The Dirtiest Block in Clean Gujarat

Sayla Block, Gujarat is still waiting for a drainage system.

“When I think about my first memory, it still comes with the stench of a gutter.  Now, years later the situation is still the same,” says Neeru Rathod, a veteran community media activist from Sayla Block in Surendranagar district, Gujarat.

The state of Gujarat is claimed as one of the biggest success stories of the Government of India’s comprehensive and ambitious Total Sanitation Campaign launched in 1999. The Campaign aimed to ensure an improvement in the general quality of life in the rural areas and to accelerate sanitation coverage in rural areas to access to toilets to all by 2012 by motivating communities and Panchayati Raj Institutions in promoting sustainable sanitation facilities through awareness creation and health education. But Neeru Rathod finds that her neighbourhood has remained untouched by the sweeping campaign. With the lack of a drainage system, the situation has been steadily going from bad to worse.

With no outlets to clear it out, pools of drainage water have been collecting in pockets and stagnating for months to end. The putrid stench of waste is everywhere and mosquitoes of thriving. Crippling epidemics of dengue and malaria are common and widespread. “The neighbourhood is literally going to the gutter,” says Neeru.

When she approached the village council to find a solution, she realized that they were more than willing to construct the drain. It was the fact that the drains had to be dug across privately owned lands was proving to be an impediment.

Neeru then visited the land owners who agreed on her camera to let go of their land if sufficient compensation was provided. But this time around, the village elections came in-between and another representative was elected to the position of headman. Fearing that it would mean going back to ‘ground zero’, Neeru went to the new headman and asked about the promised drain. He assured her that it is the first thing on his mind once he assumes full responsibility.

“He promised that he wouldn’t mind having my camera around as the block gets its first underground drainage system. There is great hope that in the near future, the people of Sayla will breathe easy once again.”

Even though Neeru has worked in Community Media for the last 5 years this was her first IndiaUnheard Video.  How did it feel to be a Community Correspondent?

“I was very unsure in the beginning. The camera was different from the one I had been using so technically I wasn’t a one hundred percent sure. But the biggest problem I faced was talking into the camera. In the films I had made for the Community Video Unit, I always let someone else do the talking but I couldn’t do that in an IndiaUnheard video. I made so many mistakes that the person holding the camera for me began complaining for boredom!”

“But once I finished and looked back on the process, I realized that it wasn’t that hard. I made a few mistakes with the panning and zooming but my next video will be better. I’m looking forward to my first video getting the gutter built for my community. I can’t wait to breathe the fresh air.”