Jagdei, 65, sits pretty and fearless at her threshold in Mujasa village, Malihabad block, Lucknow district, narrating how her village has become safe for her two daughters and three daughters-in-law after being tagged ODF.
“There is no security threat now. We have everything in our house,” she quips.
It was not so till three years ago when Jagdei was always scared and uncomfortable whenever her young daughters would step out for defecation in open fields.
“The threat of anti-social elements loomed large. There was no option but to go to the fields,” she says, adding how life is much easier now as village women don’t have to wander around at odd-hours looking for secured space to relieve themselves.
Manju Devi, Arachana, Shyamla, Zubeda, Phoolmati, all share Jagdei's sentiment.
“Earlier, we would not get sound sleep as we had to wake up before dawn to go to the toilet. Now there is no such anxiety,” says Phoolmati, a maid at Mujasa primary school, narrating how toilets have brought about a big change in their life psychologically.
“Mujasa, with almost all the ‘pucca’ houses but no toilet in non-muslim households, took the lead and won the ODF tag within one year,” claims Village Development Officer (VDO) Ashwini Kumar Dwivedi.
The well-off Muslim families own nurseries and the poorer section works in them.
“Mango plants and others are sent from Mujasa, which means nursery, to other corners of the country. A small chunk of population works as daily wagers under MNREGA as well,” shares Dwivedi.
However, the transformation was not at all easy. The villagers were habitual of going to fields and it was deep-rooted in their psyche.
“The major challenge was to bring about a change in the mindset which didn’t allow them to defecate anywhere near their house,” says Dwivedi.
Early morning and late evening campaigns by WaterAid India and Vatsalya were conducted against those going to fields by blowing whistles or beating drums thereby shaming them.
“This initiative changed the village. Besides sanitation, the villagers became aware of personal hygiene and safety also,” says the VDO.
“The biggest benefit of becoming ODF was reflected in declining graph of diseases contracted while open-defecation. A significant improvement in health of women, especially child-bearing women, was marked. Cases of soil-transmitted helminthis infestation, diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, all have come down by 70%-80%,” claims Pawan Rathore, Block Programme Manager.
“Those who defecate in the open are at 25% risk of contracting diseases as compared to those who use toilets. They have a risk of just 7% infections.”
Though there is no village-wise segregated data of instances of sexual violence against women in local police records, but women of Mujasa village claim they are now much safer.
The VDO, however, gives a rough figure saying the decline in such cases could well be around 50 per cent.
“Earlier, we had to walk long distances to look for secluded places owing to tangible threats to our privacy and dignity. There used to be a consistent overwhelming fear of being watched or intruded by men from behind the bushes,” says Archana, 24.
Majority of women repeat the slogan: Bahu baad mein ghar mein lao, pehle shauchalay banwao (Construct toilets before bringing daughter-in-law home), written on the walls.
The claim to fame of Mujasa, 26 km from Lucknow, has been the ODF tag it earned in 2016 to become the first and lone village in and around the district to attain the status of ODF village.
Mujasa’s transformation began in 2015 when, as part of Swachchh Bharat Mission, Panchayati Raj department collaborated with Water Aid India and Vatsalya, an NGO, to launch a drive in 7-gram panchayats under seven adjoining blocks to make them ODF.