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Toilets may help curb India's rape crisis

Cubicle installations reach village where girls were murdered

Toilets may help curb India's rape crisis

Ramkali, grandmother of the girls murdered in Katra Saadatgunj. Picture: Aasha Khosa

Aasha Khosa, Badaun

September 2, 2014

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Until this month, women in the remote village of Katra Saadatgunj waited until the cover of nightfall for the simple act of using the toilet.

With no traditional toilets in this village of some 5,500 people in Uttar Pradesh state, women were forced to relieve themselves in the surrounding fields. The darkness provided a shield from prying eyes, but it was also a source of alarm for many women. These fears were realized in May, when two teenaged girls who had ventured out at night to use the toilet were found raped and murdered, in a case that made international headlines.

But now, social activists say the tragedy is also an opportunity to change the lives of millions of women across India.

This week, a national non-governmental organization completed the installation of 108 toilets in the village. For 80-year-old Siadevi, the new pink and blue toilet cubicle standing in the middle of her courtyard is more than a convenience—it represents a newfound sense of security for the women of her household.

Before the toilet was installed, Siadevi says she would wake up in the middle of the night to accompany each of her four daughters and a daughter-in-law to relieve themselves in what she calls the “open skies toilet” surrounding the village.

“I am feeling happy and safer now,” Siadevi, who uses one name, said in an interview on Sunday.

The toilets were installed by Sulabh International, a New Delhi-based NGO focused on sanitation issues among India’s poor. The group’s founder, Bindeshwar Pathak, unveiled the toilets on Sunday in a ceremony before local officials and villagers.

In an interview, Pathak told that the lack of toilets in villages such as Katra Saadatgunj makes it easier for perpetrators to commit rape against women who wait until nightfall to defecate.

“This has a huge impact on women’s freedom,” he said.

May’s brutal killings, he says, should serve as a wake-up call in a country where, according to UNICEF,  594 million people—almost half the population—practises open defecation.

The investigation into the deaths of the two girls remains unresolved. Local police initially arrested five men suspected of rape and murder. But they have yet to lay charges against the men, raising the possibility that they may soon be released on bail.

At the girls’ home at the end of a narrow dirt lane, the family now has access to a new toilet provided by Sulabh. But Ramkali, the girls’ grandmother, says it can never make up for their loss.

“We have got toilets now, but what use are these to us after my girls are gone?” she says.

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