What good are 10 dry toilets for girls in tribal schools in Bengal?

Sahari primary school in Bengal boasts of 10 girls toilets but no water. Even though the government installed 2 water tanks, still there is no water as the tanks are connected to a dried tubewell. It has been the best example of politicians paying lip service to their poll promises.



A tribal school with 2 classrooms and 10 toilets for girls could be a shining example of sanitation any where across the rural Indian landscape. So what makes the Sahari Primary School in the Binpur assembly segment of Jangalmahal an unfortunate example? None of these toilets are functional as there is no water, never has been. Like clockwork, politicians turn up here before elections, inaugurate new toilets, but never bother to provide them with water.

Obviously, none of the toilets in the school, comprising mostly adivasi students, is usable for want of water. A chronic shortage of water has led to Sahari village being nicknamed ‘Jangalmahal’s Sahara’. A moniker no assembly would want. A street protest by villagers last month forced the government to hurriedly install two plastic water tanks near the school on Monday — but that just wasn’t enough.

“The 2 tanks were almost like a taunt. There is no water in this village. The water was over even before school began at 11am. When the children need to use the toilet, they have to go back home,” said Tapan Murmu, the school’s headmaster. Mousidigir Hasda, 8, said that after the mid-day meal, she usually went back home to use the toilet. “But on some days I just go to the open field nearby. Others do the same,” she said

The unused toilets are choked up with waste — the white porcelain barely visible under the mounds of plastic bottles, paper and dried excrement. The rough forest terrain of West Midnapore, marked by scanty rainfall, was given the name Jungle Mahals or Jungle Estates by the British. The Sal forests near the school have harboured the CPI (Maoist) since 2004. But residents said that even in the worst days, it wasn’t the fear of Maoists that prevented children from coming to school — it was the scarcity of water and the unavailability of a toilet


The 10 toilets were built in three spurts — 4 toilets each were inaugurated before the 1999 and 2005 Assembly elections, when the Left Front was in power. 2 more toilets, with a sign that says ‘Girl’s Toilet’, were built after the Trinamool Congress government took over in 2011. The solitary tubewell was never upgraded until late last month, when the tanks were set up. Needless to say, the installation of these 2 tanks also may have been motivated by the upcoming polls.

Polls are here again and the school, like every other school in Jangalmahal, is preparing for an extended holiday due to the elections. Binpur votes on April 4. The old building — which will be a polling booth — has been given a fresh lick of paint in places. But the people of Binpur already have a taste of things to come as earlier in February, while inaugurating a piped drinking water project at adjacent Belpahari in West Midnapore, the state minister for Public Health Engineering & Panchayat and Rural Development, Subrata Mukherjee, had said that the government would “supply filtered water to every family by 2020”.

With sanitation a distant dream, the wise old people of Binpur are taking these tall claims of filtered water with a pinch of salt.

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