What started as a curiosity of a six year old child – today has turned into one of the biggest movements in the history of mankind. The movement is about Manual Scavenging and Untouchability.
A six year old kid innocently asked her grandma why she was cleaning the walkway of his house after a lady who cleaned the toilets walked through it. He was quickly silenced. And one day when he touched the wet walkway through which the lady walked, he was penalized and made to swallow cow dung for purification and also take a bath in the holy Ganges water. From then on, he silently used to witness the discrimination of the scavenger community as they used to be humiliated.
He was a curious guy and tried to learn more about scavenging, sanitation and untouchability – all of which are curses.
The kid then grew up to be a leading Sociologist, and social activist of Modern India. He is none other than the Founder of Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. Dr Pathak after his childhood experiences continued his journey into this social issue of untouchability and carried on his efforts of removing this curse of manual scavenging and equality among humans in the society. In his efforts he was highly motivated by preaching’s of Mahatma Gandhi.
Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, born on April 2, 1943 in a traditional upper-class Brahmin family in Rampur Baghel village in Bihar, India, joined the Bhangi-Mukti (scavengers’ liberation) Cell of the Bihar Gandhi Centenary Celebrations Committee after completing his education. It was during this time that he gained a deeper understanding of the indignity and plight faced by millions of manual scavengers in India.
It is very well said, that there always is a way out when you have the will. Dr Pathak believed and still believes that Toilet is a tool for social change and he pursued his belief to the end and finally won the battle. He had to go through a lot of miseries – isolation from his family, scoldings from his own family, friends and society and what not. He even ran out of money and had to sleep out on Railway platforms etc.
To eradicate the curse of manual scavenging – i.e. cleaning of human waste, he invented what he called a “Sulabh Souchalaya”. But the war was not won by just inventing. To get the govt. approvals, he had to go through a lot of hardships and follow-ups with the officials. He established the Sulabh International Social Service Organization in 1970. His invention of the technology of a two-pit pour-flush toilet (popularly known as Sulabh Shauchalaya) caught up over the years and in 1973 he had a chance meeting with a municipal officer in Arra town, who sanctioned him, Rs 500 to build two public toilets. This was the turning stone, and soon he built several other toilets all over Bihar. The toilet system spread to neighboring states as well, freeing numerous manual scavengers from their undignified job.
Dr Pathak also continued on with his studies during all this and earned his master’s degree in 1980 and his PhD in 1985 from the University of Patna with his thesis on “Liberation of scavengers through Low Cost Sanitation.”
The movement continued on, he started a training and rehabilitation program for the wards of scavengers in different trades like shorthand, typing, motor driving, mechanics, masonry work, carpentry, etc. with the support of the Government of India and the Bihar State Scheduled Castes Development Corporation.
The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets was set up in 1994 to educate the general public about the development of toilets through the ages.
Today as his consistent efforts have finally seen the light, he is one of the most known figures both nationally and internationally and is recoganised as the inventor of the Sulabh Toilet technology throughout the world.
The Sulabh toilet technology has also been used to construct public-toilet complexes in other countries too, like South and central Asia for people who are homeless or who have no sanitation in their houses. Even the United States Army made Sulabh public toilet system during the Afghanistan war and after war.
Sulabh toilets have been very helpful in liberating the scavengers. All these efforts were and are very well recoganised. Ministry of Works and Housing, Government of India in collaboration with the WHO and UNICEF organised a national seminar in Patna in 1978 on conversion of bucket latrines and liberation of scavengers.
Today Dr. Pathak is one of the very few men after Gandhi, who has championed sanitation and uplifting of the untouchables as a mission of their life. “Nobody should go outside in the open for defecation and every house in India should have a toilet”, is Dr. Pathak’ dream.
Dr. Pathak has received awards which include Padma Bhushan by the Govt. of India. He was awarded the International Saint Francis Prize for the Environment “Canticle of all Creatures” in Italy. His Holiness Pope John Paul-II gave him audience and appreciated his contribution for the upgradation of the environment and selfless service to the poor. He was also awarded Stockholm Water Prize for the year 2009 by Stockholm International Water Institute in Sweden during the World Water Week and the “Legend of Planet Award” by the Vice-President of the French Senate, during the Founding Congress World Green Games at Paris, France on June 4, 2013.Besides this he has authored several books and has frequently contributed in newspapers and magazines on diverse topics related to health, sanitation and caste based discrimination. He also has been made the brand ambassador for Swachh Rail Mission.
He is also the recipient of the Energy Globe Award, the Dubai International Award for Best Practices, and the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award for Environment. The Mayor of New York has also declared 14 April 2016 as “Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak Day.”
Well, if it was some other guy, he might have called it a day at this age, but Dr Pathak is still very active and feels that his idea of toilets is still relevant in India where over 100 million people are without access to a toilet. He currently is also working towards mainstreaming and social assimilation of the widows abandoned by their families.
About Sulabh International:
Sulabh International is a social service organization that has worked and works to promote human rights, environmental sanitation, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms through education. The organisation today has 50,000 volunteers. Sulabh International is the largest nonprofit organization in India.
Sulabh was founded by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak in 1970. Innovations include a scavenging-free two-pit pour flush toilet (Sulabh Shauchalaya); safe and hygienic on-site human waste disposal technology; a new concept of maintenance and construction of pay-&-use public toilets, popularly known as Sulabh Complexes with bath, laundry and urinal facilities being used by about ten million people every day and generates bio-gas and bio-fertilizer produced from excreta-based plants, low maintenance waste water treatment plants of medium capacity for institutions and industries. Other work includes setting up English-medium public school in New Delhi and also a network of centers all over the country to train boys and girls from poor families, specially scavengers, so that they can compete in open job market.
Sulabh claims their plan on human waste disposal and social reforms has provided jobs directly to 35,000 people, and has made 240 towns scavenging free.
Sulabh has established coordination with various national and international agencies, including British Council, USAID, BORDA, a German organisation, Commission of European Union, Belgium, GERES, France, CEEIC, HRIEE, China and Haskoning and Euroconsult, a Dutch firm.
The article is written after an interaction with Dr Pathak at his Sulabh complex and Museum in Delhi, and has been tried to be put in a story format by me for your information.
I really was touched by the struggle, great efforts and the simplicity of Dr Pathak and am really grateful to him for him giving us his valuable time and opening up a new chapter in my life too. Thanks Dr Pathak….