While news of women refusing to live with the marital families because the homes lack toilet are now pouring in, one lady in UP had done that even before Swachhata was anywhere in the skyline
Virendra Maurya was in a soup. Having been married for eight months, he had got accustomed to being with his wife. They had had a wonderful time in Shimla, where he had been posted after the first few months of their marriage. But now back in his Budhadeeh village in Gorakhpur, here is this woman on a hunger strike because his house did not have a toilet, and she refused to go out in the fields, which is so normal!
This was in 2011. Savita, from Patna, Bihar, had got married to Virendra. Since her husband was working in Shimlat hen, Savita joined him there. But eight later, when the couple returned to their village, Savita was in for a shock... There was no toilet in her husband’s house!
Members of the family go out in open for defecation in the morning and evening. Savita refused to live in the house and went on her hunger strike forcing her husband to promise construction of a toilet within six months. But Savita refused to wait for six months.
“I never went to the toilet in the open either in my house in Patna or in Shimla. My husband’s family members were very annoyed with me when I refused to go out in the open. I stopped eating anything so that I don’t have to go out for defecation at all. Initially, my in-laws thought it to be a revolt but when I reasoned it out with them, they supported me,” claimed Savita.
Savita asked her in-laws that when they can spend so much on marriage and functions, why can’t they construct a toilet first? She told them about the risk of sexual assault and also carrying back so many diseases with them by defecating in the open.
The news of newly-wed Savita on hunger strike in her own home spread like wildfire in the village. Village elders and women too supported her when they got to know the reason behind her protest. To set an example in the village, she sold off her jewellery, and even the most sacred ‘mangalsutra’ to get the toilet constructed within a week in her house.
“I had never thought in my wildest dreams that my wife would take such an extreme step of selling jewellery, and even the ‘mangalsutra’, to get the toilet constructed. I was a bit angry with her at first, but when I realised about the big sacrifice she had made to save the modesty of women in the family I appreciated her decision,” said Virendra.
With a population of about 400 families, Savita’s house was the first in Budhadeeh village to have a pucca toilet towards the end of 2011. Suddenly, it had become an envy of others.
Selling the mangalsutra by a daughter-in-law is never approved of in any Hindu family. Her in-laws did not talk to her for a fortnight. But once they started using the toilet at home, they suddenly realised the difference she has made in their lives.
“I never liked going out to defecate every morning and evening. But I had no choice, or the guts to protest. I am happy now that my daughter-in-law took a brave step and changed our lifestyle in the village,” said Rajrani, Savita’s mother-in-law.
After setting her house in order, Savita started educating other women in her village. Initially, she did not get any success due to stiff opposition from village elders. But slowly and gradually, a few women joined her cause. She constituted a committee in the village and started holding regular sessions with them.
Savita also formed a squad of young women who would keep a watch on women going out in the mornings for defection. Members of the squad would blow a whistle to alert others, and together they would educate women on the ill-effects of defecating in the open.
This resulted in women in a few more households taking up the toilet issue with their family members. A few of them saved money to get a toilet constructed on the demands of women family members, but others still preferred to go to the fields.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014 and made provisions for government funds, Savita became the Brand Ambassador of the mission in Budhadeeh village. She approached the Village Pradhan, Ram Bhual, to seek his help in bringing funds to the village for construction of toilets in every household.
“When the scheme was launched, I got about 50 families registered for construction of toilet under the scheme. It was all due to sustained efforts by Savita and her team. We are very much impressed by her initiative. I have promised her to make more and more funds available each year to get the village declared ODF (Open Defecation Free) by April 2018,” said Ram Bhual.
Now out of 400 houses, about 250 are having toilets. The remaining families have also applied for the government funds. “We will pool in money for those who do not get funds to achieve our targets before the deadline,” claimed Savita.
With the help of Gram Pradhan and like-minded elders, Savita has set-up a fund in which they seek donations from villagers to keeping the village neat and clean. Besides toilets, Savita said, that it was villagers’ duty to keep their surroundings clean too.
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