Melghat in Amravati district is densely forested and remote – far from any town or city, and lacking the facilities of its urban counterparts. It has, instead, trees and tigers aplenty, and its human inhabitants are used to living simply. Yet there are stirrings on the ground, caused by the zillaparishad schools that are increasingly active in the area, enabling children to learn, and become educated.
I worked here, too, in ButidaZillaParishad school, which came under the Hataru Beat.
We did not have children from very well-off families in our school. What we did have were students who evidently came from families where cleanliness was valued. This was especially apparent with the girl students. Their clothes were always clean, and the smaller girls never had to be reminded to wash.
But during the breaks, the girls never went out to pee. They just milled around, loitering or chatting. The boys, on the other hand, would make a beeline for the outdoors when the bell rang to signal the end of class. The difference in behavior was mystifying. After observing this pattern for some days, I asked them, ‘Dears, don’t you want to go out?’ A student named Sheela replied, ‘Teacher, we are too embarrassed to go in open place.’
That was in 2004. I had been working at the school for six months by then. What the girls had to say opened my eyes. I had not really registered the fact that the school lacked even a single toilet, and felt ashamed of myself. Girls would obviously shy away from going in the open, but if they had to stop themselves in this way for hours together it could lead to serious health issues. Yet this was precisely what the girl students were doing – holding on to full bladders for long periods.
I brought the problem to the attention of the Principal, but she ignored it. That was when I decided that I would do something about it myself. But how could I raise the money for building toilets? I spoke to a friend, Naresh Pawar, who suggested a simple structure using bamboo poles tied together. I appreciated the suggestion and contacted a villager, Maniram Betekar, who started work right away. He built the four sides with bamboo and draped these with a cloth. In this way, two rudimentary toilets, no more than depressions in the ground with channels for urine, were created, separate spaces for boys and girls – all for Rs 2100, the cost of the bamboo and the cloth! I also spent a small amount on the concretizing of the ground surfaces, as the soil was very porous, and a muddy mess would have resulted otherwise.
When the Principal retired in 2005, the school’s administrative duties fell to me. Finally, I was able to think about going ahead with my idea of building proper toilets.
It was not just the students, of course, who had been facing difficulties – we teachers, too, needed the toilets.
I realized that the cloth-draped walls we had made were somewhat transparent, and needed to be replaced by solid walls of cement. By now, I was committed to having these toilets constructed, but it was going to cost a good deal – and I had no idea where to find the money.
When I went home to Yavatmal for the Diwali vacations, my mother presented me with a gold locket weighing 5 grams. I was thrilled because it meant I would now have the necessary funds.
I still remember that the bus I rode back halts at Bhaisadehi for half an hour. In that time, I found a goldsmith and sold him my gold locket for Rs 28,000. I took the cash and went back to my seat, hardly able to contain my delight.
Back in Melghat, I caught hold of an acquaintance, Munna Jamunkar. This big-hearted man immediately agreed to begin work on the toilets.
The school is situated on a hill. The entire area, where our concretized toilets were to be built, was rocky. The earlier bamboo structures had not been a problem, but the new toilets required foundations to be dug. This took the laborers two whole days.
After paying for their labor, and buying cement, bricks, stones and iron bases for the foundations, all the money was exhausted – not least because the materials had to be transported to our village by tempo from Bhaisadehi, the nearest town, 28 km away – and then hauled manually to the site, as there was no motorable path. Now there was no cash left for buying and installing the toilets themselves, or for tiling the floors.
I was anxious, but Munna said, ‘Let me see what can be done.’
And then he turns up the next day with all the necessary materials. He had bought them for Rs 3000. I learned only later that he had pawned some gold objects from his home to raise the money.
Now all that was required was to install the toilets. And by the end of that year, four months later, the work was completed.
The students in the school now had proper, hygienic toilets, and the teachers were beneficiaries as well. The positive results were obvious. Not only did the girl students no longer have to hang about helplessly in the breaks, they became less reluctant about coming to school and attendance went up. They didn’t need to feel self-conscious or embarrassed any more, or compelled to go in the open.
I was satisfied. I worked at that school for three years. In this way, two people helped me make my dream into a reality, by contributing funds.
Just because my students are from a rural area, why should they be denied basic facilities? That was how I looked at it, and fortunately, I had friends, who, without thinking too much about it, came forward to help.
Sometimes, when your mind is obsessed by an idea, and you do everything you can to turn it into reality, and succeed in the endeavor, the joy is incomparable. That was how I felt when I helped to build the toilets at the school in Melghat while I worked there.
A number of workshops have led me to travel all over Maharashtra, and I have realized that the same situation prevails in hundreds of schools: there are no toilets. Or, even in many well-known schools, they are very dirty. Why do school authorities expect their students to use such ill-maintained and filthy toilets? In some places, the toilets are practically open air. How are girls to use them?
We see hundreds of banners and slogans plastered all over, in the name of cleanliness. If all the money used to print these banners were used for the construction and upkeep of toilets, wouldn’t it be better spent?
In very many schools, there are simply no toilets even for teachers. What do the teachers do in such a situation? Must they go to other people’s houses?
To allow such a situation to exist in this age of technology, and for it to be the rule rather than the exception, is most unfortunate.
Education is extremely important, but to live with dignity as human beings we need some external facilities. If basic things like clean and working toilets existed, then students would surely be able to concentrate better on their studies.
My own dear students motivated me, which was why I simply had to build those toilets.
Let us all work together to fulfill basic needs, and become a truly educated society.
Writer: Vinod Rathod, Assistant teacher, ZP School, Salnapur, Taluka- Dhamangaon Railway, Amravati district
Editing and Translation: samata.shiksha team