Background: Despite efforts to eradicate it, open defecation remains widely practiced in India, especially in rural areas. Between 2013 and 2014, 50 villages in one district of Odisha, India, received a sanitation programme under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA - "Clean India Campaign"), the successor of India's Total Sanitation Campaign. This paper documents the strategies and processes of NBA community mobilisation for latrine promotion in these villages and assesses the strengths and limitations of the mobilisation activities.
Methods: NBA's community mobilisation activities were observed and assessed against the programme's theory of change in 10 randomly selected programme villages from start to finish. Additional data was collected through review of documents, individual interviews (n = 80) and focus group discussions (n = 26) with staff of the implementing NGOs and community members.
Results: Our study revealed the lack of a consistent implementation strategy, lack of capacities and facilitation skills of NGO staff to implement sanitation programmes, political interference, challenges in accessing government financial incentives for latrine construction, and lack of clarity on the roles and responsibilities among government and NGO staff, leading to failure in translating government policies into sustainable actions. Social divisions and village dynamics related to gender and caste further constrained the effectiveness of mobilisation activities. Meetings were often dominated by male members of upper caste households, and excluded low caste community members and views of women. Community discussions revolved largely around the government's cash incentive for latrines. Activities aimed at creating demand for sanitation and use of latrines often resonated poorly with community members. An assessment by the implementers, 1 year after community mobilisation found 19% of households had a completed latrine across the 50 villages, a marginal increase of 7 percentage points over baseline.
Conclusions: In this setting, the Government of India's NBA programme to increase rural sanitation coverage and use is hampered by political, programmatic, logistical and socio-structural constraints. Sanitation demand generation was difficult for local implementing NGOs as village populations had lost trust in organisations due to previous indications of fraud. Agencies or organisations implementing sanitation campaigns and conducting sanitation promotions need to enhance their staff's knowledge and build capacity in order to address important social heterogeneity within villages. This trial's registration number is NCT01214785 (October 4, 2010).
Keywords: Caste and power dynamics; Community mobilisation; Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan; Sanitation promotion.