Growing up in Dakshinpuri, Delhi, Komal Hadala had never imagined in her wildest dreams that a house without a toilet could exist.
However, when fate brought her to Nithora, Uttar Pradesh after marriage, she was right in the middle of that very situation. There were no toilets, and the 21-year-old city-bred woman now had to wake up in the wee hours of dawn every day and rush outside to relieve herself.
Be it in the freezing winters or pouring rains, the women of the village had no option but to venture out in the pitch darkness.
“We would walk in groups for kilometres to find a secluded place. Men would jeer at us, and sometimes, farmers would shoo us away from near their lands. It was extremely embarrassing,” recalls Komal.
Building a toilet in her home
Much like the character Jaya in the movie ‘Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, Komal soon became disgruntled with the sanitary scenario and pleaded her husband and in-laws to construct a toilet in the house.
“Initially, everyone—especially the older generation—was reluctant to do so. The idea of an in-house toilet conflicted with their orthodox views. Being the only literate person in the family, I took my time to explain to them about the diseases spread through open defecation and how a toilet can save health and time both. Finally, they came around and built a toilet in the house,” reveals Komal.
However, this was the beginning of a long struggle for Komal—convincing the entire village about toilets. Her family, who now realised the benefits of the toilet, now supported her whole-heartedly.
Together, they requested the village Pradhan Chahat Ram to construct toilets in the village, as mandated by the government directives under Swachh Bharat.
Convincing the villagers about the need for toilets
Komal, her mother-in-law and other women of her family, joined hands with a few other women who had toilets in their homes, to set up the Nigrani Samiti.
“Our mission was to convince the village women. I painstakingly elaborated to each woman how a toilet can protect their dignity, health and time simultaneously. Initially, they were unwilling to even listen to us. Gradually, I broke it down to them how open defecation is the leading cause of health hazards like typhoid, cholera, and diarrhoea,” she shares.
Meanwhile, Komal’s husband and other men in her family went around to convince the menfolk in the village.
“The task was inherently difficult,” Komal reiterates. “Sometimes the people would scold us. Sometimes they would scoff and scorn at us for being ‘jobless’. Often they would misbehave and taunt us as well.”
It took her more than a year, but eventually, the hard efforts paid off. By 2019, 250 new toilets were constructed in Nithora and subsequently led to the village attaining the ODF (Open Defecation Free) status. And it was all possible due to a young woman’s persistent efforts.
Meeting with the Norwegian PM
However, even after the construction of the toilets, the habits did not die in a day. So, Komal and her members of the Nigrani Samiti would also venture out at 4 AM to monitor the women and bar them from open defecation.
“Today, I can confidently say that each and everyone in Nithora uses toilets,” she states.
In 2019, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg paid a visit to Nithora during her India tour and personally congratulated Komal for her incredible achievement. “I felt so proud that day. I will never forget the meeting with her,” Komal shares ecstatically.
At present, Komal is invested in bringing forth more changes in her village. She educates young girls about menstrual hygiene and distributes sanitary napkins. Increasing the safety and security of women features at the top of her priority list as well.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)
Representational Featured Image (Right)
Credits: Swachh Bharat Grameen