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Toilets for all campaign launched in India

Sep 03, 2014

Lack of toilets not only puts women and girls at risk of assaults, but open defecation also leads to spread of infections and diseases. Indian NGO Sulabh International has stepped in to rectify the situation.

Sulabh Village

Badaun, Uttar Pradesh: Katra Saadatgunj, the infamous village in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, is in news once again. NGO Sulabh International has made this village a mascot for its nation-wide campaign to provide toilets in every household by installing 108 low-cost toilets in this village.

The village had made international headlines in May when two teenage cousin sisters were found hanging from a tree, reportedly killed when they had gone out to relieve themselves in the absence of a toilet in their home. One of the harsh realities of life in rural India is women going to fields to relieve themselves under the cover of darkness simply because people do have not toilets in their homes.

Lack of toilets not only puts women and girls at risk of assaults, but open defecation also leads to a host of other infections and diseases. Lack of hygiene, poor water and inadequate sanitation habits contribute to stunting and poor health of people.

Even though India has had the Total Sanitation Campaign running since 1999, later renamed as ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan’, the focus on toilets got a big boost with current Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking about building toilets in his Independence Day speech. Social workers and NGOs working in the field are enthused that the Prime Minister has accorded importance to an issue which was spoken of only by the social workers, and this clarion call is likely to speed up efforts towards an open defecation country.

The Prime Minister said that every school will have toilets and priority will be given to toilets for girls. He also invited the corporate sector to invest in building toilets.

Launching the campaign in the presence of officials and social workers, Sulabh International founder Dr Bindeshwar Pathak said: “We have provided very good quality toilets in the village and these will last for at least 100 years. The absence of a toilet in a house is responsible for incidents of rapes and sexual assaults in villages.”

The NGO has adopted the village in memory of the two girls and plans to develop it as a model village. Dr Pathak also announced setting up a vocational training institute for women under the names of the two girls. The institute would train Katra Saadatgunj girls in how to use sewing machines, computers, embroidery equipment and machines. They would also be taught how to make papad and pickles to help them become self-reliant and overcome poverty.

The 108 toilets stand out in the drab village surroundings because of their bright blue and pink paint and shiny aluminium doors. A casual glance gives an impression that the toilets have been constructed anywhere and everywhere, but families were consulted about the location of the toilets.

Speaking on the occasion, the chairperson of the district panchayat, Punam Yadav, lauded the efforts of Sulabh and said that these efforts will go a long way in empowering the girls in the village. She also promised to join the Sulabh movement and promote the cause of sanitation and women empowerment.

Estimates by the UN say that out of India’s 1.2 billion population, only 665 million have access to toilets. An interesting study conducted by the UN in 2010 found that more people in India are the proud owners of a mobile phone than having access to a toilet.

With this Sulabh International campaign, the country will probably move a notch up in its human development indicators.

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