Rani is pressed for money, but that has not dissuaded her from borrowing money from the Self Help Group (SHG) to construct a toilet at home after she learned of the importance of having a toilet at home from the P.A.C.E. training.  She was the first to take out a loan for a toilet in the village; since then, another three members have also borrowed money to construct a toilet. The amount she borrowed was as much as her husband earned in a month.

The 15 Malviya Balai households are the most discriminated of the Dalit castes in the village of Saktali in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. Rani Ghelot comes from this community.

Life here is difficult for families like Rani’s – theirs is a landless family of three: herself, her husband and a young son. Rani’s husband works in a privately-run school nearby and earns about Rs 15,000. Rani works on the farms nearby for a daily wage of Rs 100 for a day’s work (Rs. 72 to 1 USD).

Rani is the secretary of a self-help group (SHG) of 12 women. She maintains the register with all the records of the group’s financial transactions and the minutes of the group’s meetings. The SHG has a corpus of Rs 60,000, Rani says, much of which is distributed to people in need.

(An SHG is a voluntary micro-enterprise of village or urban poor coming together to save a mutually agreed amount of money out of their earnings, to mutually agree to contribute to a common fund and to lend to the members for meeting their productive and emergent needs.)

Women borrow for farming, marriages in the families, illness etc. In May 2019, Rani borrowed from the self-help group to construct a toilet. It was a small amount of Rs 15,000. She says that this was complemented by another Rs 15,000 from the family’s savings. Rani decided to borrow the money after Rani learned of the importance of a toilet at home as part of the WASH module of the P.A.C.E. training program.  The Rs 15,000 that she borrowed from the SHG comes with an interest rate of 24 percent per annum, but this is still lower than the interest rates of local moneylenders.

Rani has no television or radio at home. “We are a poor family. Our son watches TV at a neighbor’s house,” she says. With no television, she was not exposed to the deluge of messages on the need and importance of constructing a toilet at her home.

“But what P.A.C.E. trainer told us was more important than the messages on television on the need to construct a toilet at home,” she says. “He gave us a real picture.”

Even her husband was not very supportive of the idea of constructing a toilet at home. They were using the open commons to defecate, and he had no problem with it. “He said that we could continue as we and others in our community have been doing for generations,” she says. “He was reluctant initially. I impressed upon him the need to construct a toilet. After the WASH training program, I have been telling everyone to construct a toilet, and so it ironic that we do not have one at home.”

She told her husband everything she learned at the CARE India P.A.C.E. training. He was impressed with the information she had, and so agreed to have a toilet constructed at her home.

“Defecating in the open was inviting illness, and I feel I have a role in reducing the prevalence of fly-borne diseases,” she says. “I tried to explain this to my husband and said that it was important because we have a young child at home.”

“Even the village Sarpanch [the elected head of the village governing institution] came a number of times to our home, urging us to construct a toilet. But our families have other priorities and a toilet has been the last of our priorities,” she says.

Rani was the first in her SHG to construct a toilet. Since then, another three members have also borrowed money to construct a toilet. Now Rani goes about telling others to make their own toilets. She argues that a new bride to the village will find it tough adapting to life without a toilet. Elderly people need a toilet as well, she says.

At present, another woman has also borrowed Rs 15,000 from the SHG to construct a toilet at home at the SHGs rate of interest (Rs 2 per month for every hundred rupees borrowed). Another two women have borrowed money from the moneylender (at an interest of Rs 3 per month for every hundred rupees borrowed). “Our priority is to reduce the loan burden for these partners as well as to encourage other members of the SHG to build their own toilets,” Rani says.

Sharad Kislaya