A tribal woman from Jawhar in Palghar has become the face of the open defecation-free (ODF) project in Maharashtra. Since the past three days, Sushila Khurkute, 30, has been digging a hole in her village, Nandgaon, to construct two toilet blocks as part of the central government’s Swachh Bharat campaign. Her efforts attracted the admiration of Parameswaran Iyer, secretary, Union ministry of drinking water and sanitation, who tweeted about her. He termed her ‘the face of ODF in Palghar and the state’.
The campaign, organised in collaboration with UNICEF, aims to make Maharashtra open defecation-free by March. Nidhi Chaudhary from the Palghar zilla parishad has conveyed this goal to the Centre through chief secretary Swadheen Kshatriya.
Khurkute said she and the other women in the village would relieve themselves outdoors. However, after hearing about the Swachh Bharat mission, she decided to construct a toilet block by herself.
A mother of two, she has been toiling without any government help or aid from her family. Her husband Hanumant is at work under the state’s employment guarantee scheme elsewhere in the district. He is hardly home, she said. Khurkute faces a daunting task, as the area she is digging is rocky.
A group of UNICEF volunteers touring the village on Wednesday chanced upon her digging. After making inquiries, they contacted the local zilla parishad.
“We were unaware of Khurkute’s project until UNICEF volunteers contacted us,” said Chaudhary. “The local gram panchayat assured Khurkute that they would help her and gave her building materials such as cement and bricks. We expect the toilet blocks to be ready by February 19. Will will felicitate Khurkute on that day,” she added.
“We want Palghar and Maharashtra to be open defecation-free by 31 March,” said Chaudhary.
“As part of the project, we will spread awareness about hand washing, maintaining menstrual hygiene and constructing community toilets,” said Sanghratna Khilare, deputy chief executive officer, Palghar.
“We plans to construct 79,000 toilets in the district, at Jawhar, Mokhada and Wada,” she added.
“Poor hygiene and malnutrition are connected. Government data shows that around 482 children died between April 2016 and January 2017 owing to reasons included malnutrition. A staggering 29 children died after being bitten by snakes and scorpions while defecating in fields. As many as 93 children reportedly died in August last year. Many lives could have been saved if only toilets had been constructed,” said Khilare.
Various firms will fund the Swachh Bharat and ODF campaigns as part of their corporate social responsibility.