Located amidst picturesque water bodies in Trichy, Indira Nagar is home to around 200 households, where every resident is either a ragpicker or a scrap dealer. Despite the serene surroundings, the community faced significant challenges in accessing proper sanitation facilities, leading to unhygienic practices and health hazards.

Around six to seven years ago, a few households took the initiative to construct individual toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission. Alas, Indira Nagar is surrounded by water, with a pond on one side and the Cauvery tributary Korai Aaru on the other, which led to high groundwater levels. This, alongside the inadequate containment systems, made the toilets unusable, forcing residents to resort to open defecation along the pond boundaries.

The situation escalated due to distressing incidents, including the tragic death of a nine-year-old girl who was bitten by a snake while defecating in the open. Another girl faced harassment and eve-teasing by boys while using the community toilets, prompting the need for urgent action.

In 2023, when the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) visited the area, it was observed that despite being declared open defecation free (ODF), the community still faced sanitation challenges. What’s more, the ODF status of the city meant next to no funds being allocated for sanitation. IIHS, determined to bring about a lasting change in the area, motivated the residents of Indira Nagar to form six self-help groups (SHGs), comprised entirely of women.

Under the leadership of Rajeshwari, a previously reserved housewife, these SHGs joined hands to establish an enterprise named WinMin (‘shooting star’ in Tamil).. Their goal was to construct individual household toilets that reflected the aspirations and needs of the residents. These ‘aspirational’ toilets had proper walls, washrooms, and bathing facilities.

However, the journey was not without obstacles. The formation of SHGs required legal documentation and financial literacy training, and the construction process involved technical know-how to ensure proper containment and structural integrity. Despite the challenges, the SHGs persevered, leveraging support from IIHS and the district administration. 

Funds allocated for sanitation were meticulously utilised, with a revolving method implemented to ensure sustainability. As a result of their efforts, nine toilets were successfully completed, with two more underway. The inauguration of these toilets by the district collector marked a significant milestone in the community’s journey towards improved sanitation.

A study of the area revealed that 100 of the 200 households with room for toilets are interested in individual toilets. Since the primary obstacle is that of funding, IIHS is helping the SHGs procure investments through the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM).

Empowered by their success, the SHGs aim to build 100 household toilets over the next year and are now extending their support to other low-income settlements in Trichy. Through collective action and determination, Indira Nagar has emerged as a beacon of hope, demonstrating the transformative power of community-led initiatives in addressing sanitation challenges.

About Women In Sanitation’s Stories of Change

IIHS-TNUSSP’s Women in Sanitation is a year-long initiative celebrating the invaluable contributions of women professionals in India’s sanitation sector. Now in its fifth year, we continue to amplify the often-overlooked voices of women who play diverse roles across the sanitation chain through impactful articles and films.

Introducing “Stories of Change,” a vibrant new addition to our campaign that unveils the poignant narratives of Tamil women who are shaping the sanitation landscape. Dive into their personal triumphs and discover the profound impact they bring to their communities. If you know of someone whose story deserves recognition, reach out to us at tnssup@iihs.ac.in and join us in celebrating these inspiring agents of change.