Three years ago, newly-wed Anita Narre had walked out of her husband’s home in Zeetudhana, a cluster of 150 homes in Ratanpur village in Madhya Pradesh’s Betul district. Her demand: Build a toilet or else I won’t return. In a village where toilets were a luxury and defecating in the open the norm, Anita’s defiance had become a joke, and Shivram, her husband, an object of mockery.
Unaffected by sniggers, Shivram had built a toilet in eight days and won his wife back. The couple’s story had hit headlines and Anita had become an overnight celebrity with many a journalist and activist lining up at her door. But the most important outcome of her insistence was the toilet revolution it spurred in Zeetudhana. There are no exact figures, but the number of toilets in the cluster has spiralled since 2011. From very few homes with toilets, there are now 120 homes with a loo. “The remaining 30 will soon have them because applications for subsidy under Maryada Abhiyan have been sanctioned,’’ says Shivram.
“When journalists visit, they ask villagers for visual proof of the toilet. All this is forcing villagers to embrace the change, even if unwillingly,’’ says Anita. Her younger sister who married recently ensured that the temporary toilet at her husband’s home was replaced with a permanent one.
Golu Narre, a panchayat member, says his cousin Seema Vargade insisted that her prospective in-laws build a toilet before she agreed to the marriage. The wedding took place seven months ago. The elders are still uncomfortable with the idea of using toilets. Sarpanch Lalita Narre says her father-in-law, like many others, does not use a toilet claiming that they feel claustrophobic inside the closed cubicles.
Villagers are also encouraged by the government’s subsidy for constructing toilets. A villager pays Rs 1,000, while the government gives Rs 8,000 for building a toilet.