Carving out space for the toilet

Thumbnail WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Two neighbours bring about a huge change in their lifestyle and now inspire their community. While one lets go of a portion of his livelihood, the other compromised on his comfort. And all this, only to construct a toilet at home. Here is how…

When asked what triggered Narmesh Kumar Chawla and Salik Karam to construct a toilet at home, the answer was unanimous – increased awareness on the importance of decent toilets and good hygiene.

Irikeshwari and her daughter sharing a light conversation.WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
Irikeshwari and her daughter sharing a light conversation.

Narmesh (35) and his wife, Irikeshwari (32) live in Ghorda village, Kanker district of Chhattisgarh. In early 2017, Narmesh attended meetings and discussions based upon the need to construct a toilet at home. When he discussed the same with his wife, they realized the need to have a toilet at home; something they had been mulling over for the past few years. “It is neither easy nor safe to go out in the open to attend the call of nature. Especially during monsoons, we would often slip and hurt ourselves… I would always take my daughter along when I had to go out. But children are moody. They do not understand why it is unsafe to venture out alone,” recalls Irikeshwari.

Regular meetings conducted by WaterAid India’s team and its partner organisation, Samarthan in the village helped the family understand the need to construct a toilet and the logistics involved for it. But this was not enough. When it came to finding enough space to construct a toilet in their house, the real challenge emerged.

“We do not have much land in the village, and our house is also quite small. There is one section where we have opened a grocery store, and on the other side we have two rooms where 8-10 of us stay, i.e. my family and my brother-in-law’s family,” said Irikeshwari.

Chhattisgarh, toilet, spaceWaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
Irikeshwari and her daughter at their newly renovated shop

Irikeshwari and Narmesh always wanted to have a toilet at home but lacked the apt knowledge and financial backing. Now when they had somehow managed both, they struggled to arrange some space. After months of talks with the family by WaterAid and its partner organisation, Irikeshwari and Narmesh finally decided to renovate their shop by reducing its space by about 30 percent and construct a toilet. “A lot of villagers and even my brother told me that it was not a good idea to renovate the shop and reduce its size, but we were clear of what was important for the family,” recalled Narmesh.

The toilet constructed for the entire family’s use.WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
The toilet constructed for the entire family’s use

Soon, the renovation process began and the toilet was constructed. “Even though our shop is quite small now and we are not able to store much grocery items, but the toilet is a life-long convenience. Now my brother and his family use the toilet as well, as they find it to be safe and useful.

When Salik Karam (58) and his wife, Durpat (55) next door neighbours to Narmesh and Irikeshwari witnessed how the latter’s family is considering to construct a toilet at home, they thought it was a wonderful idea, but could not believe that something like this was even possible. “For over 50 years we have always walked out of the house to answer nature’s call. The idea of constructing a toilet in the house was very new and interesting to us,” shared Salik Karam.

Salik and his wife Durpat outside their house.WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
Salik and his wife Durpat outside their house

Salik’s daughter who had recently got married and was living in a neighbouring village faced eve teasing many times. To avoid crossing paths with local men, she would often walk to extremely isolated areas in the village. However, she would then witness wild animals, such as a bear when she ventured out. Even though Salik and his wife were very concerned each time she stepped out, they never considered constructing a toilet in their house.

The village level meetings, awareness drives, and inspiration from their neighbours instigated the couple to take action. Soon, the construction of the toilet began, and Salik and Durpat helped in the process along with the masons. “We wanted to see how a toilet is made and where the waste will go,” shared Salik.

The toilet at Salik Karam’s house.WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
The toilet at Salik Karam’s house

Since the last one year now, Salik and his wife use the toilet at home. They look forward to their daughter coming home so that they can showcase their toilet to her and her husband.

“The light holder does not work in the toilet. There is some problem with it. Still, it feels safe to use this toilet, rather than going out,” claims Durpat. “Also, we had to renovate our house because we were told that the only space apt for the toilet will be in the corner of our room. Although the size of the only room in the house has reduced, yet it does not bother us,” adds Salik.

Salik and his wife, Durpat proudly show their toilet.WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
Salik and his wife, Durpat proudly show their toilet

Narmesh and Salik’s family overcame the stigma of constructing a toilet at home with their will to have a better life. Even though it meant some compromises in space, both families now lead a safer, healthier and happier life!