By Chinki Sinha
AURANGABAD, Bihar, 14 July 2015 - The bridge on the Adri River in Aurangabad had fallen, and its bricks were lying around. This gave Kusum Devi everything she needed. Inspired by the discussions she has previously attended on open defecation and issues of health, dignity and security, Kusum had an idea.
She has always been aware of the risks involved in going out into the fields to relieve herself. She asked her husband repeatedly to build a toilet in their house but he had ignored her demands.
For weeks later, Kusum and two other women from the village - Shobha Devi and Sridevi - walked in the afternoons, their saris hitched up carrying the unclaimed bricks. They would make a few rounds every day and then with help from volunteers started to build a toilet. The volunteers were part of the UNICEF’s technical support group to Government of Bihar that aimed to create awareness about the health hazards that come with open defecation.
“The volunteers showed us we were literally eating our excreta. They explained to us how defecating in the open is responsible for many diseases.” says Kusum Devi.
As per government data, around 77 percent of Bihar’s population defecates in the open. Most toilet projects that were part of various schemes launched by the government have either not been implemented well or have failed to take off.
In 2014, Union Minister of State for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water and Sanitation Upendra Kushwaha lamented on Bihar being one of the least developed states in terms of using toilets.