The 14-year-old newly-married bride left her house in Sitapur to stay with her 18-year-old husband in a Kanpur slum in Uttar Pradesh. Kalavati Devi was disgusted to find that everyone in Raja ka Purwa slum relieved themselves on the streets. “If someone were to draw a picture of hell, that slum would perfectly fit,” she said.
She came up with the idea of building latrines in her area. Her husband, Jairaj Singh, agreed to cooperate with her. When they approached the Kanpur Municipal Corporation, the Commissioner was ready to offer them two lakh rupees to build a community latrine, provided that the community contributed another one third of that amount.
But the 700 families living in the slum, consisting of poor rickshawalahs, domestic servants and daily wagers, were unwilling to contribute any money or even free labour and not even the space. Not recognizing the necessity for latrines, they wanted to continue their age-old practice. They were also suspicious of the motives behind the initiative.