For a woman, a toilet is more important than a mobile phone, but men don't understand that, feels Anita Narre.
She is the 20-year-old tribal whose rebellion not only ensured a toilet in her marital home but ushered in a sanitation revolution in a backward region of Madhya Pradesh. Last year in May, she had left her in-laws house in Ratanpur village of Betul district after barely two days of marriage as it did not have a toilet and people used to defecate in the open.
She told her husband Shivram Narre - younger to her by two years - that she would return only when there was a toilet in the house. Her husband had to accept her demand and she returned after 10 days. On the eve of International Women's Day, IANS talked to Anita about what she went through in those 10 days and how she stuck to her demand despite hailing from a tribal community that has strict social mores.
"Because of non-availability of toilets, a woman has to go through a lot. Some don't drink enough water just to avoid urinating in the open. That can lead to urinary tract problems. But men in rural areas do not understand that," Anita told IANS on her husband's mobile phone.
The country has some 900 million mobile phone connections, but more than half a billion people in rural India do not have access to latrines, according to some estimates. A union minister had recently said women in rural areas demand mobile phones, not toilets. Anita said, "That is not true. A toilet is more significant in the life of a woman than a mobile because the former gives them dignity."
"It is a shame for a country and society when women have to go for open defection," said this daughter of a teacher and the eldest of seven children. Anita's husband, a manual labourer, is a Class 12 passout. She herself is in her 2nd year BA course.
"When I told my in-laws that I would not go outside for defecation, most people were shocked. According to them, it should not be an issue as most women in the village were living in similar conditions. So I decided to return to my parental home and told my husband that I would not return till he built a toilet," Anita said.
"Those 10 days were not easy for me. I was afraid of things going wrong in my new relationship. However, I also believed that my husband who is educated would understand," she recalled. She had some idea about the Sampoorana Swachata Abhiyan (SSA), a sanitation programme run by the government under which toilets are constructed in rural areas. Under it, the government takes up part funding of a toilet whereas the rest has to be carried out by the interested party.
Anita told her husband about the scheme and said when the government was ready to help, they could use it to build one at home. "And he did understand. He not only met the sarpanch to help him to make a toilet under the SSA scheme but dug up the tank for the toilet himself to complete it at the earliest," says Anita on a lighter note.
Now her act is a milestone. She has been rewarded Rs.500,000 by sanitation NGO Sulabh International and the administration has made her brand ambassador for its sanitation campaign. So what is the change her act brought to villages? "Now, in 80 percent of the homes in our village of around 300 houses, toilets are either already there, or are under construction," she proudly says. Like her father, Anita wants to be a teacher after graduating.