Sulabh International Museum of Toilets – Rendering the Private as Public

When a person hears the word “ Museum “ the first thing that strikes the mind is a quaint place with culturally rich artifacts, beautiful tapestry, regal possessions, or the remains of the epic time. Have you ever thought of entering the museum and seeing a variety of toilets displayed before you? Yes, Toilets! The Sulabh International Toilet Museum in Delhi serves this amusement and astonishment to its audience. But how can something which is not even openly talked about in India is displayed as an exhibition in its very own capital?  Does publicizing the private helps in the improvement of it at any degree?

The word toilet is derived from the French word toilette, which means little cloth. In the 17th century it was a cloth cover for a dressing table, called a toilet table. If a woman was at her toilet it meant she was dressing and preparing her appearance. By the 19th century toilet room or toilet was a euphemism for a certain room. Toilet is one arena which is carefully and beautifully missed from all the social talks, movies, daily soaps et al. You will either find a beautiful heroine caressing her tresses or may be a comic character falling off his pot seat and the sound of the flush which instigates immense laughter in the audience.

Toilets have always been showcased either in a romantic or in a comic way. Why never as a part of the house?  If we say it is private and personal to one, then well, so are bedrooms. The point is not that it is private, the point is that it is supposed to be not a very beautifully decorated space somewhere hinting it to be dirty. Have you ever thought why the word ‘toilet’ has so many euphemisms? Euphemism is an inoffensive or indirect expression that is substituted for one that is considered offensive or too harsh. So is ‘toilet’ an offensive word?

India is a normative country. There are certain things which termed as ‘improper’ and not talked about. Imagine a high class party, and a person comes up and starts talking about toilet seats and its various shapes and sizes over the centuries! He will definitely be shunned as a cynical. Or say may be person starts talking about condoms. He will be eyed as a lecherous. These things are not supposed to be talked about in public. The problem lies here. When things are not open in public, they keep on decaying in the private. The emergence of toilet cleaning ads, for example, of Harpic or Lux is a good step towards creating awareness.

While the main purpose of the ad is to sell the product and the profit of the company, but it produces awareness as a by-product. There are so many Indian houses where such ads are treated with disgust which follows the changing of the channel immediately even today. The Sulabh International Toilet Museum then was a radical step because of its one of a kind idea. The museum acts a storehouse for a large variety of toilets dating from Harappan civilization, which was the first among the many to give a sanitation module to the world. The most fascinating piece is the throne like chamber pot of the French emperor Louis XIV, 17thcentury who while using it, used to give audience to the people.

India is a nation gripped terribly in Sanitation problems. Sanitation continues to be inadequate in India despite various efforts by the government. An estimated 69% of Indians still lack access to improved sanitation facilities. The Sulabh International Toilet Museum was established in 1992 by Sulabh International Social Service organization owned by Bindeshwar Pathak. This organization is credited largely in the field of sanitation because of its contribution of constructing “pay and use” toilets. So far it has constructed and is maintaining over 8000 such public toilets in India. Its main aim is to help sanitation experts learn from the past and solve problems in the sanitation sector. It was constructed in 1992. Nearly a decade has passed but not many people know about the museum.

A man cleaning his own toilet is thought of to be in financial crisis because maybe that is why he couldn’t afford the demeaning job to be done by someone of lower rank .The need of the hour, as said by Bindeshwar Pathak himself, is to work “with” him. The first step towards solving a nationwide problem is the awareness of it and denouncing the stereotypes attached to it. Only then changes can not only come but also remain.

Esha Tiwari

Article Esha Tiwari

Esha Tiwari studies masters in English from Delhi University.Possess a flair for writing about the social and cultural elements of society. Believes in that words have power to empower and tries for the same.


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