No toilet, no bride

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

No toilet, no bride, Indian mothers in Haryana are saying to men courting their daughters:

The slogan — often lengthened in Hindi to “If you don’t have a proper lavatory in your house, don’t even think about marrying my daughter” — has been plastered across villages in the region as part of a drive to boost the number of pukka facilities. In a country where more households have TV sets than lavatories, it is one of the most successful efforts to combat the chronic shortage of proper plumbing.

That is probably partly because of the country’s skewed sex ratio, with 8 per cent more men than women, leading to a “bride shortage”. Woman generally have also become more vocal in their resentment at having to relieve themselves outside, giving brides more leverage in premarital bargaining.

In India it is estimated that more than 660 million people still defaecate in the open — a big cause of a host of diseases, from diarrhoea to polio. It is women, activists say, who suffer the most. “Women who must go outside have to do so before sunrise or after nightfall so they can’t be seen,” said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh, which has built toilets for ten million Indians, and the recipient of this year’s Stockholm Water Prize for developing ecofriendly and cheap lavatories to help to improve public health.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, said: “I come from a village and I know that if there is no sugarcane or wheat in the fields women may have to walk very far to find privacy. It’s inconvenient, undignified and, at night, it’s not safe.”

Those behind the “no toilet, no bride” scheme in Haryana are pleased with the results. About 1.4 million lavatories have been built in the state since the campaign began in 2005, many of them with significant government subsidies. “We have more toilets, less shame among women and less disease,” S.K.Monda, the official in charge of the programme, said.

Locals agree that the campaign — which also runs TV adverts, radio jingles and cleanliness rallies — has changed how they think. “Our daughter will be married only to a family that has a toilet at home … [if need be] we will hold out for the construction of a new toilet,” Satwant Kaur, of the village of Khanpur Koliyan, told a local news service.

There are pockets of resistance, however. Some upper-caste communities are not happy having lavatories in their homes because tradition dictates that such an arrangement is unclean.

Mr Monda said: “People do not want to go to the toilet in the home where they cook food. And many old people enjoy the opportunity to go for a walk. It gives them the opportunity to check on their fields.”

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