India Interior

Young panchayat women step up to the challenge

Annu Anand | Updated on January 18, 2018 Published on July 29, 2016

Chandani Meena

Inside story: More village women now want a toilet at home - Photo: Annu Anand

In Rajasthan villages, toilet construction gets an added fillip

Chandni Meena walks fast as she enters house after house to show us their recently constructed toilets. Every kuccha and big house alike in her village, Nangal Sustavataan, in Amber block of Rajasthan, today boasts a toilet. Chandni is no ordinary woman. At 22 she is the sarpanch of a panchayat overseeing five villages. She is also preparing for her BEd examination, and yet working day and night for the past two months to make her village open defecation free, by helping construct 1,632 toilets.

She admits that it was an uphill task all the way — first, motivating the people to build toilets and then running from pillar to post to complete all formalities before getting the ₹15,000 grant for each toilet. She however believes that these difficulties are nothing compared to the ones faced every day by women and children who are forced to defecate in the open. All her efforts have now paid off — following a formal inspection, the village is all set to be declared open defecation free.

Khoda Meena panchayat member Seema Meena is just 23 years old and studying in second year of BCom. This mother of a seven-month-old daughter is managing all three fronts — home, panchayat and college studies — efficiently. She wants every girl in her panchayat to become educated.

Like Chandni and Seema, several college-going girls in rural Rajasthan have become panch or sarpanch, thanks to the newly mandated educational qualification for contesting local body elections.

These newly-minted panchayat leaders are concentrating more on women-centric issues such as drinking water supply, sanitation and education, as compared to their male counterparts. Their major concerns include construction of toilets, cleanliness and hygiene of villages, education for women and the problem of alcoholism.

In Jaipur district, women panchayat representatives point out that many girls drop out of schools and colleges in the absence of toilet facilities. After puberty especially, the young women acutely feel the need for toilets and privacy during their menstrual cycle, and everyday bathing.

Vinita Rajawat has been elected sarpanch of Daulatpura for the second time on a general seat. The former anganwadi worker is well aware of the advantages of clean and healthy surroundings. “We women can’t tolerate mess in our house, so how can we allow garbage and dirt in our village, which becomes like our house when we represent it as a panchayat member,” she says.

According to Amnesty International, millions of women have to walk 300 metres daily to use a toilet facility. Increased construction activity in villages have led to loss of open spaces, further inconveniencing women and children.

Women in Vinita’s village told her recently that they are forced to send their children before five in the morning to defecate near the highway, as there is no open space left in the village. They are often chased away by the local people and threatened. They now request the Sarpanch to help them build toilets in their houses.

Lack of access to toilets also makes women more vulnerable to rape and other sexual violence

Sunit Kumar Aggarwal, professor at the Indira Gandhi Panchayati Raj and Gramin Vikas Sansthan (IGPGVS), says his organisation trains panchayat members on ways to end open defecation. They learn how flies sitting on excreta can contaminate drinking water and food. The representatives, in turn, educate fellow villagers against open defecation. Chandni had even ordered the local public distribution outlet to stop ration supply for two months to families that have no toilet at home.

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist

Published on July 29, 2016
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