28-year-old Vimala Kadam clearly remembers that day in August 2016, when one sight rattled her.
She watched in complete horror as a host of elderly citizens formed a serpentine queue. They waited eagerly on one side of the Mudhol-Nippani state highway near Umarani village to cross over to an open-field to defecate.
Vimala rushed to the village and started interacting with the locals. She also met the panchayat development officer to kickstart a campaign to build in-home toilets for the residents.
Today Vimala is just 100 toilets short of making Umarani open-defecation free (ODF) reports the Times of India.
In 2016, Umrani, that falls in the Chikkodi taluk, had toilets in only 20% of the households. Today this village, with its strength of 4,500 people, has 800 toilets, thanks to Vimala’s efforts.
Vimala was academically inclined but was forced to quit her studies before her marriage. So she decided to continue her education post marriage and enrolled herself at the AAPatil Women’s Degree College in Chikkodi taluk to complete her graduation. Since then, she has been tirelessly working to further the cause of sanitation in the village as a toilet crusader.
Vimala’s on-ground efforts in the village revealed a struggle similar to what viewers saw in the acclaimed Hindi film, ‘Toilet‘, starring Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar.
Despite the gram panchayat’s eagerness to provide funds for construction of toilets under the Swachh Bharat mission, it was a mental block among villagers that was the root of the open-defecation problem.
Many families refused to build toilets in their homes, which housed the divine deities they worshipped. And so the open-fields on the outskirts of the village became the place they would travel to relieve themselves.
But Vimala was not deterred. She mobilised 25 of her classmates and sought guidance from her college lecturers, Visakha Chitare and Jayashri Nagarale. She also sought help from the LEAD foundation, to begin awareness and construction of toilets in the village.
Going door-to-door, and understanding people’s perception in 10-15 visits, she managed to convince them to build toilets in their homes. It was difficult, but she managed to open their minds to the idea.
“It was difficult to convince the villagers. I used to visit the village after college hours as I was distressed about the troubles they faced due to lack of toilets…There was a direct link to increasing rape cases, incidents of snakebite and filth polluting their living environment,” Kadam told TOI
Soon after, she collected identity documents from these families and applied at the panchayat office seeking funds to build toilets in their homes.
Looking at how other families received a financial help of Rs 12,500 to Rs 15,000 for the construction of these toilets, other families in the villager decided to join in too.
With her project almost nearing its end, she is now being approached by the taluk panchayat officer to create awareness in six other villages too.
“I will start work in the other villages once exams are over,” she told TOI.
We salute Vimala for not giving up in the face of opposition and striving to transform this Karnataka village!
We hope the state takes notice of this toilet crusader and helps replicate her work in the other six villages too.