"A toilet? There are no toilets here. We go out in the open."
It’s not that finding a decent toilet in cities is a cakewalk, but it’s a challenge of a different kind when you are in a village and have to find one on a simmering hot day. Most of them in Lokhariya village drew a blank when I asked them about a toilet. For me it was a day-long ordeal, but for women living in many villages in Bundelkhand, ‘no toilet’ is a way of life.
Two reporters, one bike and a 500-km ride across Bundelkhand. For Gaon Connection reporters Jigyasa Mishra and Pragya Bharti, these seven days were a mix of fun, adventure, learning and some serious journalism. They visited many villages and tried to understand life from women's perspective. This journey was about understanding lives, struggles, hopes and aspirations of women living in villages.
Edited by: Swati Subhedar
What I experienced on the very first day of our 500-km ride across Bundelkhand on our bike, set the tone for rest of the week. After leaving from Chitrakoot early in the morning, we rode non-stop for 22 kms and reached our first stop – Lokhariya village in Satna, Madhya Pradesh. As soon as we reached there, my colleague Pragya started interacting with a few women.
I was restless. I was dying to use a loo, but I couldn't spot any. I requested her to pack up and together we set on a mission – that of finding a toilet – and we failed miserably. Not just that, after learning what women living in villages have to go through on a daily basis, I vowed never to take anything for granted in life – not even a humble toilet.
'No toilets here'
March heat isn't supposed to be brutal, but if you are travelling across Bundelkhand, it may kill you. And it was in this scorching heat that we had to spend a couple of hours looking for a loo.
I walked into a house and asked an elderly woman if I could use her toilet. She looked at me for 10 seconds and replied, "There are no toilets here. We don't have one."
I went to three other houses. Finally, a lady came to me and said: "You won't find a toilet anywhere. We all go out in the open."
It hit me hard. As part of my homework, I had read a report before the trip had started. It mentioned that as per government data, Satna -- with a population of around 22 lakh –is an open defecation free (ODF) district. That was obviously not true considering I could not even find a toilet,forget about finding a clean or a decent one. Clearly one of those issues that the authorities claim to resolve – on paper, of course -- but the ground realities are completely different.
According to the Swachh Bharat Mission website, Madhya Pradesh is 88.51% open defecation free. Maybe those who conducted this survey couldn't even reach this village.
After roaming around for an hour, I caught hold of young Sunita. I wanted to ask her if there were any toilets at all in the whole village.
She hesitated at first and then said, "There is one. But it's not functional yet. The doors are not fixed properly." I was relieved. At least there was hope.
There were two toilets. The tin doors were hanging precariously on to the hinges. I opened one door and I nearly fainted. The toilet was completely choked and stinking. I closed the door immediately and opened the other door. It was better than the first one.
And then it hit me that these women must be going through this every day.
"We go in the fields. We all go together. But now they have started cutting the crop, so it's going to be difficult. There is no place to hide. The owners abuse us and shoo us away when they spot us. We are poor, but we have a right to live with dignity. Since we are women, we really have to be extra careful. It's even more scary when we have to step out at night," Sunita said.
Pragya and I were speechless. This is the ground reality.
No, I will not take anything for granted in life. Not even a toilet.
We packed our cameras and tripods, and left. There were shocks and surprises waiting for us at every turn of the highway.
Lookout for Part 3