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Minister describes it as a ‘serious but welcome trend’

Patna: American singer Beyoncé famously sang the words “if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it”, but would-be grooms in India’s Bihar state have a completely different issue to worry about — if they are to please their brides.

The growing awareness of sanitation is splitting up newlyweds in the state, a development which has left social scientists baffled.

In the past few weeks, six newly-wed women reportedly abandoned their husbands for lack of toilets in their in-laws’ homes in the state.

Recently, a woman from a village in Patna, the capital of Bihar, left her husband Rakesh Sharma after he failed to construct a toilet at home despite her repeated requests.

Babli Devi, who married Sharma last year, complained that she fell sick regularly as she had to intentionally ignore nature’s call for lack of a toilet at home.

She said it is shameful for women to defecate in the open.

“I usually had to wait for darkness to fall to move out of the house in the company of my sister-in-law and mother-in-law to defecate in the open. I found it an affront to humanity and bore the insult for sometimes until I finally decided to leave my husband,” the 20-year-old Devi said.

In June this year, another woman, Yashoda Devi from Katihar district, abandoned her husband for similar reasons.

“My in-laws’ did not show any interest despite my repeated requests, saying most of the people in the rural areas do exactly that,” she told the local media adding it was just impossible for her to live with her husband, compromising on her pride and dignity.

Earlier in May this year, a woman from Bihta town in Patna district had threatened divorce to her husband Alakh Niranjan and even left him, peeved at the lack of a toilet in her in-laws’ home.

Her marriage was saved only due to thetimely intervention by Sulabh International, an NGO which works for promoting human rights, environmental sanitation and waste management.

The NGO pitched in shortly after the woman had approached the Women Helpline seeking to divorce her husband.

The NGO not only hurriedly constructed a toilet at her in-laws’ home but also handed her a grant of Rs100,000 (Dh5,896). The woman had been at odds with her husband since 2009 over this issue. The other incidents were reported elsewhere across the state.

“These all are happening because awareness about toilets has now reached to villages and women are now openly inquiring about the availability of toilets at the in-laws’ home before giving their consent for marriage,” Bihar’s Public Health and Engineering Department minister Mahachandra Prasad Singh told Gulf News on Thursday.

He described it a serious yet welcome trend.

“It is true that some women have broken their marriages for want of toilets, which is a serious but welcome trend. Women who don’t have toilets at home have to wait till dark to go out and meet the nature’s call. So, this move will put pressures on their families to arrange for a toilet at home,” the minister added.

He added that the state government had taken the toilet construction work very seriously and was working hard to provide toilets to all by 2019.

Official report say around 22 million households out of the over 110 million population in Bihar currently do not have toilets at homes.

A government report says only 17.6 per cent of households in the state presently have toilets.

Of the total 82.4 per cent households without toilets, 85 per cent are located in the rural areas whereas the rest 26 per cent falls in the urban areas.

“The incidents indicate the growing awareness among the common men about importance of sanitation in life but the continuing trend is a matter of grave concern as marriages are breaking over a petty issue of toilets,” explained a prominent social scientist Sachindra Narayan, a retired professor at the Anugrah Narayan Sinha Institute of Social Studies in Patna.

According to him, marriage is a social institution and its break-up over such a small issue deserved immediate attention by the government and society.

The state government has taken the issue of sanitation quite seriously and has now barred people without toilets in their homes from contesting in local body polls.

The move is aimed at creating awareness among the general masses about sanitation.

The new federal National Democratic Alliance government at the centre has also shown its deep concern for sanitation when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of cleanliness and better sanitation on the birthday of Independence leader Mahatma Gandhi in October.

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