Without access to clean and safe toilets, women in many villages have to answer nature’s call behind bushes or in fields, putting themselves at risk of health problems, sexual assault and even running the risk of being bit by snakes and scorpions. This is true in the case of Phoolkumari Devi who grew up in a home that had no toilet.
Wife of Vasant Oraon from Jungur Panchayat in Latehar district of Jharkhand, Phoolkumari always felt that only another woman would truly be able to understand their plight of having to defecate in the open every single day. The worst part of it all was that, it was a daily routine; and it had to be in the dark – before the break of dawn or after nightfall. The exercise became a bigger challenge during the monsoons or if one became ill, pregnant or was menstruating. In fact, she believed that making arrangements for food and water was relatively easier compared to going out to answer nature’s call.
When the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin campaign was launched in her gram panchayat, the woman participated in triggering and awareness building exercises very attentively. She realized that a toilet would alleviate sufferings of women to a large extent. And if the facility could contribute to health and well being of the entire community, then it seemed an answer to all their worries.
She decided that they would get a toilet. However, it had to be ready, well before a daughter in law stepped into the threshold of her house. She did not want her daughter in law to experience the difficulty of going outdoors for her ablutions.
For the last several years, she has been associated with the Milk Club Self Help Group. They provided her incentive in three installments. With their support and that of the District Water and Sanitation Committee, she was able to get a toilet constructed in her home. She admits that she is both healthy and happy to be using the toilet.
She now appeals to all women, urging them to build their toilets soon; to not allow their daughters in law lose their dignity by defecating in the open. “Leave all other work aside – build you toilets first,” she says.