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Women At The Forefront Of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Inspiring Stories Of Sanitation Revolution From Across India

A number of women in India are taking innovative steps in order to get rid of an age-old tradition of open defection

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New Delhi: Any mention of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is incomplete without talking numbers to highlight landmarks or achievments so far. Over 5 crore (5.17 crore) toilets built, 2.5 lakh villages are open defection free (ODF), sanitation coverage of the country today is up to 70 per cent from just 38 per cent in 2014. But apart from the number crunching, the success of the Abhiyan is in the stories, some inspiring, some unfathomable for their efforts, all for a basic need they have been deprived of for decades – a toilet.

Many of these stories involve women warriors who have come forward to do their bit towards building a Swachh India. From a 12-year-old to a 106-year-old, women from across India are leading the swachhta fight in their own unique ways.

Kunwar Bai, a 106-year-old woman from Chhattisgarh became the face of open defecation movement in the state after she sold off her goats, the only source of earning money to build two toilets at home. Later, she started counselling people of her village in Kotabharri on the importance of having a toilet at home. For her Swachh efforts, she was even felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Today, both her village and district Dhamtari boast 100 per cent sanitation.

This 105-year-old Woman Started A Toilet Revolution To End Open Defecation 2

Kunwar Bai being felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Kunwar Bai’s daughter Sushila Yadav adds, because my mother was old, every night, every day, whenever she used to go out in the open to defecate, she used to fall down. Then, one day under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission, we were given 15 days timeline to construct a toilet at home. Rather than taking this as a shock because of the strict timeline, it became an inspiration for my mother. She was fascinated with the concept of having a toilet at home. And that was the beginning of this sanitation revolution. First she decided to sell our goats and get a toilet, and then she started calling other villagers to come by and see that toilet. She would also demonstrate the benefits of having a toilet at home and motivate them to build one.

Another inspiring story comes from the same state; this is the story of a woman sarpanch, Kajal Roy. She is from Sana village in Chhattisgarh’s Jashpur district, which is also one of the Chhatisgarh’s 8,000 open defecation free village.

Kajal Roy mortgaged her jewellery to build toilets in her village.

Kajal Roy mortgaged her jewellery to build toilets in her village

Her village was tucked away in a remote area of Chhattisgarh with very little access to facilities or supplies from urban centers, so, constructing a toilet in her village was a problem. In a bid to overcome this loophole, Kajal first trained herself on how to make bricks for constructing toilets and later she mortgaged her jewellery worth Rs. 87,000 in order to start her own firm in the village where she could train other women like her to build bricks and construct toilets in order to help the village get the open defecation free tag.

Toilet means self-respect for women. Jewellery will come sooner or later, but the opportunity to work for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will not be there forever, says Swachh warrior Kajal who has managed to construct over 100 toilets in her village.

From Chhattisgarh to Jharkhand, a 12-year-old Monidrita Chatterjee has sparked a mini toilet revolution in the state, hailing from Jamshedpur, Monidrita from childhood had two dreams – one to fight open defecation in the country and give other girls the most basic right – a toilet and second, plastic waste management. She saved every penny she could, including the money that she could have splurged during festivals, just to build toilets for girls. In 2016, this little swachh warrior saved Rs. 24,000 and built two toilets for the children of Kendradhi village. Then, she built two toilets in Haldubani village but with a twist – She constructed these toilets with waste products like plastic bottles and fly ash in order to motivate people about recycling plastic


Monidrita sparked a sanitation-revolution by building 6 toilets in Jamshedpur using all her pocket money

Mondrita adds, If 100 people like me come forward and do their bit to change the society, fate of our country can change.

In Karnataka’s, Danapur village there is a Swachh Bharat Fan ‘No. 1’ – Sharanamma Bakar. She is a  vegetable vendor who gives 1 kg tomatoes free to every family that has built a toilet. This is her way to motivate people to construct a toilet at home. This unique idea came to her when she learnt that around 1,300 families in her village have no access to toilets. Not just this, taking a step forward, Sharanamma also visited households that have toilets just to check whether they are using it or not. Her district Koppal has a little over 50% toilet coverage and is hoping to become Open Defecation Free soon.

This Swachh Bharat Fan ‘No. 1’ In Karnataka Gives 1 Kg Tomato Free To Families With Toilets

Meet Swachh Warrior – Sharanamma Bakar

From  Koppal district to Karnataka’s Belagavi district that has revived the Gulaab Gang, a group of fiery women activists who are widely known for their aggressive methods to end evil practices against women. Only this time they will fight against the evil age-old tradition of open defecation in collaboration with ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers. From going door-to-door to conducting workshops on hygiene and sanitation lessons, these pink members are using the ‘fear’ factor to sensitise people

In Kanpur, Latha Devi Diwakar from Vidhnu village sold her ‘mangalsutra’ for ₹17,000 in order to get herself a toilet while in Bihar’s Buxar district, teenagers gave up wearing gold jewellery until their parents acquiesced and constructed toilets.

The movement for a cleaner and safer India is surely spreading like wildfire! Apart from the individual success stories, there are also inspirational stories from Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district and Haryana sarpanch, who are following a policy of ‘No Toilet, No Bride’, meaning daughters from these respective areas will not get married in homes which does not have a toilet.


As per the government data, till date, approximately 13 lakh toilets have been constructed or are under construction for women in the country. But, these constructions would not have been possible without the active participation of the women themselves.

Recently as a run up to Gandhi Jayanti, the centre started an initiative – Swachhata Hi Seva in a bid to give a push to the ongoing Swachh Bharat Abhiyan efforts. According to the impact statistics, around 10 lakh women came forward and worked relentlessly in raising public awareness towards hygiene and sanitation. Seems like it is not just a successful man, but  behind every successful swachh effort there is a woman.


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