Featured Storyteller

INDIA: One Toilet Started a Body Dignity Movement

Deepa Pawar
Posted October 10, 2019 from India
Courtesy of Anubhuti Trust

Deepa Pawar organizes women and girls in her slum community so they won’t have to experience the same indignities she faced.

“Ever since I was a young girl, community toilets have caused me immense mental distress.

I live in Mumbai, a city of high-rises. Yes, it is the economic capital of India, but this is just one face of Mumbai. The other face is the slums, where I lived for the first 30 years of my life.

When I was in class nine, a friend from school came over to my house in the slum. He saw the schedule chart for my day hanging on the wall and laughed. He thought it was really funny that I had put aside one and a half hours of my day for "toilet" on my chart. His chart had activities such as sports, studies, tuition, and classes. I felt awkward and uncomfortable as he kept laughing about it, but I could not say anything to him. That was my reality. 

It can be a daily challenge for people in slums to access necessities, like toilets, that people outside the slums take for granted. People living in slums regularly struggle for basic amenities such as water, food, shelter, and electricity. They are more vulnerable to problems like illiteracy and addiction.

Even after I overcame various odds and completed my schooling, I continued to face the challenges of living in a slum. I got married at age 17, as is the custom in my community. My husband and I lived in a home consisting of one 8-foot by 10-foot room. There was no toilet.

Throughout my student and professional life, I have often been asked why I am late. While others answer with, "I am late due to the late trains," or "I am late because had to attend a family function," my answer is I am late because of the long queue at the community toilet. But of course I can never give this answer.

I can never forget one incident. I was eight months pregnant at only 18. I had very little knowledge about pregnancy, sexual health, or reproductive health. I was alone in my one-room home and suffering from high fever, weakness, and diarrhea. 

I needed to visit the community toilet but it was far from my house and I had no one to help me get there. I somehow got myself to the toilet and saw a huge queue of people waiting to use it. The pain in my stomach and back were unbearable, almost like labor pains. A kind woman let me go in before her. I went into the toilet block and cried. I did not know who was to blame for what I was facing. Was it my fault? And who else?

Ever since I was a young girl, community toilets have caused me immense mental distress. I continued returning to the question, whose fault is it?

I started working with NGOs on rights campaigns, and I began to develop lenses of body dignity, sexuality, and reproductive health. As I worked on the Right to Pee campaign for free public toilets for women and girls, I finally realized that my suffering was not my fault.

It is the fault of an administration that is indifferent to girls’ and women’s body dignity. It is the fault of the government, which is not responsive to people’s basic needs.

In 2016, I formed my own organization called Anubhuti to work for social justice. We organized a meeting with community women and I asked them, "What is the one problem that you need to solve urgently?" All the women replied in one voice, "Sister, it is the condition of our community toilets." My personal experiences were once again triggered.

An added cruelty is that most of the women at this meeting came from Dalit communities, which are considered lower in the Indian caste hierarchy. People from Dalit communities historically clean the toilets of people living in better conditions while they themselves struggle for their basic right of dignified toilets. 

At Anubhuti we decided to raise a campaign for toilets for girls and women. We organized the girls and women of the community, met the local elected leaders, and ran a sustained campaign through signature drives, flash mobs, and other tactics. Finally we succeeded in getting the local political leader to repair and reconstruct one community toilet. 

When I was a young girl, I was humiliated and in pain because I was powerless —one of many in the community. But today I am a recognized grassroots young woman leader, and I am striving to create platforms of empowerment and justice for girls and women leaders like me. 

I am proud of the moment when we won our first victory, our new community toilet. It showed us the power of girl-led change. But I remember thinking to myself, this is only one step. This is only the beginning and I cannot stop now.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program in celebration of Day of the Girl. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 63

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Tarke Edith
Oct 10
Oct 10

Hello Deepa
Wao wao congratulations
Have a happy day sister

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thank u so much dear

Anne Dupont
Oct 10
Oct 10

Dear Deepa,

This is a great story and your community is so lucky to have you as a grassroots leader! Congratulations on your success in reconstructing a community toilet—I believe it will be the first of many and will restore dignity to the women in your communities. Thank you for your leadership!

Warmly, Anne

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thank u , for ur motivational words !

djamila ibrahim olame

Hello dear Deep,
Merci de partagé votre histoire , et félicitations a vous car vous faite une bonne leader.
Passez une bonne nuit !

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thanks freind

Meseret Haileyesus
Oct 10
Oct 10

Great story

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thanks

Lisbeth
Oct 10
Oct 10

My dearest Adeepa,
I knew this was waiting for you after reading that your story in the toilet. It's was an eye saw experience. Great you wrote about it. Congratulations dear!
Let your daughter hear of your story award so she will share the title with you.
Happy international girls day out.
Hugs :-)

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

ya right sister ..thank u so much for always being with me

Lisbeth
Oct 12
Oct 12

Will always be, I relate to your story. Take care

maeann
Oct 10
Oct 10

Hi Deepa,

Thank you for sharing your experienced and through your experience you have created an amazing awareness in your community... it is very important that public toilets are clean and accessible to all.

You are a leader creating impact in your community!!!

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thank u so much

Hello, dear sister Deepa,

Congratulations on being a Featured Storyteller! Well-deserved!

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thank u sister , always give me great feedback and support

You're welcome, sister Deepa. Please keep up the great work!

Anita Shrestha
Oct 10
Oct 10

Thank you for sharing, keep it continue

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thanks freind

Amarachi Okpala
Oct 11
Oct 11

Hi Deepa,
I can imagine the level of toilet infections these girls may be contacting due to lack of good toilet systems.
Keep up the good work, you are doing great.

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

yes friend toilet issue is very big and basic human rights ! need to speak about this loudly

Luce
Oct 11
Oct 11

What an empowering story! What could be a more basic human right than being able to go to the toilet when you need to...in privacy. And it’s great that your action spoke to the point of power that has been a source of humiliation for your people-turning the shame of that caste system around to empowering your dignity and respect! The whole world needs to learn the lesson you learned in the process:
“ It is the fault of the government, which is not responsive to people’s basic needs”!

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thanks for your in depth comment

Marie Abanga
Oct 11
Oct 11

Dear Deepa,

Congratulations on your soul story. Oh yes you can't definitely stop now nor anytime soon.
Way to go
Thanks for sharing this with us

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thanks friend

ANJ ANA
Oct 11
Oct 11

Dear Deepa,
Thank you for sharing your experience and your effort for working the social problem that you have also experienced once.
I wish you and a team very best for the successful initiative so that many girls/women will not be facing the problem as you suffered.
love and regards,
anjana

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thanks for ur best regards

Jamie Rice
Oct 11
Oct 11

Deepa, you are a true inspiration! Thank you for your work, you will impact so many lives!

Deepa Pawar
Oct 12
Oct 12

thanks for reading this

Jill Langhus
Oct 13
Oct 13

Hello Dear Deepa,

Congrats on winning the story award and being a featured storyteller! Keep up the great work!!

XX

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

thank u so much .you r my strong well wisher always ...

Jill Langhus
Oct 25
Oct 25

You're very welcome, dear:-)

Glad to be there for you, dear!

Hope you are doing well and that you have a great weekend!

XX

Tamarack Verrall
Oct 13
Oct 13

Dear Deepa,
"It showed us the power of girl-led change". Such a basic need. And so ignored by government. But you gathered girls and women to speak about the need, and make a change. Congratulations on such important work, and especially on your own passionate and compassionate spirit: "This is only the beginning and I cannot stop now". This is what I love about World Pulse sisters like you.

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

thank you ..goverment busy in other unnecessary work ..they r giving very less attention the issue of women body dignity ..

nikitawadhwa
Oct 14
Oct 14

Thanks for sharing your story Deepa. It poses such a meaningful question - whose fault is it? with maybe no real answers, but limits justice for all humans.
Experience sharing like this makes people realize how we need to look at the whole picture of justice. So many times, we get caught up in only one aspect. SO MUCH NEEDS TO CHANGE! I salute you for leading the movement.

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

thank u Nikita for ur response ..yes we all are on same path ..of women led social change !

Oluwatoyin Olabisi
Oct 14
Oct 14

Good Work.
You are contributing to the actualization of the Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Health and Well-Being), 5 (Gender Equality) and 6 (Water and Sanitation).
Keep it Up.
Kindly follow me back and follow my NGO on Facebook- Women and Girl-Child and Capabilities Organization.

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

sure , i ll follow u ... and u can please follow us anubhuti Website and give powerful comment to us .

Hello Deepa,
thank you for this amazing journey. Keep up. Can't wait to hear more from you.
Blessed day

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

firstly thanks friend , and surely i am trying to write more story and story of change .

SHILPA KASHELKAR
Oct 14
Oct 14

Dear Deepa
Congrats and salute to your work
With love
Best wishes to your work
Shilpa

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

hey shilpa thanks dear

efe
Oct 18
Oct 18

Something I take for granted but reading this opened my eyes to how uncomfortable a woman would feel where there are no restrooms

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

thank you .. and i am happy with Ur change of thought process

Rosylyne Nabaala
Oct 18
Oct 18

Thank you for sharing and letting us know the importance of toilets in our community.

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

thank u so much

Stella Paul
Oct 20
Oct 20

Oh Dear Deepa

Not only you ran a ground movement for right to dignity, but right here, in World Pulse, your story has started a movement of thoughts and outpour of support and love. I am so, so proud of you today! Keep sharing about your wonderful leadership and keep inspiring this global community my dear! Sending you heartfelt love! Stella

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

hey Stella Thank u so much .. You r the give very big contribution that is y i am on world pulse and connecting amazing women leader world wide .

Madhuri Deshkar
Oct 21
Oct 21

अभिनंदन दिपा ओर आगे बडो दोस्त

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

hey Madhuri miss u yaar ..

vidyacip
Oct 21
Oct 21

Dear Deepa, hearty congratulations ‍❤️‍ ‍ You are indeed an unstoppable force. Keep it up. Raising issues that deeply concern us is essential to get what we want and deserve to lead a life as an equal citizen. It is our right and still we have to fight to get basic necessities, like toilet, water, safe roads, fulfilled. It is time our policy makers get the priorities straight. Warm regards

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

zindabad tai , movement jaari rahegi ...

mkaplan
Oct 24
Oct 24

Hi Deepa, congratulations to you and Anubhuti on your success! Thank you for sharing your story and best wishes in continuing your movement in spreading clean hygiene in your community!

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

thank u so much for ur motivational comment

ChristineC
Oct 24
Oct 24

I find myself humbled after reading your story. To have to work so hard for a dignity we all should share without question...and then to work so hard for others to have that dignity. You have my greatest respect. Congratulations -- I'll be thinking of you in all of your future efforts.

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

christine , ur comment really valuable for my positive pirit

mkerbow
Oct 24
Oct 24

Fantastic job telling your story! Congratulations! Be well!

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

thank u so much

Maggie P
Oct 24
Oct 24

Thank you for shedding a light on this issue. Your story was powerful and I could easily feel your anguish. Congratulations for your success thus far and I wish you many more!
Maggie

Deepa Pawar
Oct 25
Oct 25

Maggie thank u so much

Carol-Alyce
Oct 26
Oct 26

Waooo! Congratulations! I wish you continued success. You are working on such an important issue.

Deepa Pawar
Oct 26
Oct 26

Thank u so much

brenna
Oct 27
Oct 27

This is such a fantastic movement. I am always inspired by people like you who take their painful experiences and turn them into advocacy for others in their community. Dignity is such an important component of mental, emotional, and physical health!

Deepa Pawar
Oct 28
Oct 28

Thank u so much Brenna