Towards an ODF India: The women sanitation crusaders of India

Affordable household toilets – Jaipur, Rajasthan By Hilnik – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

While the country has been registering progress in many areas, it has still not been able to achieve its goal of providing easy access to safe and clean toilets for its people. As a result, millions of young girls and women become potential victims of disease and assault every time they go out into the open to defecate. This is also a reason why many young girls leave school as soon as they start menstruating.

However, with the Swacch Bharat Campaign gaining momentum, more women are taking it upon themselves to fight against open defecation, by building toilets for themselves and by spreading awareness of the need to make their surrounding Open Defecation Free (ODF). As a result of the hard work by these and other individuals and organisations, more than 1,11,000 villages across India have been declared ODF.

We salute the women folk who have taken up the task of constructing toilets, spreading awareness of the need for better sanitation, and helping towards the goal of making India ODF by 2019.

The pregnant woman who dug a toilet: Despite being seven months pregnant with her third child, 30-year-old Sushila Khurkute, a mother of two, started digging pits to build two toilets at home. Having been brought up in a house where there was no toilet, and going through two pregnancies without proper sanitation facilities, Sushila decided to take up matters in her own hands during her third pregnancy. She then went on to construct two toilet blocks under the Central Government’s Swachh Bharat campaign.

The bride who demanded a toilet as a gift: When she found out that her in-laws place did not have a toilet, Chaitali Galakhe of Andura village in Balapur tehsil, asked her parents to get a readymade one for her. A prefabricated one, which cost Rs 18,000, was ordered, and it came ready with a closet, a wash basin and mirror. Chaitali was gifted Rs 10 lakh by the NGO Sulabh International for her inspiring decision.

The women who sold their jewellery to build toilets: Realising that proper sanitation is more important than gold, these women have sold their ornaments to build toilets. Hailing from a village in the Washim district in the interiors of Maharashtra, Sangeeta Ahawade sold her mangalsutra and other jewellery to build a toilet in her home, when her husband did not listen to her request. Having succeeded in her mission, Sangeeta has also been visiting nearby villages in a bid to create awareness about the need for women’s hygiene and sanitation. She has already laid around 7,000 foundation stones for building toilets, and has been appointed by CM Devendra Fadnavis as a Swachhata Doot for her contribution towards the mission.  Lata Diwakar from Bidhnoo village in Kanpur, also sold her mangalsutra when her husband, a daily wage earner, ignored her demand to build a toilet. Inspired by PM Modi’s Swacch Bharat campaign, Diwakar decided to build a toilet and to help fund the construction, Diwakar also sold her calf.

The 105 year-old Swacch Bharat mascot: The mascot of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission, 105 year old Kunwar Bai from Kotabharri village of Dhamtari, sold off her goats to build two toilets at her home. She then went on to educate the villagers about the importance of having a toilet at home.

The lady sarpanch leaders: A number of women sarpanch leaders have been doing their bit to provide clean toilets for the people of their villages. Kajal Rey, the sarpanch of Sana, a village in Chattisgarh takes the credit of making her village ODF. Rey mortgaged her jewellery and used her skills in brick making to build over 100 toilets, with the help of over 100 other women. Shibani Dakua from Shalbari in West Bengal spent more than a year trying to convince the people of her village to construct toilets. Because of her efforts, around 1,800 toilets have been built in this village of a population of 18,000. Similarly, Ramila Gamit, the sarpanch of Taparwada in Songadh taluka of Tapi District, Gujarat, took up the task of moving construction material over hilly terrain to her village, and the training the villagers in masonry to help build toilets in the village.

The Whistle Bahinis: The Whistle Bahinis, drawn from various Self Help Groups from the villages of Jagannath Prasad block in Odisha’s Ganjam District, have a unique way of tackling the issue of open defecation and sanitation. Every day, in the morning and in the evening, these women patrol the streets of their villages, blow their whistles to stop people from defecating in the open, conduct door to door campaigns, and have planted nearly 1000 tulsi saplings on either side of the main road. This has helped drastically reduced the number of people defecating in the open.

The masons with a mission: A number of women masons have been using their skills to build toilets in their villages. Asha Meghwal , 24-year-old mason from Rajasthan’s Ajmer taluka, went from door to door inspiring people to construct toilets and keep their villages clean. She then set up a team of masons to build toilets in the village, with an aim to make it ODF. Similarly, Kalavathi Devi, who is in her 50s, collected funds for the construction of toilets from her neighbours, and went on to build toilets and spread awareness on the need for clean sanitation facilities.

Gayatri Vinayak