They called it the Mahila Gappa Shauchalaya. Which roughly translates as the ‘women’s chatting toilet’. It was an instant success when the model was put up. It offered a safe and healthy experience to women. They could talk to each other as they went about their business. And there was fresh air.
It began about three years ago with a regular tussle that the villagers had with the BDO for they refused to offer the money for a community toilet. They told him all they wanted was a wall to cover a portion of the land they had been using for defecation. A wall will ensure some privacy but not sanitation, was the BDO’s argument. So when he refused to provide funds for the wall, the villagers had a battle with him.
They came back to persuade the BDO on why they thought a conventional toilet would not work. Women explained to him of how they go out for defecation in groups, partly for safety from wild animals and partly because it offers the busy women a chance to socialize with distant neighbours.
In the bushes they find privacy, they said, while keeping in touch with others in the village. But a toilet closet cuts them off from other women. They would rather be in the open air and in touch, not feel stifled and scared, they said.
About three years prior to all this, a community toilet with several closets were built for the women in the village. The women stopped using those within two months.
The BDO saw the point. With both sides understanding each other, conversation flowed. A solution emerged in the form of a sanitary unit that allowed women to see and hear each other. The new toilets were built in a semicircle instead of in a row. There are no doors because women don’t use them. The walls between cubicles were raised only halfway so that women could see and talk to each other. The complex was screened from public view by a semicircular wall and a roof to cover.
With the central tank for water supply instead of taps that stop working after a while a durable and cost-effective model was created. Water regularly now pumps into a central tank. The human waste collects in a porous underground tank where it decomposes naturally.
There is electricity at night and a woman sanitary worker that the panchayat has provided, takes care of hygiene.
Two more similar toilets have been built in the village, one by the panchayat and the other by the women. A fourth is under construction. Each unit has about 13-15 toilets and is used daily by 300 odd women and children.
The new design has other advantages as well. It requires half the space needed by the conventional system. The cost is less than 70 per cent of conventional toilets. The village is now planning a public toilet for men.
“I don’t think the open chatting pattern will work for men who are not used to going out in groups, but the semicircular design is useful. All the cubicles face the central tank, so users do not have to carry buckets down a single lane.
The toilet has aroused a lot of interest. Now the entire district is beginning to have this toilet design. A pipe manufacturing company in Jalgaon plans to build such toilets in Gadegaon where the company has a unit. There is now certainty that community toilets will not fall to neglect and disuse in the region.
Government agencies never listen to people. In nearly all places, the government is the first challenge and threat for people.
(Pic source: internet)