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Welcome Speech - 1st National Distinguished Lecture Series on Sociology of Sanitation by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Sociologist & Social Reformer Founder, Sulabh Sanitation Movement

Friday, January 10, 2014 - 13:15
Sulabh International



Hon’ble Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Rural Development, Government of India, Hon’ble Prof. Yogendra Singh, Professor Emeritus of Sociology Centre for the Study of School Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hon’ble Prof. Leela Visaria, Eminent Sociologist and Former Director, Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad, Hon’ble members from print and electronic media, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen. It is my proud privilege and honour to welcome you all on the occasion of the first in the series of lectures on ‘Sociology of Sanitation’.

I welcome Hon’ble Shri Jairam Ramesh, the dynamic, decisive and visionary Minister, who has taken many forward looking and far reaching policy decisions to accelerate and facilitate the pace of implementation of the rural development and sanitation programmes in India.

I welcome Prof. Yogendra Singh, a towering figure in the world of academia, an international social scientist and a pioneer sociologist, whose contributions have received universal acclaim. His presence as well as his illuminating address will be key to enriching the debate on ‘Sociology of Sanitation’.

I welcome Prof. Leela Visaria, a former Professor and Director of Gujarat Institute of Development Research, who is currently, an Honorary Professor at the Institute. Her research interests include historical demography as well as field-based studies on problems of health, family planning, education and demographic transition. Her articles have appeared in several national and International scholarly journals. She has been the author of many books and has been associated with the network of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and researchers, known as HealthWatch, which is engaged in dialogue with policy makers, donors, researchers and activists on various gender-sensitive and health related policy issues. She is an internationally acclaimed sociologist and a role model for researchers, activists and policy makers. It is our privilege to have her as the speaker to deliver the First National Lecture on ‘Sociology of Sanitation’. I am sure, her lecture will set a high value and standard to the ongoing debate on ‘Sociology of Sanitation’ and will act as beacon for the future work on the same.

As there are three eminent speakers to follow, I will just confine myself to a few suggestions on the subject of ‘Sociology of Sanitation’.

In 1985, I proposed the concept of action sociology and suggested that sociologists should not only study, and teach about society, norms, social behaviour etc., but also intervene in the problems of society with a view to solving them as well. This approach of widening the concept of sociology and not limiting it to teaching only, proved highly beneficial and helped the society at large. This concept of action sociology, outlined by me, was also put into practice in the Sulabh Sanitation Movement.

To put it very succinctly, putting the concept of action sociology into practice, I not only invented the Sulabh two-pit pour-flush compost toilet which acted as a tool to eliminate the scourge of manual scavenging by the untouchables, but also took the consequent action of liberating and rehabilitating these untouchable manual scavengers and bringing them into the mainstream of society on a par with others. Thus, the concept of action sociology was not only limited to study and teaching it, but also helped in solving the problems of society.

Prof. Marion Talbot wrote a paper in 1896, on ‘Sociology & Sanitation’. After that not much headway was made on the subject.

In January 2013, under the aegis of Sulabh International Centre for Action Sociology, the first National Conference on ‘Sociology of Sanitation’, was held in New Delhi in which the galaxy of luminaries, academicians and sociologists actively participated. In the said National Conference, I propounded the theory of ‘Sociology of Sanitation’ defining it as follows:

“Sociology of sanitation is a scientific study to solve the problems of society in relation to sanitation, social deprivation, water, public health, hygiene, ecology, environment, poverty, gender equality, welfare of children and empowering people for sustainable development and attainment of philosophical and spiritual knowledge to lead a happy life and to make a difference in the lives of others.”

Standing before you today, I would like to enumerate that the concept of ‘Sociology of Sanitation’ will deal with the environment at three levels. One, the physical environment, the second, social environment and thirdly, the inner environment.

Now coming to the first level, i.e. the physical environment, I would like to say that it involves and includes provision of safe water, safe and hygienic disposal of liquid and solid waste, and deals with pollution of rivers, erosion of soil, felling of trees, global warming, climate change, etc. Herein, I would like to add that social medicine and social engineering could be included in the broad concept of sociology of sanitation at this level.

Secondly, the social environment will deal at three levels; individual to individual, individual to group and group to group, towards making a harmonious and happy society to live in peaceful co-existence with all for a happier world. There should be no conflict on the basis of religion, culture, customs, rituals, moral values etc. Instead of pursuing one’s belief and fighting one another, it is better to take ideas from all the thoughts, beliefs, religions and cultures and to assimilate them in order to bring the feeling of oneness in society and amongst people.

There are conflicts of opinion among different religions and at the same time, there are also differences of opinion in a particular religion itself. Like the Hindus, who have many beliefs and where each one says that it is superior to the other. Islam has oneness of religion, but they too have different beliefs as in case of the Shias and Sunnis who in many cases are in conflict with each other. Likewise in Christianity, there are varying beliefs and where the Catholics and Protestants have also been known to be in conflict.

I would like to give you a small example. Suppose I find a child crying on the road. Should I not first take him in my lap, comfort him, give him sweets or fruit to eat, console him and try to find his parents? Or should I leave the child crying and try to find out to which religion he belongs. In the former alternative, humanity and kindness will speak, and my action will bring a cordial atmosphere in society. But in the latter it will only create hatred and ill-feeling.

The third is the level of inner environment. In inner environment, a man should be positive in nature, spiritual, kind to others and helpful towards solving the problems of both the society and the individual. A person who is philosophical, endowed with wisdom and spirituality, will naturally love all people and creatures in this world, we see around. The Vedas say “I am a man, you are a man, and so are all men”. This philosophy rings the message that all human beings are equal. So people should have the inner environment and conscience to try to wipe out the tears of others and make them smile, irrespective of religion and culture. The inner environment of a person can be helpful towards solving the problems of physical and social environment.

Here I would like to give you another example of the widows of Vrindavan which enumerates the level of inner environment. The Supreme Court of India was in seisin of a matter relating to the pitiable and appalling conditions prevalent amongst the widows of Vrindavan. At the intervention of the Supreme Court of India through National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) Sulabh International Social Service Organisation took up in the matter and provided them all round relief including monthly stipend thereby ameliorating their lives and living conditions. We succeeded in wiping out the tears and as one of them said “after Sulabh’s intervention, our desire to die has changed to yearning to live”.

To reiterate, the philosophy of ‘Sociology of Sanitation’, I want to say is that we should teach not only about physical environment but also the social and inner environment in ‘Sociology of Sanitation’

I would like to conclude by quoting from one of the most illuminating emails received from a scholar studying in the South Korean National University, Ms. Jiyeon Park. Ms. Park had come to do research in Sulabh alongwith the other researchers belonging to South Korean National University and on a return she sent us an email which I am quoting verbatim…“Oh! by the way I’m a double major one in economy and one in virtual design here in Seoul National University recently, for a design project I made a speech regarding the Sulabh Toilet Museum and got a good remarks ...

Good Design means where members of community “communicates” toward virtue and ideal society with all heart-- ... and as a real-life example I adopted the idea of Sulabh because the sanitation program (mechanism) the museum and design of toilets (form) and the virtue of double emancipation (economic, social) + love and peace (meaning) are all coherent with this concept of Good Design …”

Once again, I welcome you all, and hope that you will find the lectures of the eminent personalities on the dais of considerable interest and immense value.

Once again thank you all for coming today.


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