A court in the state of Rajasthan says not constructing a toilet in the five years of the couple's marriage amounted to cruelty. Almost 600 million people in India defecate in the open.

A groom leaves a toilet as brides stand ready for a mass wedding ceremony for 92 couples at Ramlila ground in New Delhi on June 15, 2014.
A groom leaves a toilet as brides stand ready for a mass wedding ceremony for 92 couples at Ramlila ground in New Delhi on June 15, 2014. (Reuters Archive)

An Indian court has given a woman permission to divorce her husband because their house did not have a toilet, forcing her to defecate outdoors.

The family court in the northwestern state of Rajasthan ruled on Friday in favour of the woman, who argued that her husband's failure to provide an indoor toilet during their five years of marriage amounted to cruelty.

Justice Rajendra Kumar Sharma said that the women in villages often endured physical pain, waiting until darkness falls to relieve themselves outdoors.

The judge labelled open defecation — a major health problem in India — disgraceful and deemed it torture to deny women a safe environment for relief, the woman's lawyer Rajesh Sharma said.

Divorce is only granted in India if proof such as cruelty, violence or undue financial demands are shown in court.

It is not the first time a marriage has been called off over a toilet.

In June, a woman refused to return to the home of her in-laws until they constructed a toilet.  

In 2016, another woman refused to tie the knot in Uttar Pradesh state after her fiancé refused to build a toilet for the couple.  

Widespread issue 

Nearly half of India's population — almost 600 million people — defecate in the open, according to UNICEF.

Some 70 percent of Indian households do not have toilets, although 90 percent have access to mobile phones.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to build a toilet in every home by 2019 in a bid to end open defecation.

The government says 20 million toilets have been constructed since the start of the scheme in 2014. 

But experts say open defecation not only stems from poverty but a belief that toilets inside the home are unclean.

Campaigners estimate that nearly 200,000 infants die every year due to infections spread through open defecation, which they say also puts women at risk of sexual assault.

An Indian man urinates on a wall on the roadside in front of a poster for the Hindi film Toilet - A Love Story in southern city of Hyderabad on August 12, 2017.
An Indian man urinates on a wall on the roadside in front of a poster for the Hindi film Toilet - A Love Story in southern city of Hyderabad on August 12, 2017. (AFP)

"Toilet: A love story"

The issue has also become Bollywood's new hot issue. 

Earlier this month, Bollywood released Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Toilet: A Love Story) inspired by the true-life tale of one man's battle to build toilets in his village in rural India.

He wanted to win back his new wife, whose refusal to live in a house without a toilet won her plaudits in India.

Script writers Siddharth Singh and Garima Wahal said that they hoped the movie, featuring one of Bollywood's biggest stars Akshay Kumar, would have a "tangible impact" on Indian society.

"This happened in a village in Madhya Pradesh, and we thought that was a strong statement," said Singh, referring to one of India's most rural states.

The writers said they came across numerous stories of women being assaulted when they went into the fields late at night in the process of researching the movie.

Kumar, one of the world's highest paid actors with an income of $31.5 million according to a Forbes ranking published 2016, recently released a "Toilet Anthem" to promote the cause.

"While mankind has progressed far enough to journey to Mars and scale Mount Everest, 54 percent of India defecates in the open," says the song.

Source: AFP