Kunwar Bai Yadav is a resident of Kotabharri village, 100 km from Raipur, Chhattisgarh. The 105-year old will be felicitated by PM Narendra Modi today for a simple step which brought about a revolution in her district - constructing a toilet.
Two years ago, India was shaken into action by the revelation that nearly half of India’s population defecated in the open. The fact that more Indians had mobile phones than toilets was a disturbing one, and the Swachh Bharat campaign was launched with a special focus on making the country open defecation-free.Officials visited remote districts to spread awareness and make toilets accessible to villagers.
During one such meeting, Kunwar Bai, who had hitherto made use of the nearby forests, found the idea of a toilet appealing.
"The district collector was visiting the local school to give a speech. I also went along and there he talked about building toilets. Until then, I had no idea about toilets and never thought about it," she said. "But what he said, set me thinking. It sounded like a good idea."
Finding the daily trip to the woods troublesome with age and failing eyesight, Kunwar Bai decided to construct a toilet at home, The only asset she had was her herd of goats. She sold seven of these to raise some money. Her daughter-in-law also pitched in, and a sum of Rs 22,000 was collected.
Four labourers worked for fifteen days to build a toilet at Kunwar Bai’s place.
It soon became a topic of conversation and villagers would drop in to see the new construction.
And this spurred the other villagers into action. If one of the poorest women in the village could raise money for a toilet, why couldn’t they?
After some inertia, the wave spread to the neighbouring village as well, and within a year, every single house in the village had a toilet.
It is noteworthy, however, that the construction and use of toilets is less of a financial than a psychological hurdle. Toilets are seen as impure and hence many people in rural India frown upon the construction of a toilet close to home. People are used to defecating in the open, and partially-built toilets used as storage areas are a common sight in many Indian villages.
To change this mindset, ‘green armies’ were appointed in various villages of Dhamtari, says District Collector CR Prasanna.
‘Green armies’ consist of men and women who patrol during the mornings and evenings, checking and penalising anybody practising open defecation. A prohibitive fine of Rs 500 is imposed on those found guilty. Street plays are organised to raise awareness, and Kunwar Bai is the mascot in these activities.
These efforts have led to the district of Dhamtari being declared open-defecation free, an announcement that PM Modi will make official upon his visit to Raipur today.
Kunwar Bai Yadav, a household name in Chhattisgarh now, has previously been felicitated by PM Modi. She treats the new-found fame with the wisdom of all her years.
"All my life, I'd leave home in the morning to graze my goats or work as a daily wage labourer. I gave birth to 12 children, many of them died while still young. Over the years, I've lost eight of them and my husband. The poverty was crippling, we struggled daily with hunger to survive," she says, adding, "I never imagined I would become so famous one day."
An unassuming woman’s pragmatic approach has brought about this quiet revolution in a district of 8,00,000 people. That is how powerful a simple idea can be!
Information source: BBC
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