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Can’t contest panchyat polls without a toilet in MP; voices of opposition grow

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Sravani Sarkar

Bhopal: Siyavati Kol in Paragtola settlement of Java block in Rewa sounds very bitter when she says that the local panchayat threatens them to stop their food grain quota from PDS shop if they did not built a toilet.

It was harsh summer when we met her two months ago and Siyavati asked us “we just manage enough water to drink from 2km distance, most of us have no work, how do they expect us to build and use toilet?” We were left answerless.

In Kanpur village of neighbouring Satna district, we came across skeletons of many incomplete, dilapidated toilet structures. The villagers were busy getting their daily quota of water from rare water tanker that had arrived that day. Most of young people were absent from village, having gone off to other towns of states in search of work. Toilet was last thing on their mind.

The scenario in most parts of rural Madhya Pradesh, give to take few aberrations, is more of less the same as mentioned above. Despite wanting to give up open defecation, many cite multiple practical difficulties that force them to push toilet construction and use down their priority list.

incomplete toilet

In such a situation, when the state government passed a bill in state assembly making toilet mandatory for contesting panchayat polls on July 26, strong voices of opposition have started erupting.

The strongest of protesting voice is probably coming from women elected panchayat representatives themselves, who feel that the action would further alienate and deprive the unprivileged section of society from getting into electoral mainstream.

There is also criticism of the way the bill was passed in the assembly after a very ‘frivolous’ discussion.

These women representatives have also said that the decision is against women’s constitutional right of contesting an election, particularly when women still do not have complete say in household decisions including construction of toilets.

The Jagriti Sangathan of these women representatives have said that government should adopt ‘encouraging action’ and not ‘punishing action’ to ensure toilet construction and use.

“This rule is totally illogical and unjust till the time government can make provisions of aided toilet construction and water supply to each home. Women should particularly be exempted as they are not the main household decision makers yet. I know toilet construction and use is important, but electoral participation in democracy is equally important,” Roshni Meravi, panch of Garhi panchayat in Balaghat district says.

Tulsa Jaiswal, sarpanch of Busaul Panchayat in Rewa district says that while getting toilets constructed in her village, she came across many families that did not own land to get toilets constructed. “How would this rule protect the interests and rights of such families? Or are they to always remain on the fringe of the democracy?” She asks.

These women have found support to their cause from non-government organizations like The Hunger Project, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR)/MP Election Watch, Samarthan and others.

Soon a memorandum is to be submitted to governor, urging him not to sign this bill to turn it into an act.

Shibani Sharma of The Hunger Project said that as a last resort, public interest litigation could also be filed in the court. A meeting is soon expected to chalk out a strategy.