Prospective Brides Demand Sought-After Commodity: A Toilet
NILOKHERI, India -- An ideal groom in this dusty farming village is a vegetarian, does not drink, has good prospects for a stable job and promises his bride-to-be an amenity in high demand: a toilet.
In rural India, many young women are refusing to marry unless the suitor furnishes their future home with a bathroom, freeing them from the inconvenience and embarrassment of using community toilets or squatting in fields.
About 665 million people in India -- about half the population -- lack access to latrines. But since a "No Toilet, No Bride" campaign started about two years ago, 1.4 million toilets have been built here in the northern state of Haryana, some with government funds, according to the state's health department.
Women's rights activists call the program a revolution as it spreads across India's vast and largely impoverished rural areas.
"I won't let my daughter near a boy who doesn't have a latrine," said Usha Pagdi, who made sure that daughter Vimlas Sasva, 18, finished high school and took courses in electronics at a technical school.
"No loo? No 'I do,' " Vimlas said, laughing as she repeated a radio jingle.
Indian girls are traditionally seen as a financial liability because of the wedding dowries -- often a life's savings -- their fathers often shell out to the groom's family. But that is slowly changing as women marry later and grow more financially self-reliant.
A societal preference for boys here has become an unlikely source of power for Indian women. The abortion of female fetuses in favor of sons -- an illegal but widespread practice -- means there are more eligible bachelors than potential brides, allowing women and their parents to be more selective when arranging a match.
With economic freedom, women are increasingly expecting more, and toilets are at the top of their list, they say.
The lack of sanitation is not only an inconvenience but also contributes to the spread of diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid and malaria.
"Women suffer the most since there are prying eyes everywhere," said Ashok Gera, a doctor who works in a one-room clinic here. "It's humiliating, harrowing and extremely unhealthy. I see so many young women who have prolonged urinary tract infections and kidney and liver problems because they don't have a safe place to go."