Thursday, 5 September 2013

Sanitation is my religion: International sanitation expert Bindeshwar Pathak

Chennai, September 5: Bindeshwar Pathak (70), social reformer, native of Bihar, fights the caste system in India and particularly discrimination against manual scavengers by the upper class by introducing green toilets. Born a Brahmin, Pathak lived with scavengers and founded Sulab sanitation and social reform movement in Delhi in 1970, and has now successfully constructed hundreds of toilet complexes which are being used by nearly 10 million Indians.He spoke to me after being awarded the 'lifetime achievement award' by the Rotary Club of Madras in the city last Tuesday.

Question: What are the advantages of Sulab toilet?

They are hygienically and technically appropriate. Ours is an affordable system and doesn't pollute the ground water. Sulab model is a clean toilet which can be fixed in a house and there will be no complaints of mosquito or foul smell. Apart from this, sulab converts the waste into compost, which could be used in the fields and house gardens. Our model has been acknowledged by the UNDP in the human development report.

Question: How about your presence in Tamil Nadu?
We are spreading it as much as we can. In Tamil Nadu there are small groups which have taken up projects to set up toilet complexes. Sulab toilet in Chennai airport is working well. Our eco-friendly toilet model has not been patented simply because we want many more to benefit.

Question: How far the Sulab projects have empowered the untouchables?

Instead of talking about figures, I am telling you a tale of two towns in Rajasthan - Alwar and Tonk - where the upper caste and lower caste people earlier involved in manual scavenging, dine together and live without any discrimination. Recently, I was informed that many upper caste families have shown interest in marrying lower caste women. We first make arrangements to bring people from different castes to have a cup of tea  together and then have food together. Sanitation is my religion. Ours is a protest   movement against caste hierarchy in Hinduism. Instead of raising our hands against them, we supplicate and win their hearts. Gandhigiri is our weapon.

Question: Why will utilising biogas-linked toilet complexes remain a far-fetched dream in India?

We have to stop feeling shy and discuss sanitation. Our toilet museum in Delhi was set up in 1994. Scores of people visit the museum and are thrilled about the toilets different civilisations used in the early ages. The government and voluntary organisations have to come forward to promote its usage and explain the benefits of biogas toilets. Apart from India, we have installed green toilets in Kabul in Afghanistan and now got invitations to set up the same in African cities. All this because people are willing to talk about toilets without feeling shy.

To know more about Bindeshwar Pathak: