Lack of toilets in rural areas is adding to the crime against women, according to a social activist.

At a seminar organised by the Karnataka State Commission for Women here on Wednesday, Swarna Bhat, a social activist from Bagalkot, threw light on how women, especially teenagers, had to live in a highly insecure atmosphere as they were forced to relieve themselves in the open.

A community’s woes

Ms. Bhat said members of the most backward Korava community residing near the bus-stand at Mudhol had no access to toilets and all of them used a field nearby to relieve themselves.

A teenaged girl from the community who went to relieve herself in the field was abducted by a group of men and gangraped, Ms. Bhat said.

In another incident, a teenaged girl belonging to well-to-do family in Mahalingapur was abducted when she went to relieve herself in the field and was released three months later. In both cases, the parents did not file police complaint. Many such cases went unreported, she said.

Ms. Bhat said open defecation should not be viewed merely as a health issue; it should be considered as structural violence. In villages, women were forced to relieve themselves in fields during night or before daybreak and anti-social elements exploited the situation, she said.

In most households, men, the decision makers, misused the money provided by the government to construct toilets. Women should be made partners while implementing such schemes, Ms. Bhat said, and added that even BPL ration cards should be issued in the name of women.

The statistics

Vishwanath M., associate professor, Karnataka State Law University (KSLU), said 82 per cent of houses in Karnataka did not have toilets. Almost 60 per cent of houses in the northern districts lacked toilets. Lack of sanitation in schools was one of the main reasons for the increasing dropout rate in 10 districts of the State, he said.

Omkar Kakade, head of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Karnataka State Women’s University, Bijapur, who presided over the session, said it was essential to ensure that toilets built using government money were put to use.

Toilets as storerooms

At some places toilets were being used as storerooms. In Maharashtra, 40 per cent of the subsidy amount of sanitation schemes had been earmarked for capacity building and awareness programmes through community participation. Such possibilities should be explored here too, he added.

‘Open defecation is not just a health issue; it should be considered as structural violence’