On the Centre of Gravity campaign trail

By Dr. Sita Sekhar, Consultant, Public Affairs Foundation

As most of you are aware, Public Affairs Foundation has been assigned the task of monitoring the demand generation campaign to encourage people to build toilets in Davangere. I am sharing here some interesting experiences and observations during the monitoring.

A day of training in Davangere and off we go to Avaragolla for on-field training! 


A blend of the modern and the traditional? Avaragolla village in Davangere

After a half day training of the 16-member strong monitoring team (most of who belong to Davangere district) on 26th January 2014, we set out the next day at 5.30 am to Avaragolla village in Avaragolla Gram Panchayat (GP), Davangere Taluk. As we drove to the village, in the semi darkness of the chilly early morning, we sighted a few men sitting along the road engaged in early morning ablutions, and women heading out with their ubiquitous Chomboos or ‘lotas‘ (mugs) to do their morning business away from prying eyes. We even met some teenage girls giggling in embarrassment when we saw them heading out with their chomboos!

We reached the village at 6.25 am, arriving at the GP office where the artists were getting ready despite the challenges of having no electricity or water. To their credit, in spite of the many unexpected hurdles, the team managed to start the announcements in the vehicle at 6.40 am. The artists were making announcements while the driver drove around and managed the audio system well (though there were a few glitches). All lanes in the village were covered; the announcements began a bit hesitantly but ended up being called out with full-throated gusto! The 18 of us (16 monitors, myself and my very curious and socially conscious driver) following the van were assailed with the scent of cow dung from cowsheds and freshly cooking nashtha from the kitchens.

We trudged along the village lanes behind the vehicle, stopping when they did – observing, talking to men, women, and children along the way. Some of our team members educated me on how the song ‘nadedalo….’  was in fact based on the tune of a folk song. Many people as well as team members said the song was ‘Sakkathagide‘, the Kannada word for fantastic!

On the way, as we observed toilets and spoke to villagers, I came upon one particular toilet that was intriguing – it looked swanky from the rear so I went to take a closer look at the entrance – only to be sorely disappointed. There was no door and there were sacks full of stuff stored inside. I tried to find out why a family wouldn’t use a toilet right in their front yard by speaking to the residents of the house and was told that the toilet was built but the door wasn’t fixed, as they were awaiting the government subsidy to complete it!


Toilet or store room?

Another household I came across did not have a toilet while the neighbour had a half-built one. When I gave the lady gyaan on who gets a toilet or how to go about getting one, I discovered that the lady know what an MGNREGA job card was. She showed me an MGNREGA passbook which had entries in it, but I was told that no money had been paid so far to her.


MGNREGA passbook with entries – the owner has not received any of the amounts listed

The school rally and the evening programme

The school rally in the afternoon was not as enthusiastic as the one we had seen during the pilot. The children were running along the lanes and there was no coordination among them as they shouted the slogans.

The evening function was held in front of a temple opposite the GP office. Despite a long wait, a sizeable crowd gathered on the tarpaulins that had been laid out. The driver-cum-technician had no clue about the programme but managed to show the films with some assistance from our team as well as the Panchayat Development Officer (PDO). I was told that many of the women in the crowd were from houses that had toilets, which meant the point of the event would have been lost on them.

The group song and skit performed at the evening event were enjoyed thoroughly by the audience.


Who is the performer here?! A cool kid from the village grooving to the group song!

After the skit, most women got up to leave saying  they had to go cook dinner. They were made to stay with a threat from the GP officials that they won’t be given the toilet subsidy if they left, which fortunately or unfortunately seemed to work! I was unsure, however if this was part of the programme, and whether or not it was the right thing to do, misinforming the audience that they wouldn’t be given the subsidy unless they saw the whole programme!

Another interesting thing in this village was that a large part of the village has been provided with an underground drainage (UGD) system (not functional as yet) using MGNREGA funds. So the toilets that are built do not need pits to be dug. Therefore they cost less and the subsidy given is only that from the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA); the portion from MGNREGA is taken as “given”. It will be interesting to see how the UGD helps.

The lady Swatchata Doot, the NBA sanitation field worker was running around from the morning trying to paste stickers on the front doors of households, and give out invitations. There was some confusion over whether the stickers were to be affixed on the doors of houses with or without toilets. Finally, I was told later, that all houses got them. In the evening she had a tough time collecting the chits – the GP office was offered as a place to sit and collect the tear off slips and people started crowding there.

After the evening programme ended at 9 pm the team gathered at another temple nearby and we went through the day’s experiences and discussed the strategy for completing the monitoring in the best possible way. The team got a fairly good idea of the campaign and got into the swing of things after spending the day in Avaragolla.

The team was instructed to observe the proceedings quietly without interfering in the work of the campaign teams during their monitoring that would begin the next day. I cajoled all of them to do a good job of the monitoring and provide practical information for the campaign to be modified to make the best impact when it was scaled up.


The boy hero who thought his pushing made the campaign vehicle run!

Monitoring the monitoring

On January 28th, I set out at 6 am for Doddaghatta village in Navelehalu GP, Channageri Taluk. This time there weren’t too many sightings of open defecation on the way. The two-member monitoring team had started work at 7 am along with the campaign team. We went along with the vehicle all around Doddaghatta and another village nearby called Ramagondanahalli as well.  It was quite amusing to see the campaign coordinator hog the mike seeing us around, trying to impress us! The artists were waiting for a turn to follow their scripts; the lady artist didn’t speak for quite some time as she was ill with fever and a sore throat. Initially the vehicle zoomed through the lanes, making the announcements difficult to follow or comprehend. However the vehicle slowed down eventually. We got a bit of a fright in Ramagondanahalli, when some small children held on to the bumper of the vehicle and ran alongside it.

A short film showing kids from the village trying to push the campaign vehicle

After breakfast graciously hosted by one of the large hearted Panchayat Members (from his own pocket despite my protests), I set out to Appartunga village in H Kadadakatte GP in Honnali Taluk. I followed a reasonably good road for about 15 kilometers and passed by a scenic and seemingly popular Dodda kere (big lake). When I finally reached Appartunga, the monitoring team there was observing the GP office. I joined them and was shocked to find that there was no toilet in the office! I had a quick discussion with the Taluk Coordinator and set out for Doddaghatta in an effort to reach in time for the school rally. Fortunately the ride back was guided by the GP official who belonged to Channagiri and was not as uncomfortable. The school rally in Doddaghatta began at 3.45 pm with preparations at the school. The artist was quite deft at holding the children’s attention and training them on what they had to do. I couldn’t follow the rally along the lanes of the village as the school authorities insisted on herding me off to a room to have ‘elanir‘ and bajji! (so much for my attempts at calorie counting!) However, the monitors did go along. The rally was rather short and the children returned quite quickly.

In the evening there was again a long wait for crowds to gather at the school. The president of the panchayat was a strong, authoritative lady who quickly got all arrangements done at the school. However, the power cut was a dampener and the generator refused to start up for quite some time. Finally around 7.30 the program began and the skit was again received very well. There were no women in the audience this time – nobody from the smaller villages nearby came, only some children and old men were around. The only women around were the President, Anganwadi worker, Asha worker and the female artist! Despite her illness the female artist performed well. The male artist was more experienced and was able to make the program lively. No tear-off slips were collected, however and people were asked to come to the GP office the next day.

I returned to Davangere with mixed feelings. What was cheering was that, on the whole, despite the technical glitches the campaign teams did an excellent job. The interest level among GP officials was varied in the different villages and left something to be desired in some cases.

While I was back in my cozy home the next day, the monitoring team continued their monitoring of the campaign in the other GPs. They have now completed the monitoring in 25 villages in all the 25 GPs covered in round 1 and 10 villages of those covered in round 2 of the campaign. The team had a tough time doing the work, but are satisfied, at the end of it all, that they have been able to make their own little contribution to an important cause that will help improve the lives of people in their part of the world – a heartening note to end on.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s