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Bride's new toilet points to social revolution in India

Published Jul 01, 2012 06:43am


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Recently-wed Priyanka Bharti, who left her marital home in protest due to the lack of toilets in the household, poses next to a toilet during a ceremony following her return to her in-laws residence at Vishnupur village in Maharaj Ganj, some 30 kms from Gorakhpur in India's Uttar Pradesh state, on June 27, 2012. – AFP

VISHNUPUR KHURD: Spotlessly clean and decorated with plastic flowers and balloons for its opening ceremony, Priyanka Bharti´s toilet is seen as a gleaming symbol of the empowerment of Indian women.

It has been built in the village of Vishnupur Khurd in Uttar Pradesh state due to the determination of Priyanka, a young bride who walked out of her new marital home when she was appalled to find she had to defecate in the open.

The ensuing drama soon became well-known in the area as the newlyweds' scandalised families both tried to persuade her to return to her husband but she refused, saying the shame of squatting in the fields was too much to bear.

"I was adamant that I could not stay in a home where people might see me go to the toilet outside in an unhygienic way," Priyanka said after the lavatory, constructed by sanitation charity Sulabh, was ceremonially unveiled last week.

"I don't know where I got the strength," she told AFP. "But I come from a family with many strong women and when I moved to my husband's house I was without my relatives and friends and I was having to adjust to a new life."

Her firm stance paid unexpected dividends after Sulabh, one of India's largest social organisations, heard about her protest and adopted her cause as a way to promote better public health through proper toilet facilities.

It even awarded Priyanka a 200,000-rupee ($3,600) prize that was presented at the official opening of the small toilet building, with the bride agreeing to move back in with her husband.

"We did not really believe the money was a true story, so we are shocked," said Priyanka, whose marriage was arranged when she was aged just 14, although she was not taken to her husband until April when she turned 19.

She stayed at her new home for just four days before fleeing when her family came to visit from their village 20 kilometres (12 miles) away. She refused to return to the marital home until the toilet was ready to use.

"My parents were apprehensive and angry but I convinced them it was what I had to do. They had a basic indoor toilet, so for me to start going outside was too difficult," she said.

Defecating in the open is a major social issue in India, touching on topics including women'´s rights, health and hygiene, and the clash between traditional and modern lifestyles.

"Women will not go in the open during the day so they must visit the fields before dawn and then wait many hours again until after dusk," Bindeshwar Pathak, who founded Sulabh in 1973, said.

"Walking barefoot in these areas is bad for catching tapeworm, bacteria and many other diseases, and is unhealthy for children who play. People used to not talk about this issue but now it is a public debate."

Pathak, one of India's most notable activists, has for decades campaigned for the use of simple indoor toilets and has also fought for low-caste Dalits (formerly "Untouchables") who often clean out other people´s bucket toilets.

"We gave awards to Priyanka and two other brides who refused to live with their new families due to lack of toilets," he said. "We want them to be torchbearers whose example encourages better sanitation."

India's Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said recently that India "should be ashamed" that 60 to 70 percent of women are forced to defecate in the open and he vowed further funding to tackle the problem.

However, government schemes to build new facilities are often undermined by corruption, with recent allegations that in Uttar Pradesh alone, millions of toilets meant to have been built by state authorities were never constructed.

According to the 2011 census, about 131 million households in India have no latrine in their premises, with eight million using public facilities and 123 million defecating in the open.

Among those with an indoor toilet, 800,000 households use a bucket device cleaned by humans and 500,000 use containers left out for animals to eat from.

In Vishnupur Khurd, the new toilet block, with its freshly-painted yellow walls, stands out among the jumble of huts and houses made of rough bricks.

The structure contains two cesspits, plus an attached storeroom and washroom as Sulabh organisers say they find that a single new toilet with a lockable door often ends up being used for storage instead.

For villagers such as Kamala Wati Sharma, 45, the new building - and the cash prize - are to be admired and perhaps envied.

"We have nothing in our house," she said during a break in the day-long opening ceremonies, which included blessings, speeches and dance performances organised by Sulabh and attended by hundreds of villagers.

"It is a problem for us to go to the toilet outside in the dark," said the mother of five. "But it costs money for something like this."

Sulabh, which has provided 1.2 million toilets to poor rural Indians, admits that the toilet built for Priyanka and her new family cost over $1,000 but says that more basic designs can be constructed for well under $30.

Priyanka´s husband Amarjeet, 20, believes the most important thing is that his wife has at last returned to his home - though he adds he is amazed and proud that she has suddenly become the centre of a publicity campaign.

"I was embarrassed when she asked 'where is the toilet?' and we had to tell her to go outside," he said. "Now it is built we are going to maintain it and use it properly."


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Comments (43) Closed

Agha Ata Jul 01, 2012 12:40pm
If every man and especially every woman gets determined and adamant to claim her or his right, by demanding it, or building it, there will be a tremendous drive of progress in India, or wherever they do so!
shoaib Jul 01, 2012 07:50am
It is quite pity for countries discussing very proudly about their nuclear power and spending a large amount of their budget on army at that time when they don't have the basic necessities like toilets for their people in millions. i think it is a same to both neighboring countries.
Raj Jul 03, 2012 04:46pm
Dawn, Why don't you find similar Issues in Pakistan. I guess there are many in Pakistan which need you attention. I'm sure you'er not going to post my comment.
Imran Jul 03, 2012 04:56pm
To all those Indians going : so whats Pakistan achieved then ? I would like to remind you that unlike you guys, Pakistanis have no delusions of grandeur . We dont claim to be a super-power, budding or otherwise. We are who we are...period.
B.Ally Jul 01, 2012 02:31pm
Wonderful effort to stand up for your rights.Great strategy to resolve a pressing social issue.
G. Din Jul 01, 2012 06:48pm
And, it is any better in your country?
shamaeil Jul 02, 2012 01:04pm
more or less the pecentage is very less than yours in our towns and cities
Jatt Jul 02, 2012 01:47pm
If it wasn't for Dr Singh, India would have declared bankruptcy in 1990. You have no idea what your are talking about
Khizr Jul 02, 2012 02:28pm
Great job Priyanka. You have brought focus to an issue that otherwise was a taboo to discuss. With technology and time, the culture need to change for better. It will be a costly affair, but it help to focus on town planning and putting the sewarge and water lines in now. We need more of you.
Rayaz Jul 02, 2012 08:45am
In Rajhastan men and women sit on the railway line to defecate. What a damned sight!!!!.
Dinesh Jul 03, 2012 03:41am
Rayaz dont defame Rajasthan, Rajasthan has done a lot and education is spreading the need for basic sanitation and health issues.
Dinesh Jul 03, 2012 03:44am
Raheel agreed it is not a government job but governments job is to spread awareness through education or any other programs which has never been a priority.
millerd Jul 03, 2012 01:22pm
Agreed and accepted. This is an issue that requires awareness. Awareness comes through literacy. The core issue is lack of literacy not lack of toilets. A literate person would never think of venturing off into open when call of the nature bothers him , an illiterate would. Yes it is the governments responsibility to promote literacy , but not building toilets and please don't criticize the neighbour, just because a valiant lady has taken up this issue that happen to have occurred in India. Pakistan is the same , the difference is, it doesn't get reported. The awareness hasn't arrived.
ArK Jul 02, 2012 01:23pm
and this is where we will stay stuck.... in a toilet. come on people, try to see the message behind it, its a good story for someone demanding basic necessity and finally getting it. India, Pakistan and other Asian/African countries are really poor to the core, the masses are uneducated and lack basic rights. I suggest people sick and tired of state provided security (or lack thereof) should stand up in Pakistan and DEMAND their rights to live peacefully. People are entangled with basic needs so they almost never rise above "Roti/Kapra.Makan" ..... PEACE!
millerd Jul 03, 2012 12:56pm
The opinion seconded with open heart. Yes there should be no two opinion about this issue. People need to sort out the priorities of their lives. Governments are not responsible.
sameeverywhere Jul 02, 2012 06:27pm
At least 51 million people continue to defecate in the open in Pakistan, and the cost of diarrhoea and typhoid equals 1.8 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, according to the Director General of the Environment, Javed Ali Khan, at the first national conference on sanitation, or PACOSAN, held in Islamabad on 28-29 May 2009. At least !!!
Saeeda Jul 02, 2012 06:29pm
Sorry Nori your figures are very inflated. The current statistics point to 200 million people making incomes of $50 K or more in India. This is squared against a population of some 1.1 billion. No matter how rich you are in India, your children have to transverse the same roads that the poor use and frequently come down with fecal contamination health issues. This is due to the overwhelming number of people, well in excess of 700 million, who use the streets for their bodily functions. It is always wise to look at the log in your own eye before you point to the moot in your neighbor's eye!
matta Jul 01, 2012 11:42pm
Mohammad you are ill informed, in reality after economic reforms more number of people came out poverty, china is pulling more then 15lakh poor people every year from poverty. lastly in the west governments donot feed or build toilets for their people, people build them on their own because they have money. US farming is 1000 times more subsidized then indian farming.
asim Jul 02, 2012 10:29pm
what kind of middle class it is which does not have toilet? Think before you write.
zulfi Rash Jul 02, 2012 07:41pm
Where are you at and what are you, you big shot.! Tell me a bit more about you so that one could bring your history out too? Don't know anything, better off not say anything. Got it?
Raghu Jul 02, 2012 08:20pm
Good one Mohammad
Iqbal Hussain Jul 02, 2012 08:33pm
how human rights and govt instituton woke up very quickly and constructed wash room/ toilet being an obligatory support to women community is really appreciated.
Afzal Jul 02, 2012 10:33pm
very true but they are super power.???
Afzal Jul 02, 2012 10:35pm
suttamaar Jul 03, 2012 01:26am
Spot on my friend!
ABC teacher Jul 02, 2012 01:45pm
Yes it has to be because they all have to wash themselves straight away. They can not wash themselves in standing position. They need to make something higher tom sit upon. Then usually in the viollages wherever I have been they make their KHUDDI toilet with a small tent around made of old sheets , use empty Atta bories, mats ets. Women will not sit in the open ground as they have to cover themselves. Yes there are no built up toilets in many villages but even slums have covered place for toilet. No need to get angry. Otherwise pakistan and India has the same genetic and same corruption among the rich. poors are the same. They are all equal and no cast is higher but political leaders are corrupt and corrupt the ordinary people in both these countries. For the poor these countries are hell. Why can't ordinary people join hands and throw them out and make the region a peaceful region.
prafulla shrivastva Jul 01, 2012 04:49pm
Yes & it is shame to us. Inspite of knowing it nobody bother to raise this issue in Legislative Assembly neither in parliament. I am just thinking how those poor female go in the field for defecation in night. I feel everybody should question this at the time of meeting any Indian any where.
Raheel Jul 01, 2012 09:59pm
That family made a toilet because their daughter in law refused to come back.It has nothing to do with the empowerment of women.secondly I agree making toilets is not a government job its upto the people and their priorities.If they dont want to built a toilet its upto them.And by they way India and Pakistan alike show an extraordinarily green picture ,apart from the truth in their media.
Mohammad Jul 01, 2012 11:34am
I never liked and will never like the economic policies of Dr.????Manmohan Singh. This person has implemented same American /Europe Capitalism which has failed. He didn't deliver to the common or poor people but hugely benefited industrialists and rich people. Millionoires became billioniores and trillionoirs but common people are crying. A child also could do these reforms what Dr.????Manmohan Singh has done. 90% Indians were farmers and this guy zeroed all their susbidies Only for America and WTO? Have America and others cut subsidies to their farmers? No. We were far better without you Dr.?????????
kumar Jul 01, 2012 06:03pm
What in pakistan every one has toilet?!!!
Zahida R. Jatt Jul 02, 2012 08:29am
The courage end audacity with which that Indian lady demanded her right is worthy of immense praise. In an inherently patriarchal society like rural India, the decision of the bride is an example of fearless bravery . I wish , that the pakistani women also stand up to fight for thier basic human rights in the same vien.
naam ka kya karega Jul 01, 2012 01:39pm
Why should it be a government job to build toilets for people? While I am pretty sure a nuclear program is a job ONLY for a government. Some things are to be done by people themselves and building toilets is one of them. The assumption that it is only poor who do not have toilets is bullshit. I bet their is a TV in most of these houses without toilets. It is a question of messed up priorities and no government can fix it. In fact I will hate it if government of India spends my tax money to build toilets for a bunch of people with who prefer to buy a TV or a motorcycle before building a toilet. I am glad that Priyanka slapped this simple fact on the face of not only a family but probably the whole society and that's the right way to deal with it.
Shakir Jul 02, 2012 07:27am
I am also astonishing to note that how can people especially women survive without toilet in joint family, it is very ashamed for each & every person who either literate or not to go in open area for such purpose.
farhanshahidkhan Jul 02, 2012 12:18pm
I agree to you. This is not governments job and not an issue of money. It is a cultural issue and people have been using outdoor toilets since ages. In gone days, people used to lament this practice of making latrines in home saying that all the waste stays in home while outdoor means gone
Rimsha Jul 02, 2012 11:55am
thumbs up!
viju Jul 02, 2012 05:57am
@Mohamed Spot on.
NORI Jul 02, 2012 05:09am
Irresponsible comment. Before pointing fingers at India, check what your country has achieved. India has created a huge middle class of 500 million+ people, a great achievement ( but its huge population has another 500 million as poor). Don't bring shame to your country with such comments.
Rehan Ahmed Jul 02, 2012 02:01pm
Whats the point of attacking each other, this news was very entertaining.... isn't that enough ?
Tamilselvan Jul 02, 2012 03:23am
is it different in Pakistan or Bangladesh, NO!
Gulap Jul 02, 2012 11:30am
In Pakistan (rural areas) people make toilets in their homes - but the outlets from toilets and gutters actually go into kanals and nullahs causing pollution and diseases (apart from the bad smell).
dheeraj Jul 01, 2012 10:38am
I 2nd ur thoughts Shoaib......both countries should stop pretending they have achieved what west has.... feed the commons first then ape the west....PERIOD
shazad Jul 01, 2012 10:25am
70% of their rural women dont have access to toilets...what a country?
syama Jul 02, 2012 04:54pm
Mostly agree. But governments should not shirk off their responsibility to increase people's awareness and making sure people get their priorities right, at least with respect to basics.