Bindeshwar Pathak | The sanitation Santa Claus from Bihar

Often people say that ‘we need another Gandhiji to change this nation and to free it from material prejudices and social evils which still are prevailing.

Never we knew, at majority about this unsung hero, the son of Bihar, who has constantly been working for over four decades to change not only the face, but the soul of the nation.

He founded Sulabh International, after severely being affected at heart by the instances of untouchability in the society.

Bindeshwar Pathak born on 2 April 1943, the man responsible for this transformation, listens with amusement and pride for when he is asked or told about his works. He founded the Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement in 1970, and developed the Sulabh Shauchalaya System (a low-cost, two-pit toilet technology that uses a litre of water), spending more than fourty years trying to get people to make and use toilets in their homes and eradicate the practice of manual scavenging. Yet he says he learns something new every time he meets people who are using Sulabh toilets, modestly.

Graduated in Sociology in 1964. He earned his master’s degree in 1980 and his PhD in 1985, from the University of Patna. A prolific writer and speaker, Pathak has authored several books, the most well-known of which is ‘The Road to Freedom’, and is a frequent participant in conferences on sanitation, health and social progress around the world.

The lack of toilets and defecating in the open has its roots in our cultural practices. For Hindus, old texts like the Devi Puran advocated shauch (defecation) as far from the house as possible. For Muslims, since they came in as rulers, access to manual scavengers to clean up after them was easy, and so even though they had toilets, there was no need for them to incorporate a system which did not require manual cleaning
says, Bindeshwar Pathak

 

He first came to understand the plight of scavengers in 1968 when he joined the Bhangi-Mukti (scavengers’ liberation) Cell of the Bihar Gandhi Centenary Celebrations Committee. During that time, he traveled throughout India, living with scavenger families as part of his Ph.D. research. Drawing on that experience, he resolved to take action, not only out of sympathy for the scavengers but also in the belief that scavenging is a dehumanizing practice that would ultimately have a destructive impact on modern Indian society.

We have all seen these toilet complexes in almost every corner of the country. And this has been possible only because of this man.He is an icon of sanitation and social reform who has made a difference in the lives of millions of people. Bindeshwar Pathak will be remembered in history for his innovative strides in the field of sanitation as well as social reform. With his efforts erstwhile untouchables have been allowed by the society to intermingle with them and to live on par, dining with them and being allowed to offer prayers in the temples. He has created a new culture which embraces the poor and extols the dignity of labour.

A Brahmin by birth and a landowner from Bihar, Pathak, who has been awarded the Padma Bhushan (1991) and the Stockholm Water Prize (2009), says there was no toilet in his home when he was growing up—it was, incidentally, large enough to accommodate a temple and a water well. He did stints as a schoolteacher and a travelling salesman for his family’s home-grown Ayurvedic medicine before being enticed into taking up a job in Patna for Rs.600-a-month with the Bihar Gandhi centenary celebrations committee. The job, as the publicity in-charge, was temporary and didn’t pay Rs.600, but he stayed on.

“My only advice is, don’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” says Pathak, rattling off a few that sanitation activists have combated through the 1980s and 1990s: allocating a pittance for toilets, restricting help to those below the poverty line (BPL), not giving bank loans for building toilets, not adopting the two-pit toilet system, not having motivators and regular follows-ups to see if the toilets are in working condition, and not pushing for the beneficiary to be responsible for some part of the toilet-building process.

Over the years, we have seen that if you get the two-three sampan (well-to-do) people in a village to build a toilet in their home, it becomes easier to convince the rest. Don’t leave the leader out of the equation because he is the influencer and his actions are inspirational. This has to be a trickle-down, not a bottom-to-up revolution,
-Bindeshwar Pathak

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 600 million Indians deposit 65 million tonnes of human waste in the open every day. The 2011 Census of India found that 53% of Indian households do not have toilets. In villages, the figure is higher: 59.4% of rural India practises open defecation, according to December data from the National Sample Survey Office. The census also found that the country needs 115 million toilets—and if Parliament is serious about eradicating open defecation by 2019, there is a lot of work to be done.

With the constant hardwork, Bindeshwar Pathak has made Sulabh more than just an organization, a revolution.

Photo source: India Today, Google.

 

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― Oliver James

 

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