I was going to Lakhimpur Kheri by road to report on the farmer’s massacre at Tikunia in Lakhimpur district of Uttar Pradesh. In the twilight of the morning, some women were seen defecating sitting on the roadside. Big advertisements of the Uttar Pradesh government have been put up in Delhi-NCR, in which claims have been made that UP is open defecation free while celebrating development. The Uttar Pradesh government has declared the entire Uttar Pradesh open defecation free in January 2019. In such a situation, when a large number of women were seen defecating sitting on the roadside, the curiosity to talk to them arose.
As soon as I got down from the car, I ran towards the settlement, leaving my lotus slippers there and saying save-save. The question popped up in my mind that what has happened that these women are panicking like this?
Her slippers and lotus were lying there and she stopped after going some distance away. I went close to him, some people had gathered. Pallavi, a class XII student who came to defecate in the open, says, “As soon as the car stopped, we were afraid that we might be picked up. The girls who came out to defecate in the past have been molested by the drivers.
Gudha was also included in this group of women. She sobbed, “We were afraid that we would be taken away, we ran away screaming leaving the lota slippers.” These women and girls of Kothia village, about 10 km from Lakhimpur, come to the roadside every morning to defecate in the open.
Women defecating in the open are seen everywhere on the road from Lakhimpur towards the Nepal border. Men are also seen going towards the fields with torches and boxes in their hands. Gudha says, “Our house is about half a kilometer from here. If there was a toilet in the house, why would we have come at this risk?”
Gudha says, “There is so much water, if there was a toilet in the house, why would we young ladies come to the forest with the girls? The longer we sit, the breathless that no one can see, no one comes. When your car stopped So we can’t tell how we felt.”
Gudha and the girls and women present with him insist on me to go to his house and see the condition there. Gudha says, “Didi, you will come home and see the reality. There are toilets in the neighbor’s house, sometimes they sit in them, but everyday they can’t even open the door.”
Gayatri, who came to defecate in the open, says in a stunned voice, “I am afraid that someone might pick me up. Yesterday, when a jeep stopped, we got stuck.” There is no toilet in Jyoti’s house also. Jyoti says, “They come out afraid. They come before the sun rises so that no one can see their face. If the toilet is not built, then there is a compulsion. Let us bring the girl, there are fifty types of fear.” Those who do not have a toilet in their house, they make groups in the morning to defecate on the roadside, but they face a lot of trouble when their health is bad or needed during the day. Women have the most problems during periods. Jyoti says, “Can’t go to someone else’s house again and again. Have to hold back, wait for the days to hide so that something dark happens.”
“We keep getting accidents with women. A few days back, a jeep was stopped and the people in it molested and misbehaved. It became difficult for us to run away,” says Gudha.
About seven thousand people live in the village panchayat of which Kothia is a part. There is a big temple and government school outside the village. On entering the village, there is a board with the picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. On this the details of the development works done in the village are there, but the difference between the claims of the government and the ground reality is sky-high. In government records, Kothia village is ODF (Open Defecation Free) ie open defecation free, but in reality 70% of the population does not have a toilet.
The condition of almost every house in the whole village is the same.
There are people from all castes, but most belong to the Pasi community, which is a scheduled caste. Gudha and Jyoti belong to the Pasi community. The road leading to his house is full of water. Gudha lives in a joint family. This is a half-constructed pucca house which drips in the rain. There is a hut in Gudha’s part which can collapse at any time. Gudha has Aadhar card but ration card has not been made. There are no toilets in their house. When I reached this Dalit locality, there was a crowd. When the women here came to know that I am a journalist and asking for information about toilets, everyone started insisting on me to go to their homes.
Most of the houses here did not have toilets. Most of the women of this village are forced to defecate in the open. Men also have to go outside in the field but they said that they do not have any special problem. The real issue is of women who are not only ashamed but also put at risk their safety while defecating in the open outside the house.
A young woman coming from the farm with her mother with a bottle in her hand said, “Only a woman can tell how it feels to defecate in the open. If there is a toilet in the house, no woman will go out.”
The few toilets that have been built, their condition is also bad.
Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Uttar Pradesh government gives a grant of Rs 12,000 to each family to build a toilet. In rural areas, toilets are built through the Gram Panchayat. In village Kothia too, toilets have been built in many houses with the funds of the Panchayat. But their condition is such that to become or not to be is the same. The toilets we saw were dilapidated within a year. Most of the seats were seated and the plaster had come off. Their septic tank was not even built, a pit was dug only. Despite the very poor construction, the families whose toilets are built take great care of them. Many people had also put locks on their toilets. Some of these were usable. The unusable toilets were being used as store rooms. Some were filled with wood and some had other household items.
“We gave our documents thrice to the panchayat secretary but our toilet was not built. We were asked for some money in lieu of the name in the list. If we didn’t have the money, then from where would we have given it,” says Shivakumar, a resident of the village itself. Whoever talked to the Dalit locality had the same complaint. Most of the people said that their toilets were not built despite repeated requests. An elderly woman returning from the forest with a bottle in her hand says, “Our whole life has been spent in shame. If toilets are built for our girls, they will get some respect.”
Government claims Uttar Pradesh is open defecation free
The Uttar Pradesh government had declared the entire state open defecation free in January 2019. The Uttar Pradesh government claims that all 75 districts of the state are completely open defecation free. According to the government, since October 2, 2014, 1,95,98,984 toilets have been built in the state. According to government data, there has been an increase of 67.37 percent in the number of households with toilets in the state during this period. According to government data, 119455 new toilets have been built in the year 2019-20 itself. 97640 villages and 58769 panchayats are open defecation free in the state.
The pictures of toilets built in the state are uploaded on the government website. As per records, 1,61,31,55,500 photos have been uploaded since October 2, 2014. Lakhimpur district was declared completely open defecation free in December 2018. The district administration had organized a program and announced the construction of toilets in every household of the district, but this announcement was more on paper because still people are forced to defecate in the open in most of the villages of the district.
The village head in Kothia is only a woman. Her name is Goldie Bhargava but her husband Ashutosh looks after the work of Gram Panchayat. On the question of non-construction of toilets in the village, Ashutosh says, “It is true that there is a problem of open defecation in the village. It has been only three months since the head has come to us, we have got ten toilets, out of which we have three in each locality. Three are given.” Ashutosh says, “If permission is given from the development block, then they will get toilets built at the homes of all the needy.” At the same time, when we contacted the District Magistrate’s office in this regard, no response could be received. It must be told that Lakhimpur Kheri is completely open defecation free.
Women of Tikunia village want freedom from lote
These women of Lakhimpur, who came into the limelight after the farmer murder case, hope that now the media is coming to Lakhimpur, then their issue will also be discussed. Gudha and the rest of the women want freedom from the lota. She says with great belongingness and hope, “Didi, if we have a toilet in our house, then our life will be enriched. We will praise those who have done this work for our whole life.” When I stopped the car to meet these women, they ran away and left their hands. While leaving Kothia village, I was praying that these women should be left out of their hands, toilets should be built in their homes. As soon as we get off the roads and move towards the village, the reality of Uttar Pradesh is visible which is far away from the advertisements. The question arises in the mind whether the UP government will be able to take action against the officials responsible for presenting fake data. If there are no toilets in the houses, then how to make it in the record, where did their money go?