Bhopal: For a woman,
a toilet is more important than a mobile phone, but men don't
understand that, feels Anita Narre. She is the 20-year-old tribal
whose rebellion not only ensured a toilet in her marital home but
ushered in a sanitation revolution in a backward region of Madhya
Last year in May, she had left her in-laws house in Ratanpur
village of Betul district after barely two days of marriage as it
did not have a toilet and people used to defecate in the open.
She told her husband Shivram Narre - younger to her by two years -
that she would return only when there was a toilet in the house.
Her husband had to accept her demand and she returned after 10
On the eve of International Women's Day, IANS talked to Anita
about what she went through in those 10 days and how she stuck to
her demand despite hailing from a tribal community that has strict
"Because of non-availability of toilets, a woman has to go through
a lot. Some don't drink enough water just to avoid urinating in
the open. That can lead to urinary tract problems. But men in
rural areas do not understand that," Anita told IANS on her
husband's mobile phone.
The country has some 900 million mobile phone connections, but
more than half a billion people in rural India do not have access
to latrines, according to some estimates. A union minister had
recently said women in rural areas demand mobile phones, not
Anita said, "That is not true. A toilet is more significant in the
life of a woman than a mobile because the former gives them
"It is a shame for a country and society when women have to go for
open defection," said this daughter of a teacher and the eldest of
Anita's husband, a manual labourer, is a Class 12 passout. She
herself is in her 2nd year BA course.
"When I told my in-laws that I would not go outside for
defecation, most people were shocked. According to them, it should
not be an issue as most women in the village were living in
similar conditions. So I decided to return to my parental home and
told my husband that I would not return till he built a toilet,"
"Those 10 days were not easy for me. I was afraid of things going
wrong in my new relationship. However, I also believed that my
husband who is educated would understand," she recalled.
She had some idea about the Sampoorana Swachata Abhiyan (SSA), a
sanitation programme run by the government under which toilets are
constructed in rural areas. Under it, the government takes up part
funding of a toilet whereas the rest has to be carried out by the
Anita told her husband about the scheme and said when the
government was ready to help, they could use it to build one at
"And he did understand. He not only met the sarpanch to help him
to make a toilet under the SSA scheme but dug up the tank for the
toilet himself to complete it at the earliest," says Anita on a
Now her act is a milestone. She has been rewarded Rs.500,000 by
sanitation NGO Sulabh International and the administration has
made her brand ambassador for its sanitation campaign.
So what is the change her act brought to villages?
"Now, in 80 percent of the homes in our village of around 300
houses, toilets are either already there, or are under
construction," she proudly says.
Like her father, Anita wants to be a teacher after graduating.
(Shahnawaz Akhtar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)