At 105, Kunwar Bai is probably one of the oldest women in India today, but what makes her story even more incredible is that, for more than 100 years of her life, she had never seen a toilet.
For more than a century she used to travel far away from her home to relieve herself. It was the only way known to her village, Kotabharri in Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh. Because of people like Kunwar Bai, the same village along with the entire district has been declared Open Defecation free.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi felicitated Kunwar Bai for her efforts, and was so impressed by her grit that he bowed before her and touched her feet to express his appreciation for her work. At that time she was also chosen as the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan‘ mascot by him.
All my life I defecated in open – went to a jungle to relieve myself, it’s only from last one and half years I have got what I waited for so long – a toilet. I don’t want anyone to face the same consequences what I underwent all my life. – Kunwar Bai.
So how did an old lady, who is more than 100 years old, bring about such a huge change in her village?
Kunwar Bai first heard about a toilet from government officials who were visiting the village. She immediately realized its significance and knew she had to lead the fight to end open defecation in her village. First, she sold off her goats and built two toilets in her own house and then she started bringing in the villagers to her house to show them the benefits of a toilet.
She and her daughter also visited the villagers to educate them on the advantages of having a toilet in their home. Her perseverance won and in February 2016 her entire village was declared open-defecation free.
“Every night, every day, whenever my mother went to a jungle to defecate, she used to fall down – because she was old. We have all seen her struggling and we were just helpless. Then, we were given 15 days timeline to construct a toilet at home by the district collector under the mission of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, my mother was inspired by the idea of having a toilet in our house and that’s when she decided to sell our goats and get a toilet,” said Sushila Yadav, daughter of Kunwar Bai.
Since then she has become a role model in Chhattisgarh.
Speaking to NDTV, Dhamtari district collector CR Prasanna said, “Thanks to Kunwar Bai and her efforts to make India Open Defecation Free, we aim to make Chhattisgarh Open Defecation Free by 2018 as entire state currently is encouraged by her efforts.”
He also added, “Old habits die hard, earlier it was very difficult for us and the authorities to change the mindset of people – they were quite used to going in the open to defecate. But now looking at Kunwar Bai’s efforts people have started knowing the importance of having a toilet at home.”
Kunwar bai’s story is a testament to how just one determined person can change the course of a village.