A new ray of hope in Chotu’s life
The first thing that one notices about Chotu is that he is true to his name, which means ‘small’ in Hindi. He is lying on a charpai, bed, in a shaded verandah in his house in Sonva village (Bakshi Ka Talab in Lucknow district). Flies keep sitting on his forehead, getting into his eyes and biting his arms and emaciated legs. Every now and then, he wards them off with his prized possession, a hand fan. A wheelchair, dusty and cobwebbed from disuse, is stored on a parapet above. That he has severe locomotor disability is obvious. But the fact that he is 19 years old is shocking to anyone who sees him for the first time, for his size is that of a seven-year-old.
Until last year, Chotu was completely dependent on his mother Vidya Devi. “There was no toilet in our house,” she says, lines on her careworn face deepening as she recalls that time. “All these years, I’ve had to carry him to the fields at least half a kilometer away several times in a day.” Sometimes, if she had to finish a household chore before she could take him, Chotu would soil himself and she had to clean up after him. The constant exposure to excrement led to her contracting several skin and stomach ailments over the years. Taking him to the fields at night or when it was raining was particularly hard for her. “Once I slipped in the wet mud late at night while carrying him back from the fields,” she recalls. “All I could do was somehow pick him up, bear the pain and carry him home.” Vidya Devi recalls how she used to be unable to leave the house for prolonged periods because of Chotu’s dependence on her. For although she has three other sons, all married, the task of looking after Chotu has always fallen on Vidya Devi alone.
Till last year, Vidya Devi admits that she purposely didn’t give him a lot to eat: “I thought if his bowels would rest, so would I!” she says, eyes welling up. “Chotu would lie on the charpai, crying for food…but what could I do? I also had the entire household to look after.” Even her neighbours recall how Chotu would cry all day long, calling out to them to bring him something to eat. Often, she says that when her husband Birbal Yadav saw their son in this condition, he would wish aloud that his son should die rather than have such a poor quality of life. “But Chotu is my son,” she says, “how could I wish that for him?”
Vidya Devi and Chotu’s lives transformed when WaterAid India constructed an accessible biodigester toilet in their house in March 2018. Brightly painted, it has handles inside that allow Chotu to use it without his mother’s help. The toilet does not have a piped water connection yet, but the family has a hand pump in their courtyard. “I still have to carry him there but at least he’s able to use it on his own,” Vidya Devi says. “I not only save time but also the energy I used to expend carrying him back and forth from the fields.” Most important, she says, it has given Chotu a modicum of dignity that had been sorely lacking in his life.
Meanwhile, Chotu is crying with frustration as he lies on the charpai inside. The flies are really bothering him. Vidya Devi carries him into the mud courtyard and gently places him on a chair. Fanning himself with his favourite fan, he plays expertly with a mobile phone while his mother continues with her tale. “We took him to many doctors when we discovered there was something wrong with him as a baby,” she says. “One recommended an expensive and risky surgery. We couldn’t afford it as my husband is only a daily wage labourer. So we decided to bring him up as he was…” Chotu is intently listening to his mother talk. It is evident that he can comprehend everything around him even though his speech is indistinct. Suddenly, he points to the toilet and a smile lights up his face. “It’s good,” he says. “I like it...”