The Toilet Man of India had led 100 Harijans into the Nathdwara temple in Rajsamand, in 1988 to promote religious and social cohesion.
Udaipur : He is known as the ‘Toilet Man of India’ and is the founder of Sulabh International, an NGO working to promote human rights, environmental sanitation and waste management, alternative sources of energy and social reforms through education for more than 40 years. Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak , the Padma Bhushan recipient is a staunch Gandhian who is credited for fighting for the rights and restoring the dignity of manual scavengers. He is also the brand ambassador of the Swachh Rail Mission of the Indian Railwats. 74-year old Dr Pathak was one of the storyteller at the International Story Telling Festival on Sunday in Udaipur and his rendition send shivers down the spine. He told of the times when there were no toilets in homes and the women in his family had to wake up at 4 in the morning to go out for defecation as they could not go out for relieving themselves after sunrise or before sunset. Women in the village suffered from headaches for withholding natural calls, faced criminal assaults and snake bites before dawn and after dusk.
Pathak , who comes from a affluent Brahmin family had to face many hardships in working for a cause that was considered a taboo in that era. “ I lived the first 18 years of my life in a village in Vaishali district in Bihar. The village comprised of many castes and the scheduled castes were divided into ‘impures’ like Dusadhs and Chamars and the ‘untouchables’ like the Doms. A Dom woman came to our house to sell bamboo items and everytime after she left, my grandmother used to sprinkle water to cleanse the house” Dr Pathak said. Out of curiosity, when he was a child, he touched the Dom woman to find out why his dadi had to clean the home? The old woman caught Pathak doing so and that day the whole family condemned him. “ The family priest was called to conduct the purification act who prescribed a mixture of cow dung, cow urine and water from Ganga which was forcibly poured into my mouth” Pathak reminisced. However, this could not affect the revolutionary mind who grew up to fight for abolishment of the manual scavenging system from India. Working for the Scavenger’s Liberation Cell at the Gandhi Museum in Patna, Pathak got a chance to live in a colony of scavengers in Bettiah town where he learned about their miseries. These people led a dreaded life as they had to clean bucket toilets from home and carry the load on their head to dispose the excreta at open lands.They couldn’t do any other job as people wont buy any items they sold or accept their services other than cleaning their loos.
“ I was melted to see a young bride cry when her mother-in law and husband forced her to go to clean bucket toilets. On another occasion in a market a bull was attacking a 10 year old boy but people who rushed to save him, immediately stopped when someone cried out that the boy hailed from a scavenger family. I took him to the hospital later but the child died” Pathak recollected. Years later, around 1970 Pathak invented the low cost, pour flush water seal toilet with leach pits for on-site disposal of human waste. Since then, more than 1.5 million toilets have been constructed in houses and millions of scavengers have been emacipated and rehabilitated. Sulabh International is maintaining 8500 ‘pay and use’ public toilets all over the country and 60 thousand jobs have been created of this social venture. The Sulabh toilet complex in the pilgrim town Pandharpur in Maharashtra is the world’s largest loo complex. He has adopted two towns Alwar and Tonk in Rajasthan for restoring the dignity of the manual scavengers. They have been trained in various trades and are engaged in gainful employment.