Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar starrer Bollywood flick, Toilet-Ek Prem Katha, focused on the perils of open defecation and also tried to sensitise people to build and use toilets in their locality.
Far away from the glitterati of the tinsel town, a group of women in a remote hamlet of Barkote block in Deogarh district of Odisha took up the initiative of having permanent latrines inside their houses. Three years later their hard work has paid off as almost all the households have toilets. Their initiative has also helped Odisha government to declare Deogarh, the first Open Defecation Free (ODF) district in the State.
Meet Aarti Biswal who toiled hard and knocked one door after another for creating awareness against defecating in the open. The seeds that she had sown three years ago have borne results with several women coming out in support of her cause. She, however, reveals that it was a daunting task in the beginning as people refused to listen to her. “I can still remember the days when I had to bear the verbal insults hurled on me by the villagers who refused to listen about the harms of open defecation. The silver lining was some women, particularly the newlyweds, who felt ashamed of going out in the open. I then started with approaching the women who began to take interest in listening about the health hazards of defecating in the open,” she says.
Apart from the peeping eyes, there were also the danger of reptiles and snakes that roam freely in the fields and sometimes also sneak into our houses.
As an anganwadi worker she was asked by the government officials to create awareness against open defecation in villages of Barkote. Her initiative was also supported by the volunteers of JEETA Foundation, a non-profit.
Aarti says that more and more women understand the dangers of going out for nature’s call in the open and began to pressurise the male members of the family to construct public toilets by taking `12,000 given by the government under Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) which was launched in 2014. The fund-sharing pattern between the Centre and State for toilet construction is 60:40.
Soon, the women became the champions of the campaign against open defecation. In 2014, only 11 per cent of the 71,000 households in the district having 698 villages had toilets. In two and half years, the Deogarh Municipal Corporation (DMC) constructed 67,061 toilets making Deogarh the first district in Odisha to become ODF. The formal announcement was made by the state government on August 2, 2017.
Reena Kumar Sahoo (37), a homemaker in Barakote block, says that she along with her family used to go out in the open to relieve themselves till two years ago, but the construction of toilets have changed their lives as they can use it whenever they feel the urge. “We used to wake up early to attend to nature’s call. Apart from the peeping eyes, there were also the danger of reptiles and snakes that roam freely in the fields and sometimes also sneak into our houses. The construction of toilets came as a big relief for us as we could use it any time of the day,” she says with a smile on her face.
Things remained the same for more than five decades till the women of the village decided to fight for the basic requirement and succeeded in convincing the men about the importance of toilets in homes.
The construction of toilets has also been equally welcomed by senior citizens and newlyweds who say that it should have been done before. “I was just 20 when I had come here after marriage. It was unthinkable to even ask for toilets in those days. We had to go out in the open, normally in the early hours when men were asleep. But the danger of being bitten by a snake or attacked by a wild animal always played back in our minds. Things remained the same for more than five decades till the women of the village decided to fight for the basic requirement and succeeded in convincing the men about the importance of toilets in homes,” says Nilotma Sahoo, a 70-year-old homemaker.
Bhajanandini Biswas (22) who got married last year, says that she was virtually shocked when she came to know that there were no toilets in the village, but was eventually relieved when her in-laws decided to construct it. “I am happy that my husband and his parents understood my concern and have built a toilet,” she said.
Indeed, the women have played a major role in making their villages clean and free from health hazards. The state government aims to make Odisha ODF by 2019.