The women warriors of Odisha
As the country debates about the plot and portrayal of characters in the latest movie ‘Toilet-Ek Prem Katha’, meet the real life heroes of Deogarh district, Odisha who led the way to build toilets and made their villages open defecation free.
A bunch of feisty women in a remote district in eastern India are silently leading a revolution. They are #HeroesOfChange as they steadily have been introducing the concept of building and using toilets in their communities. Armed with an unwavering will, these women have come up with innovative practices to tackle and eliminate water, sanitation, and hygiene issues with the support of WaterAid India and its partner organisation JEETA.
“I wished that every household would have their own toilet” – Minati Sahu, 37, wife of a marginal farmer
“Due to lack of awareness people were not acquainted with using toilets and the thought of constructing one at home did not cross their minds… Open defecation had made the environment of the village very unclean with foul odour of human excreta spreading everywhere,” shares Minati, Nuagaon village, Barkote block of Deogarh district.
When Minati realised the increasing number of health and safety issues emerging due to the absence of toilets in her village, she decided to take charge of the situation. Her relentless campaign for the access to clean water, decent sanitation, and good hygiene soon started to yield results with the construction of toilets in almost each house.
Minati became an eminent part of the Swachhata Committee and held a series of meetings with the villagers to discuss the construction of toilets. “The campaign struck a chord, especially with the women who were clearly embarrassed to go out to attend the call of the nature, but had no other option,” recalls Minati. “I told the villagers that if they were living in towns and had proper houses, they would have planned a toilet at home by spending from their own pocket, so why not here, with incentives from the government,” she adds.
As the villagers constructed toilets on their own, without engaging any contractors, they hired masons trained by WaterAid to construct two leach pits, an eco-friendly indigenous technology that can be easily constructed by local labour and materials.
The toilet revolution in Nuagaon still continues, and Minati inspires even more people to adopt good hygiene and sanitation practices.
“My husband sold a pair of our bullocks to construct a spacious bathroom… We do not regret it, as we know this is a major priority” – Gauri Patra, 40, housewife
Like other villages in the area, people in Bahadaposi, a village situated in close proximity to the National Highway, were not acquainted with the use of toilets. They defecated in the open fields and near water bodies. With increasing vulnerability to diseases and health hazards, Gauri was the first to step up for the cause.
Gauri’s relentless efforts did not only initiate the construction of toilets in her village, but she also became the main campaigner for clean water, decent sanitation, and good hygiene practices. Soon enough she formed a Swachhata Committee conducting meetings and door-to-door campaigns to explain the adverse effects of open defecation on health and life.
“It was simple. I explained to the villagers that it is better to invest in constructing a toilet, rather than falling sick and paying the doctor,” recalls a humble Gauri. Now completed, all the toilets in the village have two leach pits, which are not only hygienic but also turn the human excreta to organic fertiliser over a period of time. “Also, we are trying to ensure that there is enough water for the toilets to keep them clean,” adds Gauri.
Gauri not only initiated the construction of toilets in her village, but also became the main campaigner for clean water, decent sanitation, and good hygiene practices.
As a next step, Gauri and the SHG initiated a drive to clean the water body close by, on which 11 villages depend. They campaigned to stop fishing as it involved use of chemical fertilisers.
Furthermore, after equipping all households in the village with toilets, Gauri and her team now plan to construct three toilets from their own funds exclusively for the truck drivers who defecate in the open when they halt at the National Highway. Once the toilets are constructed, the SHG will impose restriction on them and may even penalise them for defecating in the open.
Gauri’s diligence has not just initiated the construction of toilets in each home, but also envisages to maintain the clean and hygienic standards that are recently attained by the village.