Profile of a national crusader

Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak
Sulabh Sanitation Movement.
Date of BirthApril 2, 1943
Place of BirthVillage Rampur, Baghel, Dist. Vaishali, Bihar, INDIA
Education 1964: Graduation in Sociology
1980: Master's degree in Sociology, topping the list from Patna University
1985: Ph.D. on "Liberation of Scavengers Through Low-Cost Sanitation".
1986: Master's degree in English, topping the list from Patna University
1994: D.Litt. on "Eradication of Scavenging and Environmental Sanitation in India - a Sociological Study".

His Holiness Pope John Paul - II
gave audience to Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak
before awarding him with international
St. Francis Prize for the Environment
"Canticle of All Creatures" in 1992
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK is a great humanist and social reformer of contemporary India. To the weaker sections of society especially, his is the compassionate face of a paternal redeemer. He has the vision of a philosopher and the undying zeal of a missionary. He is the icon of a new culture which embraces the poor and extols the dignity of labour. His boundless love for the downtrodden finds expression in myriad and tangible ways. No wonder those who know him intimately swear that Dr. Pathak is born to help the helpless. He is the leader of a national crusade for restoration of human rights and dignity to millions of scavengers (cleaner and carrier of human excreta), traditionally known as untouchables; and for providing safe and hygienic human waste disposal system to 700 million Indian population who go outside for open defecation even along roads and railway tracks described graphically by V.S. Naipaul and Ronal Segal. He has himself identified with the problems of the untouchables. Dr. Pathak's multi-pronged efforts in bringing scavengers, worst victims of institutionalised caste discrimination and engaged in a sub-human occupation, in the mainstream of national life has taken the shape of a movement for social justice. Moreover, he is an internationally acclaimed expert on sanitation and has developed and implemented on pan- Indian scale a low-cost and appropriate toilet technology recommended by UN bodies for about three billion people across the globe. To him goes the credit to sensitize Indians towards sanitation and those engaged in the sanitation work. Apart from low-cost sanitation, his contributions are widely known in the areas of bio-energy and bio-fertiliser, liquid and solid waste management, poverty alleviation and integrated rural development. In fact, he is a Renaissance Man and combines in himself the traits of a social scientist, an engineer, an administrator and an institution-builder. What is remarkable is that he has ingeniously utilised all these expertise to enrich and empower the depressed classes.

The widespread phenomenon of open defecation remains grim even after 50 years of India's Independence. Especially women have to suffer a lot due to non-availability of toilets. Even today 110 million Indian houses have no toilets and 10 million houses have bucket toilets causing filth and diseases. The situation is so appalling that about half million children die every year due to dehydration caused by open defecation.

Dr Pathak receiving National Citizen's
Award from the then President,
Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma
Environmental cleanliness and sanitation was the dearest subject of Mahatma Gandhi who proclaimed that 'cleanliness is next only to godliness'. Gandhi had said, "There are many things to do. Let each one of us choose our task and stick to it through thick and thin. Let us pick up that position which we can handle best". Gandhi had two ideas in mind while talking about sanitation : one, that no one should clean and carry human excreta of others just to earn one's livelihood. There must be some scientific method of human waste disposal system. Finding no other affordable alternative during his life time Gandhi had suggested 'Tatti par mitti' (cover human excreta with soil) or use of trench latrine which he himself used while living in Phoenix Ashram in South Africa. Secondly, Gandhi wanted that those who are engaged in sanitation work should not be treated as untouchables. They should get equal respect in the society, he took pains to emphasise, and in his typical style went on to declare that "the Bhangi (scavenger) is as important as the Viceroy".
The Dubai International Award for
best practises to improve the living

After Gandhi Dr. Pathak is the man, more than any other in India, who has championed sanitation and upliftment of the untouchables as mission of his life. For the last three decades he has been working relentlessly to keep the ecosystem clean and bring the marginalised sections of the society in the mainstream. He gave new dimension to the Gandhian movement and broadbased his principled fight against all kinds of discrimination. The New York Times, in the article 'Untouchables gain the help of a Brahmin', hailed him as a "full-time crusader against the humiliations of untouchability". His contribution in abolishing the inhuman practice of scavenging is seminal and unparalleled in the sense that he not only studied the social evil but provided its categorical solution through a low-cost toilet-technology and developed a self-sustaining sanitation system across the country. In the process of providing alternative to scavenging and rehabilitation and social upgradation of scavengers, Dr. Pathak created a pan-Indian network with 50,000 volunteers and gave birth to what is popularly known as Sulabh Sanitation Movement. "No body should go outside for defecation and every house in India should have a toilet" has become the passionate obsession of Dr. Pathak.

In 1991, Dr. Pathak was conferred
Padma Bhushan by the President
of India Mr R.Venkataraman for his
"distinguished social service"
Dr. Pathak's epic struggle has helped the world to understand that the technology of Sulabh Shauchalaya (two-pit pourflush toilet) that he modified and developed and implemented on large-scale could be a safe and hygienic human waste disposal system for about three billion population living on the earth planet. Expensive systems like sewerage and septic tanks are not cost-effective and affordable for teeming millions in the Third World. He came up with the Sulabh technology in 1970 and it was first greeted with scepticism and derision, but in 1996 it was declared a global 'Urban Best Practice' at the Habitat-II conference held at Istanbul and the Economic and Social Council of United Nations has granted Special Consultative Status to Sulabh in recognition of its outstanding service. "You are helping the poor", lauded Pope John Paul II while honouring Dr. Pathak with International St. Francis Prize for the Environment, in 1992. The President of India earlier conferred on him Padma Bhushan, a very distinctive national award like Knighthood in United Kingdom, for his distinguished services rendered to the nation. Honours and acclaims, both national and international, have come a dime a dozen for Dr. Pathak but what inspires him for synergy is the deep love of his country and its people.

Radical beginning

Dr. Pathak, Founder of Sulabh International Social Organisation, was born on April 2, 1943 in a respectable Brahmin family of village Rampur Baghel in Vaishali district of Bihar. After college education and some odd jobs that came his way, he joined the Bhangi-Mukti (scavengers' liberation) cell of the Bihar Gandhi Centenary Celebrations Committee in 1968 and he was intimately exposed to the problems of scavengers in India. Dr. Pathak travelled all over the country, visited and lived with scavengers in their bastis, studied their habits and social mores (he did his Ph. D. on scavenging), their history and geographical spread to eventually declare that scavengers were a special class united in their miseries and social degradation. "Let us save them from squalid conditions and in doing so we'll be saving the national conscience", Dr. Pathak said. Significantly, it was not a mere emotional outburst of young Dr. Pathak, who by that time had fully equipped himself intellectually to construct an irrefutable thesis on the subject. He knew that slogans alone will not help and, hence, developed a technology which has become a credible alternative to scavenging in India.

Hon'ble Prime Minister of India
Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, inaugurating
Sulabh built community centre in Lucknow.

Dr. Pathak observed after studying scriptures that scavenging has no religious sanction and, hence, those who practise untouchability commit a sin; it is unproductive and revolting to manually clean excreta and we are wasting the waste which can be profitably used to raise farm production and produce biogas. He, subsequently, demonstrated this successfully. The union of theory and practice distinguishes Sulabh from other movements of similar nature.

Dr. Pathak sought to abolish scavenging not only out of sympathy for scavengers but also out of the belief that it is a primitive, expensive and unhygienic practice which may create an explosive situation in which case a highly dissatisfied group will turn lumpen and work to destroy the social system. For that matter, the Sulabh Movement is different from other social movements: it is an indigenous concept based on experience and tested scientifically, combining in itself an appropriate technology and demand for social morality. In simpler words, while other movements identified problems and injustices in society but failed to find solutions, Dr. Pathak identified problems, developed a self-sustaining system, gave an appropriate technology and, finally, solved the problem. Dr. Pathak lived with scavenger families, and did rigorous research, before he launched the movement.

A technological breakthrough

Technology has played a decisive role in the Sulabh Sanitation Movement. During Mahatma Gandhi's life and even after several attempts were made to develop a low-cost toilet technology no tangible result emerged. Dr. Pathak intervened successfully, gave the solution, applied the technology and showed to the engineers, administrators, planners and masses about its functioning. It was a breakthrough in the Government of India's programme for eradication of scavenging as the Sulabh system is affordable, acceptable to the masses and could be set up with the available local facilities. Thus, a low-cost technology was developed by Dr. Pathak to make towns and villages scavenging-free.

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder, Sulabh
Sanitation Movement, explaining Former
Prime Minister Mr. H. D. Deve Gowda about
Sulabh Model at an exhibition organised to
coincide with the national seminar on Housing
"Adequate Shelter for All" Oct 7-11, 1996

The Sulabh technology is a very simple device. It consists of two pits and sealed cover. While one is in use, the other pit is left to manure. And, finally, it is cleared to be used as manure. By using this technology, there will be no need to physically clean human excreta. This was named as Sulabh Shauchalaya, which could be adopted in different hydrogeological conditions with some precautions. Dr. Pathak convinced administrators, planners and engineers about the successful functioning of the two-pit pour-flush toilet in urban areas which could be affordable, safe and hygienic system for the disposal of the human waste in absence of sewers and septic tanks. Before his arrival on the scene, nobody including engineers, was ready to believe that this technology could work in urban areas.

Sanitation movement gathers momentum

Following rapid adoption of the Sulabh technology of pour-flush toilet system, more than 240 towns have been freed from scavenging and 50,000 scavengers liberated and resettled in other professions. It was possible by converting 10,00,000 bucket latrines into Sulabh toilets. Moreover, Sulabh has built 3,200 community toilets with bath, laundry and urinal facilities operated on pay-and-use basis. Sulabh is now operating in 338 districts of 25 states with over 50,000 trained and experienced workers. Dr. Pathak has achieved this stupendous success, working with a narrow resource base and almost single-handedly, leading a voluntary and non-profit making agency. One cannot recall many names who have achieved so much for so many in such a short time. Dr. Pathak did that quietly without much fanfare.
Sri Lankan Minister for Science
and Technology, Dr Bernard Soyasa at
Sulabh Toilet Museum, New Delhi

Public toilet-cum-bath complexes

The year 1974 is a landmark in the history of sanitation when the system of operating and maintaining community toilets with bathing, laundry and urinal facilities (popularly known as Sulabh Shauchalaya Complex) with attendants service round the clock was initiated on the pay-and-use basis in Patna. Now Sulabh is operating and maintaining more than 5,500 community complexes in 1075 towns across the country. One such complex is in Bhutan. These complexes have electricity and 24-hours water supply. The complexes have separate enclosures for men and women. The users are charged nominal sum for using toilets and bath facilities. Some of the Sulabh complexes are also provided with bath with shower facility, cloak-rooms, telephone and primary healthcare. These complexes have been widely welcomed both by the people and the authorities due to their cleanliness and good management. Pay-and-use system ensures self-sustainability without any burden on public exchequer or local bodies. The complexes have also improved the living environment considerably.

Dr Pathak received Indira Gandhi
Priyadarshini Award at a colourful
function in 1994 in New Delhi
Social commitment

After establishing neat and clean toilet complexes and liberating scavengers, Sulabh has set up a number of vocational training institutes. Here liberated scavengers, their sons and daughters and persons from other weaker sections of society are given training in various vocations like computer technology, typing and shorthand, electrical trade, woodcraft, leathercraft, diesel and petrol engineering, cutting and tailoring, cane furniture making, masonry work, motor driving etc. The purpose of imparting vocational training to them is to give them new means of livelihood, alleviate poverty and bring them into the mainstream of society.

Sulabh has set up an English medium School in Delhi for children of the scavengers, the first of its kind in India. Half the number of children are from scavenger families and the remaining half from other castes. This heterogeneous composition ensures that there is enough interaction between kids of scavengers and others. The school aims to prepare children from weaker sections of society for a better life. It brings quality education within the reach of boys and girls from scavenger families.

Dr. Pathak continues his crusade for a better and egalitarian society but the stigma of untouchability remains deep-rooted. A step-by-step programme for removal of this social curse has been initiated. In 1988, Dr. Pathak led 100 scavengers along with Vedic Brahmins to the famous Nathdwara temple in Rajasthan with a view to promoting social integration. In 1993, Sulabh embarked on a noble programme of social upgradation and integration of thousands of scavenger families. Under this programme, Dr. Pathak has made an open appeal to the elite of society to have social interaction with at least one such family to enable them to lead a dignified life as equals in the society. India's Prime Minister Mr. I.K. Gujral was among the first few who responded warmly to this suggestion and adopted one scavenger's family. So far 5,000 scavenger families have been socially upgraded and brought in the mainstream of the society. Similar programmes are envisaged in a phased manner throughout the country for the removal of untouchability and restoration of human rights and dignity to those who have been deprived of basic civil rights for generations.

Technology mingles with humanitarianism

In 1970, Dr. Pathak launched the Sulabh Sanitation Movement with setting up a social, voluntary and non-profit making organisation, Sulabh Shauchalaya Sansthan (which later became Sulabh International Social Service Organisation) to carry forward the movement which combined in itself sanitation technology and Dr. Pathak's humane ideology. This Movement, like any other gradual revolution, seeks to change the social structure through reforms based on social consent and technology, judiciously combined in a package to subserve the ultimate goal for which Dr. Pathak has worked all his life, braving the gauntlet of criticism and social scorn which only strengthened his determination to succeed where no one did before. Sulabh is a protest movement, born out of concern for the liberation of scavengers from the demeaning practice of carrying human excreta on the head. Revolution is a sudden event while the movement indicates a slow gradual development. Sulabh is a movement because it developed step-by-step from technology to liberation to training to rehabilitation and, finally, to social upgradation when scavengers will be absorbed in the social system and scavenging will end forever.

Dr. Pathak with Mr. I.K.Gujral,
former Prime Minister of India
Dr. Pathak has raised a micro-level project on low-cost sanitation (starting in 1973 from a small town in Bihar where he put up two pour-flush toilets by way of demonstration) to the macro-level when the project was acclaimed by national and international agencies. No individual in India has raised the technology application from a small town to an international level. Even UNDP and the World Bank recommend its adoption in other countries wherever feasible.

Biogas from human excreta

Dr. Pathak is probably the first person in the world who has promoted on a massive scale, the idea of obtaining biogas from human excreta collected in large-sized public toilets used by 2,000 to 5,000 persons a day. Despite overwhelming odds, he got the first such biogas plant set up at Patna in 1982 after almost six years of research. The successful and satisfactory functioning of this plant encouraged him to replicate the project all over the country and today some sixty eight such biogas plants, connected with large-sized public toilets, are operating successfully in many states of the country. It has been amply demonstrated by Dr. Pathak that in the absence of sewerage facility, the best option for human waste disposal, to be used in conjunction with large public toilets, is the biogas plant. It has the added advantage of being a source of renewable energy which is lacking in the septic tank system.

Biogas from water hyacinth

Biogas from water hyacinth in dried and pulverised form is another achievement of Dr. Pathak. While others had been using this waterweed in its green form by either chopping or pre-treating it with chemicals, Dr. Pathak conducted experiments on dried and pulverised water hyacinth. Although the gas yield in the dried form is about 5-6% less, it is convenient in handling, storage and transportation. This form also lends itself better for blending with cow-dung, human excreta or other vegetable wastes used as feed material for biogas production. Yet another 'first' to Dr. Pathak's credit is the granulated organic manure obtained from the dried sludge of biogas plants.

Dr Pathak with sons and daughters
of liberated scavengers in Patna
Sulabh International Institute of Technical Research and Training (SIITRAT) was founded by Dr. Pathak in 1984 with a view to providing technological support to the sanitation movement. SIITRAT with a brilliant team of scientists and engineers has come up with many new and sustainable technologies.

Low-cost waste water treatment

Waste water syndrome and its concomitant river and environment pollution currently afflicts nearly all the 5000 odd towns and cities of India, posing a big challenge to ensure safe and healthy living environment for ever-increasing number of city dwellers. One of the major problems with waste water treatment methods is that none of the available technologies has direct economic return. The available technologies are unaffordable due to high capital and maintenance costs. Recently Sulabh has taken up research-cum-demonstration projects on duckweed based low-cost waste water treatment in collaboration with concerned government agencies. The ambitious projects are underway in some rural as well as urban areas with direct economic return from pisciculture and use of duckweed as nutritious feed for poultry and animals.

Solid waste management

Solid waste management has been an increasing problem causing health hazards and environmental pollution. Composting is an important method of biodegradable solid waste management having direct / indirect economic return in the form of manure and soil conditioner. Sulabh has developed a new technology which requires only 5-6 days to make compost from any biodegradable waste without manual handling during composting. Besides quick conversion of wastes into compost, it also helps control diseases transmitted from wastes, as at high temperature pathogens are eliminated from the compost.

Poverty alleviation and rural development

Dr. Pathak also gave the concept of 'change agent' for poverty alleviation and rural development. Train a man in a skill and he will find a job for himself. With this conviction, he launched a massive programme to expand human resource base at the grassroots level. Human resource development includes creating ability and willingness to acquire skills and, thus, maximise utilisation of available resources and raise productivity per unit of land and capital. The increase in the level of skill, education, health and experiences are the indices of human resource development of a society. Dr. Pathak's approach has been to develop and expand human resource base at the village level and train youths to work to become catalytic agents working between the suppliers of resources and the beneficiaries.

Sulabh is leading a well-orchestrated campaign for rural development. It is imparting participatory training to school teachers and students in the fields of environmental sanitation and community health. The trained students are playing the role of catalysts to bring about requisite changes in rural areas. Sulabh international Institute of Rural Development, Research and Training (SIIRD) is giving shape to several other projects.

Ensuring health and hygiene

Sulabh International Institute of Health and Hygiene (SIIHH) was started to develop healthcare and sanitation model of urban slums and villages. Dr. Pathak's initiative to involve teachers and students in sanitation education and training of women in urban-slums in sanitation and healthcare is radical in its outlook and humane in its approach. Under its medicare programme, Sulabh has also opened healthcare centres in community toilet complexes. These centres being run in co-ordination with government health units, are providing yeoman's health service to the urban poor. It is training women volunteers in urban slums in collaboration with some national and international agencies. Hundreds of volunteers have been trained in 158 slums. Sulabh is promoting women group formations after training, which will ensure self-sustainable development. SIIHH is working in collaboration with USAID, UNICEF, Delhi government, Family Health International, AIDSCAP on many people-friendly projects. The Institute is also disseminating healthcare messages including AIDS awareness through handbooks and pamphlets in public interest. Recently it has published a popular manual on 'Women and Sanitation'.

Museum of Toilets

Sulabh has also established this Museum of Toilets in New Delhi. The Museum has rare collection of artefacts, pictures and objects detailing the historic evolution of toilets since 2,500 BC. Moreover, the Museum wing under Dr. Pathak's guidance has undertaken the task of publishing an Encyclopaedia of Sanitation, which perhaps will be the first of its kind in the world.

Championing Action Sociology

Mr I.K.Gujral, former Prime Minister of India,
was among many eminent persons who adopted
scavenger families on May 2, 1994
at a function in New Delhi
An acknowledged pioneer of Action Sociology, Dr. Pathak has been advocating introduction of this novel discipline in the academic curriculum. Recently, Action Sociology was introduced in the syllabus at university level by Rajasthan Vidyapeeth and some other universities. Its concept and vision was conceived and evolved by eminent sociologists under the aegis of Indian Association of Action Sociologists and Sulabh Centre for Action Sociology.

An action-oriented movement, Sulabh does not believe in mere armchair analysis of problems. Instead of studying ripples and indulging in sheer rhetoric, it strives to create its own waves. Waves symbolising major initiatives for social changes. For instance, Sulabh loves to work for removal of human rights violations through its constructive programmes. Championing human rights through mere words (and taking the matters to Amnesty International) has never been the Sulabh ideal. It has been a philosophy of action and a sociology in action.

Prolific writing

A versatile personality, Dr. Pathak has authored several well-received books including Road to Freedom. Besides, he has been frequently contributing thought-provoking write-ups on diverse topics for serious newspapers and magazines. He edits Sulabh India, a development monthly magazine published in English and Hindi.

He has participated and presented papers in a large number of national and international seminars. Dr. Pathak is a widely-travelled person and has visited many countries to disseminate the Sulabh message and technology and to exchange ideas on environmental sanitation and growth with international experts in the field. The Press, both in India and abroad, has widely covered Sulabh's stupendous track-record. Distinguished visitors from more than 70 countries have visited Sulabh headquarters in Delhi and have appreciated Dr. Pathak's spirited striving for sanitation and development with equity. Eminent journalists and writers have written extensively on Dr. Pathak - sketching his multi-faceted personality and extraordinary achievements.

Innovative leadership

Sulabh is now diversifying into a number of innovative and environment-friendly development projects to uplift the lot of the poor. Under the dynamic and inspiring leadership of Dr. Pathak a dedicated team of sociologists, scientists, engineers, journalists and public-spirited persons, has built a large national network and Sulabh is all set to write a glorious chapter in the annals of post-independent India.

Dr. Pathak has become synonymous with Sulabh (its toilets are being used by 10 million persons every day) which in turn has become byword for public toilets in India. Besides, being recipient of several awards, laurels and distinctions, Dr. Pathak is a member of numerous national and international agencies / committees on environmental sanitation, urban development and related areas. He is also deeply associated with many social, cultural and philanthropic organisations. He has rendered yeoman's service to make our society and environment more healthy and harmonious. He did what no social reformer managed to achieve - he blended his humanitarian philosophy with an environment-friendly technology. It is for these remarkable achievements that he has become a household name in India, and is held in high esteem by a grateful society. Mulk Raj Anand, India's leading writer, has correctly observed, "What Abraham Lincoln did for Blacks in America, Dr. Pathak has done for scavengers in India. Both are great redeemers".

National Human Development Report 2001
Sulabh Sanitation Movement - A Low Cost Solution to Success

Nearly 80 per cent of the country's population still either defecate in open or use unsanitary bucket latrines or smelly public toilets as per one estimate. This is true even in urban areas where hardly 20 per cent of the population has access to water/flush toilets connected to a sewerage system and only 14 per cent enjoy water-borne toilets connected to septic tanks or leach pits. In rural areas a mere 3 per cent of the population has access to sanitary toilets. This lack of adequate sanitation is responsible for severe health problems. Cholera, dysentery, typhoid, para-typhoid, infectious hepatitis and many other diseases can be traced to the unsanitary disposal of human excreta. Lack of sanitation also has grave social consequences, the need to have 'night soil' removed has given rise to the profession of 'scavenging' or collecting it from bucket latrines, the streets and other locations. Though, this practice has been banned and the Indian Constitution bans the segregation of those who service this profession, there are many pockets in the country where the practice continues unabated.

Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, a non-governmental organisation, founded by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, has in partnership with local Governments demonstrated the success of low cost sanitation technology throughout the country. Their solution called the Sulabh Shauchalaya is a low cost, pour flush, water-seal toilet with twin leach pits for on site disposal of human waste. The technology has many advantages. It is affordable, even by the economically weaker sections of the society, and is designed to suit different levels of income. Flushing requires only two litres of water, instead of 10 litres needed by a conventional toilet. The toilet can never be out of commission, since, one of the two pits can always be used while the other is being serviced. The latrine can be built with locally available material. It can be conveniently upgraded as it is a stand-alone, on-site unit that can be connected to a sewer system as and when the latter is introduced in the area. So far, more than 700,000 units have been constructed or substituted for existing latrines in houses and more than 3000 have been installed as pay-and-use public toilets. The latter are staffed by full time attendant and provide facilities including soap powder for washing hands, for bathing and for laundry and offer free services to children, disabled and poor. Thus, nearly 10 million people have been provided with improved, low cost sanitation and at the same time nearly 50,000 employment opportunities have been created in a commercially viable enterprise. As a social spin-off the enterprise has resulted in liberating about 50,000 scavengers from their enforced profession.

A key to the success of Sulabh Shauchalaya lies in creating public awareness and seeking community participation in implementing and maintaining the infrastructure. The organisation is also working with local groups on production of biogas from human excreta accessed from community toilets, and on generation of electricity. Its research and development activities are geared to seeking practical, low cost solution for solid and liquid waste disposal, including re-cycling in a financially sustainable manner.

Planning Commission
Governmnet of India
March 2002


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