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More than 60 per cent of the State’s population does not have toilet facilities. The much-hyped Total Sanitation Campaign has been a failure

The absence of a toilet nearly deprived a man of marital bliss when his newly-wed bride ran away from her husband’s home on the third day of her marriage, because she was told that her home did not have toilet facilities and that she would have to use the open fields. in a nondescript district of Uttar Pradesh.

This is the story of Priyanka Bharati, a Dalit and a Class XII student, who got married to Amarjeet Kumar of village Vishnupur Khurd in Maharajganj district of Lucknow on May 2. By Priyanka’s own admission, she was shocked to learn that women in her marital home had to defecate in the open. For the first two days she tried to adjust with the situation, before deciding to return to her mother Kamlavati Devi’s home.

Priyanka’s mother was shocked to see her daughter back within three days of marriage on what the former called a ‘flimsy ground’. She feared that the neighbourhood would be abuzz with her daughter’s early return from her husband’s home. She tried to persuade Priyanka to go back. She argued that in villages women generally used the open fields. Priyanka’s husband Amarjeet too promised to construct the toilet but to no avail.

This was not the first incident. Recently, two more young brides in Uttar Pradesh refused to go to their in-laws’ houses after marriage because those homes too did not have toilets. Priyanka Rajbhar of Kushinagar even attempted suicide when her in-laws threatened her with dire consequences, if she did not return home. Jyoti Kumari of Sant Kabir Nagar also refused to go to her in-laws place till a toilet was constructed there.

The three returned to their new homes last week and only after toilets had been constructed by Sulabh International.

A few months ago, Anita, a tribal bride of Madhya Pradesh, made news by protesting against the lack of toilet facilities at her in-laws’ place. Her in-laws were forced to construct a toilet. She was invited by President Pratibha Patil and Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, who feted her for her courage in standing up for a social cause.

In rural India, in the absence of toilets women generally use the fields. They go before sunrise or after nightfall. Sulabh International, an NGO that has constructed cost-effective toilet systems in slums and dense urban localities, claims that of the over 24 crore houses, only 11 crore have toilets. And of 7,935 cities, only 160 have sewage treatment plants.

In Uttar Pradesh, almost 63 per cent people still defecate in the open. The total number of households in Uttar Pradesh is 3,29,24,266. Of these only 1,17,36, 853 have toilets, and about 2,07,54,080 — which is 63.03 per cent of the total number — still defecate in the open. The percentage is higher (77.13 per cent) in rural areas against the 14.82 per cent in the cities.

Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak said that 660 million people in India still sit in the open, leading to serious health issues. It is the women who suffer the most. It is not as if constructing dry latrines in villages or in urban slums is not on the priority list of the Government.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Total Sanitation Campaign was launched in the State in collaboration with the Centre in 2002. The whole project now stinks as much as the toilets. TSC was told that 82.5 per cent households have toilets but the data collected during Census shows that just 22 per cent households have toilets. This clearly proves that the public money has been flushed away in the toilets.

The stark reality is staring us in our face. Over 60 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population is deprived of toilets. The TSC campaign to construct proper toilets and strengthen basic sanitation facilities will end in 2017. This means that Uttar Pradesh has got just five years to put a lid on this stinking system of open defecation. Priyanka’s bold act might spur the Government to end this menace at the earliest.