By Bikash Pati, Programme Coordinator, WaterAid India:
Tilottama, a young bride in Deogarh, Odisha, initiated the construction of toilets in the village where she moved after marriage. Her persistence has finally paid off: her village is now open defecation free.
When Tilottama Dalabehera, 36, came to Mandasila, a village under Deogarh district, as a young bride over a decade ago, not a single house in the village had a toilet. She noticed that the villagers went out to the open fields and ponds to attend to the call of nature, unlike her maternal house where each house had an attached toilet. It was tough, especially for women and children, as there was a fixed time when they were invariably forced to venture out – either in the wee hours or after sunset.
“It got even worse during the rainy season. Snakes, insects and mud pools added to the ordeal. I could not attend to the call of nature for days altogether in such circumstances. This change in my routine was the cause of several health issues as well,” recalls Tilottama.
There were lurking dangers in the form of violence by troublemakers. The women and young girls were at risk as they sat in secluded and lonely places to attend to the call of nature.
Inconvenience, health hazards, and safety were the main reasons that forced Tilottama to think of alternatives. She discussed the matter with other women in the village and was astonished to see that the women unanimously supported the idea of every house having its own toilet. The lack of a strong voice to address the issue was the root cause of their daily struggle.
It was not an easy task to initiate toilet construction in the resettled village, where 70% families belonged to Scheduled Caste, with a hand to mouth existence. However, Tilottama triggered the thought amongst the women and they finally agreed to give it a try.
Soon, following the sustained campaign by women, led by Tilottama, 20 households constructed their own toilets under the Nirmal Bharat Scheme (now the Swachh Bharat Mission). However, most villagers continued with the practice of open defecation in the fields and nearby water bodies. Bringing about a change in the mindset of the villagers was the need of the hour.
Tilottama’s dedication towards this positive change made her attend a training at JEETA, a partner of WaterAid India. She thus became the village motivator for water, sanitation, and hygiene issues. “I kept telling people that having a toilet at home was beneficial health-wise because people were prone to several diseases like diarrhoea and infections by defecating in the open.”
Soon, the campaign got a boost. Volunteers from JEETA interacted with the villagers, and organised meetings and campaigns on water, sanitation and hygiene, motivating the community to construct toilets and use them.
Tilottama’s innovative practices helped her collaborate with 129 women from 10 self-help groups (SHGs) in the village for the campaign. Thereafter, a Swachhata Committee was formed to promote the cause, as well as ease the flow of government incentives for each household that constructs a toilet.
As a result of their diligence, 116 of the total 120 houses in the village soon had their own toilets, while the remaining four households migrated from the village for personal reasons. Interestingly, most of the villagers constructed toilets on their own.
Following the women’s proactive role in the successful implementation of the project, the village was soon connected with piped water. Even though the villagers pay a minimal fee for the operation and maintenance of the piped water supply, they are satisfied with the positive change coming along.
Acceptance for toilets has also emerged with time. A village elder, Bikari Charan Nayak, shared, “Construction of toilets has ushered in added benefits in the form of better health and clean water supply for the villagers. Our village used to be reeling under water scarcity three years back. Also, earlier, people were frequently down with typhoid and bouts of diarrhoea. Now it has declined considerably, while cleanliness has increased.”
Tilottama, a class 10 dropout, has now been given the responsibility to be the community resource person for all the SHGs in the village. Her husband, Minaketan Dalbehera, a farmer, supported her throughout with her endeavours.
But for Tilottama, the work is far from over. “Although the villagers have stopped going outside to defecate, cleanliness is still an issue. Our aim is to make it a practice forever.”