Pushpa and her friends, students of seventh standard, attend tuitions, visit their grandparents and play the rest of the time. But this year, they have planned a street play in their village, Jagdishpur in Rae Bareli district, Uttar Pradesh.
Just before summer break, the headmaster of the only secondary school of the village, Atikh Khan told his students that the board results of class X last year was worse than the year before. He explained that this was mainly because the children stayed away from school for long periods as they had fallen sick during the monsoons and the period after. Community health workers told him that children and elders were falling ill due to the open drains near the village. Diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases are commonplace in unhygienic areas, especially during the monsoons, they added.
Pushpa, who was till now bored, looked up. Every year, from June to August, she and her brother, Raghu regularly visited the clinic. The siblings and their father, Kanhaiya Lal walk four kilometres just to get medicines from the dispensary in Deeh town. Kanhaiya, who works as a wage labourer, loses at least `200 per day due to these visits. When the headmaster mentioned the open drains, Pushpa recalled something similar the doctor had said when her father begged him for household remedies, as the medicines had become costlier. The doctor had reprimanded them. “Why don’t you people think about the cleanliness of your village. This is the root of all your problems.”
His explanation seemed important in the light of Khan Sir's concern. The village drains were dirty and blocked. During heavy rains, they overflow and flood courtyards. These become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Open defecation near these drains causes the faecal matter to flow into households. The poorly designed toilet pits don't help either, he had explained. Pushpa was jolted when she heard the bell ringing and was swarmed into her class by the excited students.
The next day, when Pushpa and Raghu were sailing paper boats in a drain near her house, Pushpa still pondered over the headmaster's words. She was called to attention when Raghu told her that the paper boat was stuck up in a pile of waste in the drain. Soon they abandoned the idea of tracking the boat and started tracking the drain instead. This led them to discover that the drain joins the Ganga within a kilometre. From then on, tracking the drains near their households became a game for Pushpa and her friends. When she brought this up with the headmaster, he told Pushpa that there are many major drains which join the river, each carrying large amounts of sewage every day. When Raghu and Pushpa mulled over the same, Raghu told Pushpa none of the students would know this. What if they could create awareness about sanitation in their village through a street play, Pushpa asked. There was a thoughtful silence and the siblings smiled at each other.