Vaishali, Bihar: A woman in Bihar’s Vaishali district has chosen to end her four year old marriage rather than face daily ignominy of defecating in the open.
25-year-old Sunita Devi married Dheeraj Chaudhari, a small time vegetable vendor in Vaishali’s Paharpur – Bishenpur panchayat in 2011. The couple, who do not have any children, used to live in a two-room house, part mud and part concrete, along with Dheeraj’s parents at the village.
The house had no toilet, and Sunita says he started asking for one to be built the moment she walked in to the house. Defecating in the open is a reality for lakhs of people in India’s rural areas, and women in particular have to bear the brunt of insults and much more as they relieve themselves in the open, mostly after dark.
“I kept on asking him to get a toilet built, but he kept on making excuses. I had to face barbs and insults many times when I went out in the open. What other option did I have other than walking out?” says Sunita, who is now back at her parent’s house.
Sunita’s husband agrees that the lack of a toilet was the reason for a breakdown in their relationship, but says he simply did not have the money to build one. “Yes, she asked for a toilet many times. But I had no money. My father also died recently. And so I was the only earning member,” said Dheeraj.
According to latest census figures, a whopping 92 per cent of rural households do not have a toilet in Jharkhand. The figure for Bihar is 82 per cent and for Uttar Pradesh it is 78 per cent. In Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, over 85 per cent of rural households do not have toilets.
“Without these basic facilities, there is a great threat to the safety and security of women. I feel building toilets should be treated as a movement and not just a government programme,” said IC Kumar of Sulabh International.
Under a 15-year-old government scheme called the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, now given fresh impetus by the Modi government, each rural household in the country should get a little above Rs. 10,000 to build toilets at home. The problem is, in most cases, this money is neither enough, nor is it tracked, and in many cases, the money does not even reach the intended user.
Ironically, in 2011, the couple’s panchayat, Paharpur – Bishenpur was declared a Nirmal Gram by the Central Government, marking it open defecation free. In their village, and at the block office nearby, no official was willing to talk about just how this could happen, when clearly all homes did not have toilets here.