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Let’s build our ladies' toilet, Thiruchigadi!

Prathicksha, organizer, trainer & coach shares how our teaching fellow Katigayini from Kota tribe in Tamil Nadu organised her community for building ladies toilets at Thiruchigadi.

It all began in the winter of November 2021 when our programme Lead Neha, my colleague Thiru and I, along with our local partner, Keystone Foundation started implementing a leadership-building programme with the Adivasi youths of Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Fast-forward to December, I recruited my team which comprised 5 Teaching Fellows (TFs) from the Kurumba, Kota, Toda, and Ind-Irular communities in Kotagiri, Tamilnadu. The TFs then recruited their respective teams by reaching out to youth interested in building their leadership to drive change in their respective communities. Since mid-March, a total of 60 youths have been trained in the community organizing framework and have started developing their campaigns on issues ranging from stopping child marriage, access to roads, community halls, access to government jobs, menstrual houses, wells, and so on.

Out of the 5 teams in Tamilnadu, I want to introduce you to one particular Teaching Fellow, Katigayini, her team and their campaign. Belonging to the Kota tribe, Katigayini is a 29-year old engineering graduate and one of our teaching fellows. She lives with her husband and in-laws in Krishnapudhur. The Kota Tribe are engaged in agriculture practices and as tea labourers. While growing up she faced challenges from her own family members not wanting her to study and later on in college where she was denied scholarships. Previously she worked in an NGO in Kotagiri which required her to train people and also collectivise them for action. She strongly believes that it is their own responsibility to ask for what is rightfully theirs.

Katigayini’s team is spread across seven hamlets and it mainly comprised of women — Karthiga, Shampavi, Dhaneshwari Mathi, Pragatheeswari, Priyavarthini, Asaki, Dharshini, Sangavi, Priyavarthini, Sneha, Banuchithra, Suganthi, Nalini, and Vimal. As part of the Nilgiris Adivasi Leadership Building Programme, their team selected 4 campaigns out of which we will dive into their campaign towards building common ladies toilets at Thiruchigadi.

The need for toilets

The need for toilets has been in discourse among the Kota community members for two years when Kartigayini’s team was asked to identify “what is the problem?” to be able to decide what campaign they want to run in their communities. Her team and community collectively said not having individual toilets for women is a big issue. Why are toilets necessary you ask? Kartigayini says that the idea of having individual toilets at home only came after the current government introduced “Swachh Bharat — Individual Household Latrine mission”, before that the tribal community would use common toilets and/or the forest. But due to the human-animal conflicts in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, communities have stopped going to forests out of fear. While identifying the problem they also identified a septic tank cover that had been broken causing a hazard to children’s health, rainwater was stagnating and their livestock and cattle were in danger too. So along with building individual toilets getting the tank covered became the campaign goal.

Resistance from elders

Kartigayini, along with her team member; Karthiga, Shampavi, Dhaneshwari, Pragatheeswari, and Priyavarthini began their campaign by conducting community meetings to explain the problem, and its consequences and seeking support for their campaign. The journey to building urgency and buy-in from the community was not easy. They were challenged by their own families where they were asked “Why is it necessary for you to do it when there are elders in the community to take care of it?” a statement that Kartigayini and her team feared the most. The team members understood that it is not just anybody elses’ problem and each and every woman in the community is affected by it. It is a problem for the women in the community. They thought that no elders will take this seriously as it is a women’s issue, and the village head and people who took decisions were men.

Rallying community support with door-to-door canvassing

They stood up to the community as a team and sought the support of the elders saying, “we are not going to stand in the way of your work rather this is a kind ask and we all need the support of our community for this project.” They had invited the councillor who was also very keen on helping their community for their community meeting and it was the councillor who insisted they go to the Gram Sabha meeting. The team then organised 15 people from the community and participated in the Gram Sabha meeting and submitted their petition.

Kartigayini and her team initiated door-to-door canvassing to gather people towards the Gram Sabha meeting. The gathered support and presence of 15 people from their community and on the day of the meeting submitted their plea to Mr Ganesh, the MLA of Ooty. As a result, the MLA agreed to fix the septic tank under his funds and also confirmed the allotment for the construction of new toilets.

Reflecting on the campaign’s success

While reflecting with Kartigayini and her team to deep dive to understand why their campaign was a success, she says:

  • As a first step understanding the problems of the community by interacting with their people and really thinking through the urgent issue which affects the entire community
  • Organising their community meeting to talk about the urgent issue that affects & binds them, and kick off their project. Also, they intentionally conducted the meeting on Monday which is a holiday for the entire community
  • Through strategic relationship building, they invited the councillor and village heads to the community meeting through whom they got to know about the upcoming Gram Sabha meeting
  • Doing door-to-door canvassing for organising the people to go to the Gram Sabha meeting (part of their intentional relationship building to create more power)
  • Their strategy was to attend and utilise the Gram Sabha meeting and submit the petition to the MLA.
  • Finally getting the commitment and support from the MLA to utilise the funds for fixing the septic tank and constructing new toilets (their goal was achieved)
  • As a final step, the team is following up on releasing the funds to start the construction work

More campaigns to follow!

The training sessions and the coaching spaces offered the leaders and their team to organize as a team, to dream, plan and implement the change they desire to seek within their communities. It also helped them understand their own and collective power as a community. It has enabled them with the tools and knowledge to demand better, identify their allies and future leaders and create new leaders within their communities. Most importantly, it has assured the women of the Kota community to challenge gender norms and showcase what women can do if they step up.

As a way forward the team has picked up more projects some of which are to ensure the garbage is collected from the village (waste management) construction of well, construction of menstrual houses, demand for buses (private and government) and so on.

This article is Part 4 of a multi-part blog series on the Adivasi Nilgiris Program. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

About Nilgiris Adivasi Leadership Program:

Haiyya in collaboration with Keystone Foundation, an NGO working in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve with indigenous people and local communities designed and launched a leadership & capacity-building program for 100 Adivasi youth. With on-ground training in Kotagiri and Wayanad regions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the program is training the youth in the community organizing pedagogy by building a dynamic front of young Adivasi leaders.

Written by Prathicksha, Haiyya’s Senior Associate Trainer from Munnar, Kerala. She has completed her Post graduation diploma in teaching English from the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad and also her second master’s (MSW in Community Organisation and Development Practice) from Tata institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati. With a zeal to contribute more to the field of education, Prathicksha has handled projects & activities to train teachers and students in her previous work. She worked with IGNIS careers private limited, Hyderabad, wherein she was employed as a teacher educator. Eventually, she worked on developing modules, training teachers for Deshpande Foundation at Hubli, and handling their teacher coordinators in the project United Way Delhi. She has a very strong inclination toward teaching and she’s enthusiastic about a job in the education field. She is an animal & book lover and is always up for fun and adventure.

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Haiyya is a youth-led feminist movement building organization based out India. We equip social changemakers, organizations and citizen groups to learn, innovate and adapt to the needs of the changemaking landscape.

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Haiyya

Haiyya is a youth-led feminist movement building organization that works at the intersection of youth leadership, social justice and people power organizing