The other side of sanitation: How toilet awareness campaign splitting families in Bihar

The other side of sanitation: How toilet awareness campaign splitting families in Bihar

PATNA:  The growing public awareness towards sanitation is indeed a welcome change but Bihar faces a new kind of trouble on the ground—the sudden craze for toilets slowly splitting families!

In the past few weeks, more than half a dozen families have been split over mere lack of toilets at home—a development which has hugely alarmed the social scientists.

In a latest incident, a man from Madhepura district discarded his wife Khusaboo Kumari, and married another woman after his first wife deserted the in-laws’ home complaining to lack of toilet at home. Khusaboo, a resident of Mohanpur village in Purnia district, was married to Vikas Kumar with much fanfare about a year.

Reports said the woman was shocked and surprise to find no toilet at in-laws’ home when she reached there after married. Eventually, she deserted her husband the very next day after marriage and reached her parents’ house. Thinking that it was a small issue, the man reached his wife’s home to bring her back but she refused to return her in-laws’ house until a toilet is constructed.

As every bid to convince her fell flats, the man returned his home empty-handed but the maltreatment at the hands of his wife troubled him so much that he married another woman. When the news of his marriage reached his first wife, her family rushed to the local district superintendent of police, Purnia and urged him to interfere in her case. The SP has handed the case to the district counseling centre but the matter still remains resolved.

In October 2014, a woman from a village in Patna left her self-employed husband Rakesh Sharma after he failed to construct a toilet at home despite her repeated requests. The woman Babli Devi who was married to Sharma only last year complained she fell sick regularly as quite many a time she had to intentionally ignore the nature’s call for want of a toilet at home.

“When I reached my in-law’s home after marriage, I found no toilet at home and instantly asked my husband to construct it but he kept on ignoring my requests. Ultimately, I had no option but to desert him,” was how she told the local media. Narrating her harrowing experience, she added, “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.”

Another such incident was reported from Katihar district where a newly-married woman Yashoda Devi abandoned her husband for similar reason. She too was hugely upset when she found no toilet at in-laws’ home after marriage.

In another such incident, a woman from Bihta town in Patna district threatened divorce to her husband Alakh Niranjan and even left her hubby, peeved at lack of a toilet in her in-laws’ home. Her marriage could be saved only due to timely 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 to serve her husband divorce.

The NGO not only hurriedly constructed a toilet at her in-laws’ home but also handed her a cash reward of Rs 100,000 for her daring move of risking her marriage over the petty issue of toilet. The woman had been at war with her husband since 2009 over this issue.

“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 Patna-based Anugrah Narayan Sinha Institute of Social Studies.

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.

As per an official report, around 16.5 million households out of over 110 million population in Bihar currently do not have toilets at homes. A government report says only 17.6 percent households in Bihar at presently have toilets. Of the total 82.4 percent households without toilets, 85 percent are located in the rural areas whereas the rest 26 percent falls in the urban areas.

Sanitation remains the basis issue of concern in India, and the new federal National Democratic Alliance government too showed its deep concern for it when Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently launched a nation-wide campaign to raise awareness of cleanliness and better sanitation on the birthday of Independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

 

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