From constructing toilets to training ‘rani mistris’, this woman is taking the lead to make rural Jharkhand free of open defecation

Sunita Devi, who has constructed over 475 toilets and trained over 300 rani mistris to construct more than 1,500 toilets, will receive the Nari Shakti Puraskar from President Ram Nath Kovind on International Women’s Day.

Making India free of open defecation requires a change in societal mindset and behaviour. While government data shows that over 90 percent of individuals have access to toilets and are using them under the ‘Swachh Bharat’ mission, the ground reality seems to be different.

However, Sunita Devi from Jharkhand is on a mission to make her village, Udaypura, free of open defecation. To achieve this goal, she realised that a change was required in people’s attitude and behaviour towards sanitation, health, hygiene, and - subsequently - toilets.

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Earlier, mostly men worked as raj mistris, and it was difficult to convince them to construct toilets, since they said it was a small job that would not pay them much. So, when the district officials contacted our Gram Panchayat and asked for volunteers, I stepped in, says Sunita, reports NDTV.

Realising the need for toilets in her village, Sunita bagged the opportunity of training rani mistris (masons) organised by Swachh Bharat motivators, UNICEF supported staff, Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS) Expert, block community, and Zila Swachhta Preraks in 2016.

Over the course of training, all the technical aspects of constructing an individual household twin pit toilet were covered. After completing her training, Sunita started constructing toilets in marginalised areas where people could not afford to construct a toilet.

Speaking to NDTV, Sunita said,

The twin-pit technology was fairly new for male masons. So, I monitored and directed them in every toilet construction.

In addition to her efforts to construct toilets in her village, Sunita has also formed a women’s discussion group. Every weekend, they meet to discuss issues such as cleanliness, open defecation, alcoholism, child marriage, and women’s safety.

Source NDTV

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From going door-to-door to encouraging women to take up the job as a rani mistri (mason) and to earn a little income, Sunita is trying to bring the much-needed change towards open defecation. Till date, she has constructed 475 toilets, and has encouraged and trained over 300 rani mistris to build over 1,500 toilets.

Source NDTV

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For bearing the flag of change among her people, Sunita will be awarded Nari Shakti Puraskar 2018 by President Ram Nath Kovind. The ceremony will be held at Rashtrapati Bhavan on March 8, celebrated as International Women’s Day. She will also receive Rs 1 lakh cash award for empowering 300 women as rani mistris, reports Telegraph India.

Speaking to NDTV, Sunita said,

People have now started to respect and appreciate my work. I feel I have lived up to the expectation of my family and everyone. There has also been a change in the mindset of families, as some are now allowing female members to work as masons. Today, every house in my village has a toilet.

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