It had been a difficult time for Kunwar Bai Yadav, a resident of Kotabharri, a settlement deep inside the forested area of Dhamtari, Chhatisgarh. For over a century, she had been travelling far and wide to relieve herself. That was the only way she knew. Not one in 18 households in her village had a toilet. Living with self-respect had been a challenge.
Defecating in the open added to the misery of an unclean village, open excreta and flies all around. It also came with other dangers such as snake bites, diseases and accidents during monsoon. Nothing had been done about it. No one had raised a voice. And what was more prominent, was a deep rooted practice than the need for a toilet.
However, after the announcement of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan in October 2014, the collector Bhim Singh, visited Kotabharri in May 2015 and spoke about the utmost need of a toilet at home. He also created an awareness on health and sanitation which was required for all.
Kunwar Bai Yadav (then 102), the oldest in the village, immediately saw the opportunity and took the lead. She sold her goats, her only source of income, to construct two toilets at home. She called on other villagers to her house and showed them the benefits of a toilet. She and her daughter also educated them on the need for one.
As Kunwar Bai expressed, “All my life I defecated in open – went to a jungle to relieve myself, it’s only from last one and half years I have got what I waited for so long – a toilet. I don’t want anyone to face the same consequences what I underwent all my life.”
Subsequently, rest of the village, followed. She was old, she had embraced change; if she could, so could the rest. Something which didn’t seem important till now, was finally of utmost priority.
Eventually, Kotabharri was declared ODF in 2016. After a 100 year wait.
Kunwar Bai’s daughter Sushila Yadav added, “Because my mother was old, every night, every day, whenever my mother used to go out in the open to defecate, she used to fall down. Then, one day under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission, we were given 15 days timeline to construct a toilet at home. Rather than taking this as a shock because of the strict timeline, it became an inspiration for my mother. She was fascinated with the concept of having a toilet at home. And that was the beginning of this sanitation revolution. First she decided to sell our goats and get a toilet, and then she started calling other villagers to come by and see that toilet. She would also demonstrate the benefits of having a toilet at home and motivate them to build one.”
Kunwar Bai Yadav was felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for her vision. Kunwar Bai Yadav’s perseverance, for someone who had never even seen a toilet, had worked towards removing the manacles of gender bias in a patriarchal culture.