America Devi, 40, got a toilet outside her house in Khutehri Majra, 12 km from Jharkhand’s Sahibganj, a year ago. Her family of five used it for about nine months but has gone back to the fields since.
“It leaks. The pipe that connects to a pit nearby broke and the drainage is not proper, so we can’t use it. We are back where we were,” says America, who works in a brick kiln and earns about Rs 3,600 a month loading bricks into trucks and carrying mud from near the Ganga to the kiln.
America was so named after her father heard the United States was the most developed country in the world. “I am stuck with this name. My destiny, however, has not changed,” she says.
America Devi’s problem is shared by Domini Khatun, 55. Her three sons, who all live nearby, got three toilets made around two years ago but they are now overrun with weeds. “First the door broke and then the floods came. Water reached up to our chests. Since then, the toilet has been useless and we don’t have the money to repair it,” said Khatun. Read | Down the Ganga: Toilets make for study in contrast in this tale of two Ganga villages | Click here
In Khutehri Majra, which the 2011 Census says is home to 648 people and 119 households, the gram pradhan says 80 per cent of the people have toilets. Lying along the Ganga, it was among the 4,480 villages in five states to be declared open defecation-free by the Centre and the state government in August.
The beneficiaries of the government scheme are happy that they got toilets but say they don’t have any money to maintain them.
“I was very happy using the toilet till the time that it was functional. But once the floods came, everything got choked and not if we use it, it overflows. We are poor but are putting our three daughters and two sons through school so that they can build a better life. All the money my husband and I earn is spent on food and their education. Repairing and maintaining a toilet is not a luxury we can afford,” said Meena Devi, 37. READ | Down the Ganga: A mother, her daughters get a toilet — and dignity | Click here
The villagers, especially women, work in the kilns that dot the Ganga in Sahibganj and Godda districts. The Ganga passes through a very small part of Godda and travels down to West Bengal. They bathe and work along the river, which they call a boon.
“There is enough water in the hand-pumps throughout the year and we don’t have to worry about where we will go to bathe. Having the river also means we have one more mode of transportation. A steamer from here goes to Bihar daily. It can carry trucks, cars and people, of course and reaches Manihari in Bihar in 2 hours. In fact, my daughter’s baraat came in the steamer,” says America Devi. READ | Down the Ganga: Swachh Bharat along a river, some gaps in its wake
But the river can also wreak havoc. ‘The water enters our homes whenever the rains are good, and we are forced to rebuild our lives. We get no help in rehabilitation and the services here are very poor. So many tractors and trucks cross from here each day towards the kiln but there isn’t even a proper road,” said Shehzadi Khatoon, 25.
She adds, however, that the overall cleanliness in the village has improved since the scheme was launched three years ago. “A few people are still without toilets and they should cover them as well. At least then we will have one problem less.”
The gram pradhan agrees.
“Coverage under the scheme is quite good in my village but there are gaps. I will not say it is completely open defecation-free,” said Mohammad Allauddin Ansari, who has been the gram pradhan for five years. “Pare not satisfied with the construction. Some have come up with complaints that toilets are getting damaged within a year and they can’t get them repaired while others say they don’t want tanks with unlined pits. Some villagers have pooled in money and built a common septic tank for their toilets. Everyone is scared of contaminating the groundwater supply.”
Shah Alam, 50, is among the few villagers who invested their own money into building a toilet with a septic tank. His neighbours too have built a link between their toilets and the tank.
“I didn’t want water in the chhapakal (hand-pump) to get contaminated. In any case, drainage in the village is a very big problem. I spent about Rs 60,000 in getting the toilet made and got Rs 12,000 from the government,” he said.
Others in the village say they can’t afford such luxuries.
Haseena Khatun, a widowed mother of six, was not in the village for three months and missed out on getting a toilet built by the government. READ | Down the Ganga: Two villages, one tale; morning queue and a long trek
“I am among the very few people in the village without a toilet. I missed out since I had gone to Bihar to earn more money as a labourer. By the time I came back, all my neighbours had toilets and I was left behind. I have spoken to the pradhan and he says he will get my toilet cleared in the next batch,” she says. “I have six children and four of them are in school. I don’t feel like asking them to go in the open.”