In a colony somewhere off Dhar Road (NH-59) is an unidentified man with a scar on his face who unknowingly sparked a mini revolution against open defecation. And behind the campaign is Basanti Jodha the woman who gave him that mark.
Thanks to her untiring efforts Bajrang Nagar, a settlement of 426 houses near Chandan Nagar, is now completely OD (open defecation) free.
It all began when Basanti was waylaid on a wintry morning when she was returning from a nearby field after answering nature’s call.
“I saw a cyclist coming from the opposite direction. As he passed, he grabbed me from behind. When I struggled to get away the man pulled out a switchblade and demanded that I hand over my jewellery and money,” recalled the mother of four.
Basanti said she pointed out that she didn’t have any money or jewellery. Angered, the man attempted to slash her neck, but the doughty lady grabbed the knife blade with her hands and cried for help.
In the ensuing struggle both Basanti and her attacker fell on the ground. “I grabbed a stone and swung it backwards hitting him either in the face or the eye.” Stunned and injured, the man ran away leaving his bicycle behind.
“The injury from the blade required 10 stitches after which I and some other women lodged a complaint with the police,” said the middle-aged woman.
Although, the attacker was never found (“his face was covered with a handkerchief so I couldn’t identify him”) Basanti couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened.
Pointing out that only a handful of houses in her locality, Bajrang Nagar, had toilets, Basanti said that she thought about dangers faced by women who had to go to nearby fields to relieve themselves.
She started motivating fellow residents to build individual toilets at their houses. It was a move that struck an immediate chord.
“There were hardly any houses with toilets. Nearly, all women used to defecate in the open. We had to go to the field in the wee hours or wait until it was dark,” said Prem Bai, another resident of Bajrang Nagar. The attack on Basanti Jodha was another key motivational factor.
The residents received a further jolt when an unknown man, widely believed to be the same person who attacked Basanti, was seen a few days later. “He fled when we chased him,” said Manibai, a worker at a nearby brick kiln.
Meanwhile, Basanti’s efforts began to bear fruits with several of her neighbours getting toilets built in her house. “We organised street plays highlighting the importance of individual toilets,” said Basanti, who works for a Swayashri Mahila Seva Sangh, an all-women group.
Fortuitously, Basanti’s efforts dovetailed with governmental projects to quell open defecation. “Low cost toilets were built first under SESI (Slum Environment & Sanitation Initiative, run by Water Aid, UN-Habitat and the IMC) and later under the first phase of Project Utthaan (an ADB-assisted slum infrastructure development project),” said Sunita who worked with Utthaan. “Today every house has a toilet and Bajrang Nagar is OD free,” she added.
And that, surely will give the unidentified man with the mark something to think about.