October 16, 2009


The mothers of Haryana have a simple message for men who call on their daughters: “No toilet, no bride.”

The slogan - often lengthened in Hindi to “If you don't have a proper lavatory in your house, don't even think about marrying my daughter” - has been plastered across villages in the region as part of a drive to boost the number of pukka facilities. In a country where more households have TV sets than lavatories, it is one of the most successful efforts to combat the chronic shortage of proper plumbing.

In India it is estimated that more than 660 million people still defaecate in the open - a big cause of a host of diseases, from diarrhoea to polio. It is women, activists say, who suffer the most. “Women who must go outside have to do so before sunrise or after nightfall so they can't be seen,” said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh, which has built toilets for ten million Indians, and the recipient of this year's Stockholm Water Prize for developing ecofriendly and cheap lavatories to help to improve public health.

Suresh Devi, 52, a resident of Shahar Malpur village near Panipat, about 100 km from New Delhi, had been forced to defecate in the open till not so long ago, as there was no toilet in her home. But when her daughter got married, she made sure the bride had a toilet in her new home.

"My in-laws did not have a toilet at home and nor did my parents. Everybody at home used to go to the fields for defecation. We never had a toilet at home until the village panchayat (council) got one made last year.

"When I got my youngest daughter Sonia married off I made sure that there was a toilet in the household. After all one has to look after hygiene," Suresh, a member of a family that is below the poverty line, said.

"Our daughter will be married only to a family that has a toilet at home. This slogan dramatically decreased the percentage of people holding out against the construction of new toilets," chuckled 70-year-old Satwant Kaur of Khanpur Koliyan, a village in the neighbouring Kurukshetra district, about 150 km from the national capital.

It has been nearly four years since the Haryana government embarked on a campaign to create awareness about sanitation among the masses through radio jingles, television advertisements, posters and banners.

Walls in many villages have been painted with slogans in Hindi reading - "Na byahun beti us ghar mein jismein na ho shauchalaya (Won't get my daughter married into a household which does not have a toilet)."

Women's rights activists call the program a revolution as it spreads across India's vast and largely impoverished rural areas.

Meanwhile, bachelor guys are having a tough time here.

"I will have to work hard to afford a toilet. We won't get any bride if we don't have one now," said Rajesh Singh, 24, who is hoping to marry soon. Neem tree branches hung in the doorway of his parents' home, a sign of pride for a family with sons. "I won't be offended when the woman I like asks for a toilet."