A toilet might not be an item likely to appear at the top of a bride’s wedding registry. But for a 25-year-old Chaitali Galakhe of Andura village in Maharashtra, India, a prefabricated toilet was the one gift she wanted more than jewelry, a television or a refrigerator.
According to the Times of India, Galakhe discovered that her in-law’s home lacked a toilet shortly after her marriage to Devendra Makhode had been arranged. The bride-to-be was alarmed at the thought of defecating in the open and discussed the issue in detail with her parents and sister before finally issuing a demand to her family. “I am not interested in a television, refrigerator or a washing machine or gold jewelry as a wedding gift … I only want a ready-made toilet, which I can carry to my in-laws’ home,” she said.
While her demand was initially met with skepticism, her father, Dilip Galakhe, finally agreed to fulfill her wish before her marriage, to make his daughter happy. The pre-manufactured bathroom came fully equipped with a water closet, wash-basin and standing mirror and cost 18,000 Indian Rupees (approximately $283), roughly the cost of a medium TV, fridge or washer.
But little did the bride realize that her taking a stand for adequate facilities would become a call for action and make her a role model. She was honored with a Rs. 10 lakh ($1,570) prize, the Sulabh Sanitation Award from sanitation NGO Sulabh International, which saluted her inspiring step and declared her the “messenger of sanitation,” reported India Today.
Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, a social activist and the mentor of Sulabh International said, “It is an achievement of the Modi government, which is completing a year in office,” referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Clean India, or Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan national campaign, an initiative that urges people, especially in rural areas, to pay attention to better sanitation programs and practices.
The Times of India also reported that Galakhe’s move inspired other women from her village who attended her marriage ceremony to be more vigilant regarding proper sanitation. “Several of us are planning to get married soon and we shall enquire whether the boy’s side have proper toilet facilities… If not, then this idea will help us,” one wedding attendee reportedly said.
According to The Guardian, India leads the world in open defecation. At least 636 million Indians lack toilets, according to census data, a crisis that contributes to disease, childhood malnutrition, loss of economic output and violence against women. A World Bank report also notes that with 53 percent of Indian households defecating in the open, absence of toilets and latrines is one of the major contributors to malnutrition, reports The Hindu. The practice of open defecation contaminates food and water, and transmits diseases that kill 700,000 children every year worldwide—200,000 of whom are in India, says Brian Arbogast, director of the Water Sanitation and Hygiene Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The manufacturer of the prefabricated toilet, a local volunteer for Modi’s Clean India initiative, offered the product at a discount, only recovering his cost, he said. According to FirstPost India, over the last couple of years, six other women across India have been lauded by Sulabh International and conferred awards for raising their voices on the issue.
Anita Narre from the state of Madhya Pradesh was awarded Rs.7 lakh when she pushed back against her husband over the lack of a toilet at their residence, while Priyanka Bharti and two other brides from Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur region were honored for making the demand of their in-laws. Another woman from Maharashtra’s Washim district chose to sell her ‘mangalsutra’ (an auspicious thread customarily knotted around the bride’s neck when she gets married) to build a toilet at her in-law’s home.
The issue of toilets has been in the news in India, most notably when Prime Minister Modi emphasized the need for improvement during his first Independence Day speech last August at a New Delhi landmark. “Can we not create proper toilet facilities? I don’t know whether people will appreciate my talking about dirt and toilets from the Red Fort but I come from a poor family. I have seen poverty and the attempt to give dignity to the poor starts from there,” Modi said.