Meet the Lady who Inspires PM Modi – Kunwar Bai ,a 106 year old who never gave up

by Vrinda Birla

When Prime Minister Modi after the victory of the 2014 General Elections spoke of several things including the now, much applauded Swachh Bharat Abhiyan ( Clean India Campaign), he touched very many hearts. It also began an all-India exercise in understanding the reality of toilets for the rural poor, the pollution of the environment through crop burning, vehicular traffic, the rampant use of bio-degradable plastics and a host of other sensitive and alarming issues. But people across Indiaput their hearts in it and since its inception, the reports of four years are fairly heartening and in some cases, heart-warming.

But while this campaign had begun, there was a 106 year-old lady who lived in a village called Kotabharri in Dhamtari district of Chattisgarh, India. People in her village, like most villages across India, were accustomed to open defecation in the forest.

Kunwar Bai came to know about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and about the construction of toilets as a part of it at a presentation at the local school in 2015. She understood that the campaign intended to end open defecation by Oct.2nd 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who himself believed very much in the adage “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”.

So tremendously inspired by what the scheme was meant to do especially for the rural womenfolk, she also gathered that with a little self-effort and help from the govt. aided scheme she could actually get a toilet constructed for herself and her kin. A dream of a time that could shortly become a reality! If only she could raise the small sum, but huge amount for her, for its construction.

Where there is a will there is a way

Resolute of will she did not think twice but simply sold her only source of sustenance – seven goats from what little number she had. Her daughter being a day-labourer at a site, could manage a little and the feat was accomplished. She became the first of her village to realize something she held as dear – a toilet that could be used within her premises that stopped her and her other female kin from being victims of an age-old tradition despite the advances science had made.

And when she despite her old age, her inability to raise money easily and yet showing pluck to follow her heart’s desire, she became a living example of what determination could accomplish. Others soon followed suit and soon the village became an example of being ‘open defecation free’ (ODF) simply from the resolute thought of an aged woman who was not bothered about setting examples or having others follow her example.

She did not stop at that and advocated to whomsoever she met about the construction of a toilet on their premises. Soon the villagers themselves followed her example and other nearby villages followed till in late 2016, the district was declared by the government as the first one to be entirely ODF.

Recognition for her efforts

Kunwar Bai shot to fame in 2016 when the story of how she sold her goats to build a toilet at home got nationwide publicity. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi was deeply touched by the gesture of this humble but thoughtful lady who by her own example got an entire district to break the shackles of tradition and become progressive through the act of following suit resulting in becoming ODF and setting an example to the rest of the state and country. When he happened to visit Rajnandgaon district during his election campaign, at a public meeting in Kurrubhat village of the district, he felicitated her, calling her ‘Ma Kunwar bai’ and bowing and touching her feet, and declaring her to be the mascot of the Clean India Campaign.

 Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) in a nutshell

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA)or Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is a nation-wide campaign in India for the period 2014 to 2019 that aims to clean up the streets, roads and infrastructure of India’s cities, towns, and rural areas. The campaign’s official name is in Hindi and translates to ‘Clean India Mission’ in English. The objectives of Swachh Bharat include eliminating open defecation through the construction of household-owned and community-owned toilets and establishing an accountable mechanism of monitoring toilet use. Run by the Government of India, the mission aims to achieve an “open-defecation free” (ODF) India by 2 October 2019, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi.

The campaign was officially launched on 2 October 2014 at Rajghat, New Delhi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is India’s largest cleanliness drive to date with three million government employees and students from all parts of India participating in 4,041 cities, towns, and rural areas. Modi has called the campaign Satyagrah se Swachhagrah in reference to Gandhi’s Champaran Satyagraha launched on 10 April 1917.

The government has constructed 86 million toilets since 2014, reducing the number of persons who openly defecate from 550 million to fewer than 150 million in 2018.

On Women’s Day 2018, after she had just passed away, the Prime Minister said, “I will always cherish the time when I had the opportunity to seek Kunwar Bai’s blessings during one of my visits to Chhattisgarh. Kunwar Bai lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who are passionate towards fulfilling Bapu’s dream of a clean India”. #SheInspiresMe, he added.

In his Twitter posts, the prime minister also urged people to write about women who had inspired them and use the hash tag ‘#SheInspiresMe’.

Through their exemplary deeds, several women have left an indelible mark in the history of humankind. They continue to inspire generations. I urge you to write about some women who inspire you. #SheInspiresMe

Her last days

Her journey of creating awareness continued but her flagging health soon got the better of her and she soon had to be hospitalized at the local hospital. Seeing her deteriorating condition, the Chief Minister of the State ordered her to be shifted to the Bhimrao Ambedkar Hospital in Raipur in early 2018.

She breathed her last on 23rd February 2018.

The soul never dies but just continues on another journey they say in some other body. But the good that has been done in this life continues in the next life and reaps its fruits. Kunwar Bai Yadav shall definitely be rewarded for what she has done through the remembrance of those who came in contact with her in this world and begin a better life in the next.

We at Unnati Silks raise a salute to her for the courage and conviction that saw tremendous good happen while she was alive. For all the millions in India She’s Definitely Different.

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