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| Last Updated:10/03/2014

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21-year-old stands for the need for sanitation

Gaurav Saigal, Hindustan Times, 07 March, 2014


"No toilet at home, so what? We all defecate in the open and so must you." These words from her mother-in-law on April 13, 2012, changed the life of 19-year-old Priyanka Bharti the very first day she reached her husband's house.


Priyanka Bharti, brand ambassador for Sulabh, has convinced 40-odd families to get toilets constructed in their homes in Vishnupur. (Ashok Dutta/HT Photo)


Expected to meekly accept the diktat and live as other members of the family and village do, Priyanka did just the flip. She left her in-laws' house two days later with a pledge that unless a toilet is constructed she wouldn't return, something never dared by a woman before.


Two months later, Priyanka's father-in-law Ramjiut, called her up, asking her to return and along with mother-in-law Tatra Devi, husband Amarjeet and the entire Vishnupur Khurd village in Maharajganj district (roughly 60 km north of Gorakhpur district on the Indo-Nepal border area) welcomed her with great pomp and show.


"A feast for 2,000 people and a function even better than the one on my gauna (the ritual when the bride finally enters her husband's home after marriage)," says Priyanka as she pumped air into the coal stove in the courtyard.


She also got an in-house toilet and a cash award of Rs. two lakh from Sulabh International, an organisation in the forefront of the sanitation movement.


This, however, was not the end but the turning point in Priyanka's life. "She decided to sensitise others about the need for an in-house toilet," said Ramjiut.


Almost every other day, once she is done with her share of household chores, Priyanka holds discussions with village women, young and old, to spread awareness about the significance of hygiene. A brand ambassador for Sulabh, she travels across villages such as Chapia and Piparwa, often accompanied by her husband.


"Young girls go out alone and defecate in the open. It is not only unsafe, but also embarrassing. But men don't understand this," says Amarjeet.


She inspired two other brides - Jyoti of Sant Kabir Nagar and Priyanka Rai of Kushinagar - to walk out of their in-laws homes as they did not have a toilet and has also featured in a TV commercial on sanitation with actor Vidya Balan.


So far, Priyanka has convinced 40-odd families to get toilets constructed in their homes.


"I think in each election the candidates, whether they are contesting for the post of village head (pradhan) or for a seat in the parliament, should be evaluated on how much importance they give to hygiene and sanitation in their constituency," says Priyanka.