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In Assam’s Lakwa, use of toilets is a regular habit

Lakwa block is mostly inhabited by the tea tribe community, who were brought as indentured labourers to work in the tea gardens of Assam.

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Road leading to a village in Assam. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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Bornali Borah, a housewife in remote Holow Phukan village in Assam, no longer wakes up her mother-in-lawduring the wee hours of the morning when she wants to go out to defecate. Borah and other women of the village are now happy as each house has a toilet and it is being used. Borah’s village has been declared ‘open defecation-free’ (ODF) as other villages in Lakwa block of the state’s Sivasagar district.

“I am happy that we live like human beings now and do not go to the fields to defecate like the animals. Before the toilets were constructed, all of us had go out in the fields to relieve ourselves. The entire thing was disappointing but we did not have any solution,” Bornali, in her early 30s, told IANS.

The toilet constructed at Bornali’s home is among 5,319 toilets in Lakwa block, funded by the state government and the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects of companies like ONGC and BCPL (Brahmaputra Crackers and Polymers Ltd). The entire initiative was supported by UNICEF.

A baseline study done by the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) in Lakwa in 2015 had revealed that toilet coverage was 35 percent and about 51 percent toilets were found to be unusable.

Related Article: Vinod Kapri to build toilets with his National Award money

Sixtyeight-year-old Bohagi, another woman beneficiary in Lakwa block, told IANS: “People used to say that they feel suffocated to defecate in a proper enclosed toilet, but I do not agree with them. After all, the government has constructed the toilets not just to ensure proper sanitation but also proper security for people who had to sometimes go in the field in the dark,” she said.

Toilet in a village. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

She said it took a lot of efforts of the state government and the volunteers to change the mindset of people.

A government official said they began by sensitising district- and block-level officials.

“The next phase involved sensitisation of community, key front line village workers and school children. The initiative was led by the district deputy commissioner and succeeded in making Lakwa ‘open defecation-free’ by December 2015,” he said.

Referring to earlier efforts to construct toilets, he said temporary toilets made of bamboo and straw without proper sanitary pits had their problems, as the structure was damaged during rains, and there was the risk of skin infections and other diseases.

The official said that people stuck to open defecation and there was some resistance to initial efforts at toilet construction.

“But now using toilet is a habit here. There has been no recurrence of open defecation,” the official said.

Lakwa block is mostly inhabited by the tea tribe community, who were brought as indentured labourers to work in the tea gardens of Assam. They comprise 17 percent of the state’s population and fare poorly on human development indices, including education.

The entire initiative required emotional motivation. As most of the problems here do not get highlighted, they prevailed here for a long time. There were toilets which were defunct,” Virendra Mittal, District Collector of Sivasagar, told IANS.

Understanding the importance of the government’s initiative, the villagers of Lakwa block have also started convincing people in other blocks of the district about the benefits of toilets at home.

(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at rupesh.d@ians.in. He was recently on a trip by the UNICEF to cover the Open Defecation Free (ODF) Lakhwa block of Sivasagar district in Assam, a first in the North East)

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  • Pragya Jha

    Use of toilet is hygienic whereas peeing in open is unhygienic as well as harmful for the surrounding too

  • Akanksha Sharma

    Open defecation should be eradicated, It poses serious threat to the health of people in India. This is a remarkable initiative started by govt to eliminate it

  • Pritam Go Green

    There are still many parts in Rural states such as Bihar where open defecation is being practiced. Our govt should emphasize on collaborating on more such projects with UNICEF. This is indeed a great initiative.

  • Pragya Jha

    Use of toilet is hygienic whereas peeing in open is unhygienic as well as harmful for the surrounding too

  • Akanksha Sharma

    Open defecation should be eradicated, It poses serious threat to the health of people in India. This is a remarkable initiative started by govt to eliminate it

  • Pritam Go Green

    There are still many parts in Rural states such as Bihar where open defecation is being practiced. Our govt should emphasize on collaborating on more such projects with UNICEF. This is indeed a great initiative.

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Top Hollywood women unveiled a sexual harassment initiative

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Top Hollywood women unveiled a sexual harassment initiative
A combination photo shows some of the actresses who have made allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein. Listed in alphabetical order, top row from left, Asia Argento, Rosanna Arquette, Jessica Barth, Cara Delevingne, Romola Garai, Judith Godreche, Heather Graham, Angelina Jolie. VOA

USA, Jan 1, 2018: More than 300 top women in Hollywood — from Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence to Emma Thompson and Cate Blanchett — unveiled an initiative Monday to tackle pervasive sexual harassment in workplaces, calling special attention to their “sisters” in less than glamorous blue-collar jobs.

The initiative, dubbed Time’s Up, caps a year in which the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal touched off a deluge of allegations that brought down powerful men in entertainment, politics and the media, prompting companies, government agencies and even the U.S. federal court system to re-examine harassment policies.

But in an open letter printed in The New York Times, the new initiative lends the star power of its A-list members to the cause of women in less prominent fields, urging support and respect for farm workers and others whose humble positions leave them vulnerable and voiceless.

“We fervently urge the media covering the disclosures by people in Hollywood to spend equal time on the myriad experiences of individuals working in less glamorized and valorized trades,” the group says in its full-page ad.

“To every woman employed in agriculture who has had to fend off unwanted sexual advances from her boss, every housekeeper who has tried to escape an assaultive guest, every janitor trapped nightly in a building with a predatory supervisor, every waitress grabbed by a customer and expected to take it with a smile … we stand with you. We support you.”

$15 million goal

Last month, the head of Ford Motor Company apologized to employees at two factories in Chicago and promised changes, after a scathing expose by the Timesdetailed pervasive harassment and mistreatment of women at the plants dating back to the 1990s. It was one of the first major media investigations into sexual harassment in blue-collar workplaces.

Among the specific steps it announced, Time’s Up has established a legal defense fund that, in just 12 days, has raised $13.4 million toward a $15 million goal aimed at providing legal aid for women and men who were sexually harassed, assaulted or abused in the workplace.

It has vowed to push for legislation to strengthen laws on workplace harassment and discrimination.

The group insists that more women must be brought into positions of power and leadership, while every woman should have equal benefits, opportunities, pay and representation.

As for Hollywood, it wants “swift and effective change to make the entertainment industry a safe and equitable place for everyone.”

And it called on women to wear black at Sunday’s Golden Globes as a statement against gender and racial inequality, and to raise awareness about the group’s efforts.

‘Dear Sisters’ 

The open letter in the Times, which also appears in the Spanish-language La Opinion, opens with the words “Dear Sisters” in large, bold type, and closes with the words “in solidarity,” followed by the names of the 300 women.

Several of Weinstein’s accusers signed the open letter. They include Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, as well as Salma Hayek, whose lengthy account of mistreatment by Weinstein — “my monster,” she called him — was widely circulated on social media after appearing last month in The New York Times.

Weinstein has denied some of the allegations, including Hayek’s assertion that he pressured her to do a nude sex scene in one movie.

Other prominent women lending their names to the Time’s Up cause are actresses Natalie Portman, America Ferrera, Amy Schumer, Halle Berry, Julianne Moore, Keira Knightley, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Susan Sarandon, Uma Thurman and Viola Davis; producer Shonda Rhimes; Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley; feminist activist Gloria Steinem; lawyer and ex-Michelle Obama chief of staff Tina Tchen and Nike Foundation co-chair Maria Eitel. (VOA)