She has spent her entire life in a village in Chhattisgarh and has never gone to school, but when she heard about the government's initiative of building toilets, it became her dream. Now, authorities and the villagers consider Kunwar Bai Yadav the mascot of the campaign against open defecation in the state.
For 104-year-old Kunwar Bai, who lives in Kotabharri village of Dhamtari district building a toilet was of utmost importance. She used to go to the nearby forest to relieve herself, but as age caught up, she started finding it difficult and hurt herself a few times while walking to the forest.
In 2014, when the Swachh Bharat Mission was started, district collectors of the state started visiting schools and colleges to raise awareness about the programme and the benefits of having toilets. The importance of having a toilet dawned on Kunwar Bai when Dhamtari district collector came to a school near Kotabharri village and talked about building toilets. She raised Rs 18,000 by selling her seven goats to build a toilet. Labourers worked for 15 days during which the estimated cost exceeded by Rs 4,000. Her daughter-in-law—a daily labourer—helped her raise the additional amount. The villagers were inspired by her determination and soon followed suit.
Kunwar Bai hit headlines when Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised her, addressing her as “Ma Kunwar Bai Yadav”. He asked the media to follow her and not him.
On November 1, Modi felicitated Mungeli and Dhamtari districts and 15 divisional blocks of Chhattisgarh for being ‘Open Defecation-Free’. He was in Chhattisgarh for the state’s 16th foundation day celebrations.
As per the 2015 Swachhta Status Report, more than half of the rural population (52.1 per cent) of the country defecates in the open. Chhattisgarh was among the states with lowest percentage of households having toilets (21.2 per cent). The Swachh Bharat Mission aims to eradicate open defecation by 2019.