tea tribe community, who were brought as indentured labourers to work in the tea gardens of Assam. They comprise 17 percent of the state’s population and fare poorly on human development indices, including education.

The entire initiative required emotional motivation. As most of the problems here do not get highlighted, they prevailed here for a long time. There were toilets which were defunct,” Virendra Mittal, District Collector of Sivasagar, told IANS.

Understanding the importance of the government’s initiative, the villagers of Lakwa block have also started convincing people in other blocks of the district about the benefits of toilets at home.

(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at rupesh.d@ians.in. He was recently on a trip by the UNICEF to cover the Open Defecation Free (ODF) Lakhwa block of Sivasagar district in Assam, a first in the North East)

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  • Pragya Jha

    Use of toilet is hygienic whereas peeing in open is unhygienic as well as harmful for the surrounding too

  • Akanksha Sharma

    Open defecation should be eradicated, It poses serious threat to the health of people in India. This is a remarkable initiative started by govt to eliminate it

  • Pritam Go Green

    There are still many parts in Rural states such as Bihar where open defecation is being practiced. Our govt should emphasize on collaborating on more such projects with UNICEF. This is indeed a great initiative.

SHARE
  • Pragya Jha

    Use of toilet is hygienic whereas peeing in open is unhygienic as well as harmful for the surrounding too

  • Akanksha Sharma

    Open defecation should be eradicated, It poses serious threat to the health of people in India. This is a remarkable initiative started by govt to eliminate it

  • Pritam Go Green

    There are still many parts in Rural states such as Bihar where open defecation is being practiced. Our govt should emphasize on collaborating on more such projects with UNICEF. This is indeed a great initiative.

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Tea Body of Assam Slam ‘Chaiwala’ Modi

The tea labourers of Assam live in the most deplorable conditions without some of the basic amenities, Gowala said

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Assam tea body slam 'chaiwala' Modi,

The largest tea body of Assam on Sunday slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who often refer to himself as a “chaiwala”, for not being considerate towards the state’s tea garden workers’ plight and urged him to implement the promised minimum wage of Rs 350 before the new year starts.

The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) General Secretary Rupesh Gowala said while Modi often refers to himself as a “chaiwala”, he is yet make good on his promises towards a million tea garden labourers in the state in the last four years.

“Before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, Modi addressed several rallies in Assam and assured that the tea garden labourers would be paid a minimum wage of Rs 350 per day,” Gowala said.

“If this happens, the 10,00,000 tea garden labourers will lose Rs 30 each day for two months. Is it a “chaiwala” Prime Minister who is doing this to his own community?” said Gowala.

The tea garden workers in Brahmaputra Valley in Assam are presently drawing Rs 167 per day while the tea garden workers in Barak Valley are getting Rs 145 per day.

“The existing wage agreement between the Assam government and the ACMS and other tea workers bodies expired on December 31, 2017.

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi (Wikimedia Commons)

“The government had announced an interim hike of Rs 30 per day. The tea garden labourers are supposed to get this interim hike from January 1, 2018, but the government is saying the hike will apply from March 1, 2018.

“This would make them lose Rs 30 per day for two months,” he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Assam is yet to fix that minimum wage, Gowala said, urging Modi to announce the promised Rs 350 per day minimum wage before 2019.

Gowala said the condition of all those tea gardens run by the Assam government was far worse.

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“While the labourers in company-owned garden are receiving a wage of Rs. 167 per day now, the 26,000 workers under the 14 gardens of state-owned Assam Tea Company Limited (ATCL) are receiving a wage of Rs 115 only per day,” he said.

Assam has over 800 medium and large size tea gardens that produces over 50 per cent of the country’s total tea produce.

The tea labourers of Assam live in the most deplorable conditions without some of the basic amenities, Gowala said. (IANS)