How the women of one Jharkhand village built their own bathrooms

The collective effort by all the women of Telleya has made it a model village in the entire Gumla district

By Meghna Mukherjee
Published: Wednesday 06 November 2019
Photo: Vikas Choudhary

A year ago, when a few researchers from our team were working on the research topic Bathing practices followed by rural women in India and its conditions, behaviour and consequences, they found that rural women did not prioritise bathing and that bathrooms were a luxury for them.

They also found that women in rural India never felt the need for a bathroom as issues like age-old practices, financial constraints and other competing priorities never allowed them to consider bathing in a secure space a priority.

However, a few non-profits have made concerted efforts in this direction by constructing bathrooms and toilets. But even among them, very few have been motivated by popular demand.

Thus, women in rural India do not prioritise bathing as maintaining hygiene is secondary for them. 

But the women of Telleya village of Jharkhand’s Gumla district had their priorities clear. They realised the importance of bathrooms and considered it as an integral aspect of their daily lives.

Women decided and demanded separate bathrooms for every household. Their demand was put forward to their local non-profit partner PRADAN, which not only encouraged them but also left no stone unturned to fulfill their demand.  

It all started when PRADAN asked the women to list any development project that would allow them to look ‘Beyond the farm’ and thus lead to betterment in their overall quality of life.

The women of Telleya, after having a meeting, suggested that water connectivity and provision of separate enclosures for bathrooms along with toilets would have a positive impact on their lives.

This suggestion was taken up by PRADAN members who initiated the process by organising an exposure visit for a few women. Around 30 women from the village were taken to Lakhanpur in Odisha where non-profit Gram Vikas had worked extensively and had constructed toilets with bathrooms along with a secure water connection.

Taking inspiration from such structures, it was decided unanimously that similar structures would be constructed in Telleya.

The struggle

However, the journey to transform their dream into a reality was full of roadblocks. “Our story has all the twists and plots of being a super-hit movie,” Aarti Devi, a village-level representative told me. So what made the demand for a bathroom into a blockbuster movie?

The first issue at hand was to ensure a secure water connection. For that, a water tank connected to an underground pipeline, in turn connected to a stream had to be constructed. A pump/powerhouse also needed to be built near the stream bed which would pump water into the water tank.

However, the task was not as easy as it sounded. “Since it was decided to build our water tank on the top of a hill, the task became all the more difficult. We had to climb the hill carrying headloads of water, cement and chips,” recollects Aarti Devi

“The men used to go and work in the pump house. Since we had to complete the work before monsoons, we used to wake up as early as 4:30 am, complete our household work and then work to complete our deadline before noon,” she adds.

The problems did not end there. As soon as they solved one, another would crop up. During a meeting with PRADAN members, the women of the village decided that after finishing more than half of the work on the water tank, they themselves would bake the bricks for the construction of the bathrooms. This would ensure lower cost and efficiency.

So, loads of wood were cut by the male members of the village to prepare for baking brick. “We poured the mixture into the moulds and kept it in the fields for drying. But later that night, thunderstorm and rains ruined all our effort,” a disheartened Aarti Devi told me.

The village residents had lost hope as all their efforts went in vain. Disheartened, they decided to buy bricks along with other construction materials after discussing with members of PRADAN. 

However, it was soon realised that even that option was not smooth. Members from PRADAN were refused any form of payment when they approached the block office for disbursement of funds to construct bathrooms and toilets.

Payment was refused because on paper, every household in that village had a toilet under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Building of a separate enclosure for taking a bath was, however, not approved.

Their task was made all the more difficult as it was seen that even a lady officer at district office couldn’t understand the need for a bathroom. But after a lot of convincing, the officers did agree to disburse the amount on the condition that it would be treated as a loan. The women were also instructed to take photos of toilets built and send them. 

Apart from the funds collected through the district office, every household contributed Rs 13,000 each for building this structure. The women self-help groups operating in Telleya made sure that the payments against the loan were made on time.

The next step

Despite all odds, women were able to fulfill their dream of having a separate bathroom. The total amount of the loan was also repaid in the next two years.

The collective effort by all the women of Telleya has made it a model village in the entire Gumla district. The decision and determination of women has also been highly appreciated. It is worth wondering as to when the government will make concerted efforts in this direction and be able to recognise the need of having a secure bathroom by the rural women of India. 

Meghna Mukherjee is a junior research fellow at Vikasanvesh Foundation, an initiative of TATA Trusts. Views expressed are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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