When I got married this summer, I don’t remember if it ever crossed my mind about getting a toilet along with my man. A man with a toilet has never been a marital prerequisite or anything I have ever really thought twice about. Indoor plumbing is something we take for granted in USA; India is a very different place.
A few years ago, Haryana, a northern state in India, implemented a “No Toilet, No Bride” campaign in an effort to combat the lack of proper plumbing (See the full Washington Post article here). Villages have walls with slogans painted in Hindi reading – “Na bahun beti us ghar mein jismein na ho shauchalaya.” This is a lengthier version of the â€˜no toilet, no bride’ comment literally translating to “If you don’t have a proper lavatory in your house, don’t even think about marrying my daughter.” There are print ads and radio commercials including the popular radio jingle, â€œNo loo, No I do.â€ There are even commercials on television and the new slogan was recently incorporated into the plot of a popular soap opera. Ironically, there are more televisions than toilets in India, so this advertising medium works well to spread the word!
This campaign has come as an effort to combat health hazards and create a better environment for women. The health hazards relating to lack of sanitation are monumental â€“ they can lead to the spread of diseases such as typhoid, malaria, polio, and diarrhea. According to the World Health Organization, child deaths from diarrhea outnumber those from AIDS, malaria, and measles combined, making sanitation a big concern.
The slogan’s direct link to women (and their value as a bride) in India relate to their need for privacy. Women are modest and will tend to go to the bathroom outdoors during hours of darkness. This means they must get up in the pre-dawn hours to use the bathroom or wait until after the sun goes down. Being out at night alone can be dangerous for women. Also, limiting yourself to a strict schedule can lead to health problems. Ashok Gera, a local Haryana doctor, says that he sees many young women who have prolonged urinary tract infections, kidney, and liver problems because they don’t have a safe place to go.
So far, this new campaign has proven to be successful. Over 1.4 million toilets have been built! Some were built with government funds, but some were funded by eager potential husbands. Harpal Sirshwa, a 22 year old bachelor says, “I will have to work hard to afford a toilet. We won’t get any bride if we don’t have one now.”
I find this campaign to be a novel approach to an age old problem. Linking sanitation needs to courtship is a way to capture the attention of the decision-making men in India. Female foeticide has led to a distinct gender disproportion, with the population of India consisting of 8% more men than women. This means there are more eligible bachelors than available brides. This puts women in a position of leverage for pairing off for marriage, allowing them to request toilets in homes. Is the threat of being stuck as a single man enough to overhaul the country’s sanitation practices? What will the women of India use their marital leverage for next?