If the boys take pictures of us while we are in the jungle and post it in the media, what will happen to our dignity? For a tribal girl her dignity is everything. If she loses her dignity, her whole household loses respect in the community.
Defecating in the open is not a dignified thing to do but we had to be numb to that notion because it was a necessity. Since primitive times, the jungle has served as our toilet. Women and adolescent girls like me go to the jungle to defecate early in the morning, when it is still a little dark.
This time was appropriate for me because I didn’t want anyone to see me defecate, especially the boys and men. Early morning and late evening were times set to go into the jungle for defecating.
Apart from the risk of being caught in the act, I also feared the animals that roamed in the forests like leopards and snakes. One lady in our village recently got bitten by a poisonous snake when she went to defecate and had to be rushed to the Waghai hospital. Such cases instilled more fear in me.
It had become a habit. I took nothing with me from home to clean myself. All I knew was that the tribal people used leaves and stones as tools to clean themselves and as a child I picked up that habit.
When we got back home from the jungle, there was no practice of washing hands or keeping our bodies clean. It was not given much importance. I remember falling sick often either it was fever and vomiting or severe stomach ache and diarrhoea. Constantly falling sick was never a good feeling.
It made me feel weak and I felt exhausted. At that time, I didn’t know that these illnesses were spread because of unsanitary conditions.
As I grew older I didn’t feel comfortable going alone to the jungle to defecate. My mother or sister used to accompany me. When it was just us sisters going to the forest mother used to be anxious for our security the whole time until we returned. She was scared of boys harassing us.
Times have change now. With technology privacy has become more elusive and there is more threat of people posting images on the internet. Puberty made the practice of open defecation more agonising.
The long walk into the jungle for defecating had become a way of life here so no one realised it was an unhygienic practice. One day the villagers were called for a gathering in the village. My family participated in it.
We were asked what an ideal village would look like by World Vision who organised this gathering. Our village lacked the amenities to become an ideal village and one of those amenities was toilets. People in the village pointed out that they had to go outside, in the jungle to answer nature’s call.
It is through the sensitisation programme my family realised the dire need for having toilets in our home. Apart from the ignorance and lack of awareness regarding health issues arising from unclean practices, the economic condition of my household was another deterrent for building a toilet in the vicinity of our home.
But my mother was very keen on building a toilet in the house. World Vision India supported my family in building our toilet. We worked together, they provided the raw materials like cement, bricks, pipes and a toilet seat along with wages for the labourers and we dug the hole and brought stones to make the soak pit.
It is just two months old and I can already experience the advantages of having a toilet in the house. Before it took a 30-minute walk from the village to the forest and then back to the village. Now within two minutes I can reach the toilet. I can go to the toilet whenever I want. It is weather resistant so no matter whatever the weather we can go to the toilet without worrying.
The toilet protects our dignity. Along with using the toilet we have developed a routine of healthy hygienic practices that we learnt at the World Vision sensitization programme.
To promote these practices, we also received hygiene kits which had soap, nail cutter, tooth-brush and paste, comb and sanitary pads.
Washing hands after using the toilet, before eating is a must to protect ourselves from illnesses and maintain personal hygiene. Using pads which can be disposed is more hygienic than reusing cloth during menstruation. Going into the jungle for defecating, ends with my mother’s generation.
My generation has started a new tradition and we hope to continue it for generations to come.