My involvement in the Swachh Bharat Mission as a champion of village toilet construction and menstrual hygiene
In 2013, I visited a village in rural Madhya Pradesh to form self-help groups for women while working on a social development project. Spending a couple of days with the community created warmth and openness. And just when I was about to leave the village, a group of women took me aside and asked if they could confess something to me.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Please do something about providing us with toilets, if you can,” they said, adding it was difficult for them to go out to various farms in the morning and especially during the days of the period.
At that point, I felt helpless because I could not do so. But I really wanted to.
Swachh Bharat Mission
A year later, the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched and as luck would have it, I got to work for it. I felt as if the universe had conspired in some way to help me fulfil my desire to improve village sanitation.
Within no time, I got involved in toilet construction, social and behaviour change programmes and open defecation-free projects. I travelled across the country and worked with local administrations and what is technically known as the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene).
I learnt that a disease like diarrhoea is directly linked to the lack of hand washing before meals and after defecation. I found that open defecation causes stunting, and that urinating and defecating in the open causes urinary tract infections.
Progress in improving menstrual hygiene
The journey of going from village to village and persuading people to not defecate in the open and helping them construct toilets was challenging. At times, village heads in rural India would just not understand the significance of using a toilet. But as we carried along with the patented training modules around the theme of CLTS (Community-Led Total Sanitation), our work became easier and satisfying. I saw women come wearing a ”ghoonghat (veil)” on the first day of the training and turn into bike-riding messengers of change by the end of the month. I saw the most stubborn village sarpanches becoming the flagbearers of toilet construction and promoting its usage. I witnessed children scolding their own parents for not having washed their hands before meals or for not covering food with a lid.
In the Aravalli mountain range of Rajasthan, I saw women carrying bricks and mortar up the hills to construct their own toilets. I observed teenage girls holding marches in their villages with placards highlighting the benefits of using toilets. I saw the communities change, transform, and almost mutate, within a period of months. I witnessed villages declaring themselves open defecation-free zones.
This gave me a sense of pride. I felt I had done something noble and contributed my mite towards a healthier, more aware India.
I could not go back to the women in Madhya Pradesh who had requested me to build a toilet for them. But I slept peacefully at night, knowing they have a toilet now and are using it.