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 an icon of sanitation and social reform who has made a difference in the lives of millions of people. Dr. Pathak will be remembered in history for his innovative strides in the field of sanitation as well as social reform. With his efforts erstwhile untouchables have been allowed by the society to intermingle with them and to live on par, dining with them and being allowed to offer prayers in the temples. He has created a new culture which embraces the poor and extols the dignity of labour.
Inspired by one of the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi to abolish scavenging and based on the bedrock of technology, Dr. Pathak founded Sulabh International Social Service Organisation in 1970 and launched a social reform-cum-environmental upgradation movement taking up the challenge of the problem of sanitation related pollution leading to environmental degradation and health hazards caused by the practice of defecation in the open and use of bucket toilets.
In search of a solution Dr. Pathak developed eco-friendly twin-pit compost pour-flush toilet technology for the individual households as an alternative to the cost prohibitive sewerage or septic tank based systems of excreta disposal. Against this, the Sulabh technology is appropriate, economically affordable, eco-friendly and culturally acceptable. It has on-site human waste disposal facility, dispenses with installation of a vent pipe and has requirement of hardly 1 to 1.5 litre of water for flushing purpose. It thus, helps improve environment and leads to conservation of water. More than a million household toilets have been constructed and bucket toilets converted into Sulabh Shauchalayas, liberating more than a million scavengers from their sub-human occupation and rehabilitating them in different vocations with restoration of human rights and dignity; and their wards being imparted quality education and vocational training to bring them in the mainstream of society.
Sulabh twin-pit pour-flush technology has been declared as one of the Globally Best Practices by UN-HABITAT/UNCHS (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements) and recognized and approved by various national and international agencies. The UNDP Human Development Reports-2003 and 2006, have recommended its use for the 2.5 billion people in the world with no access to improved sanitation facility.
A technology was also developed by Dr. Pathak for recycling and reuse of human excreta from public toilets maintained on pay and use basis by Sulabh. In this technology, biogas is produced by anaerobic digestion of human excreta, and is used for cooking, lighting, electricity generation, etc. Biogas plant effluent is treated by a simple method to make it colourless, odourless and pathogen-free, making it quite safe for reuse or discharge into rivers or any water body. The biogas plants can be installed at and serve housing colonies and high-rise buildings and areas not served by sewers. These technology and management based facilities used by 10 million people on daily basis have made a marked difference in environment both in urban and rural areas.
Put also into practice by Dr. Pathak is the duckweed-based waste-water treatment technology. For the bio-degradable organic waste, he has developed a convenient technology known as STAC – Sulabh Thermophilic Aerobic Composter, which takes only 10 days to degrade the waste.
Till date Sulabh has constructed and is maintaining nearly 8,000 public toilets. While maintaining the public toilets, run on pay and use basis the surplus income, if any, is used for socially useful activities like running vocational training centres catering to the needs of wards of scavengers, promoting health awareness amongst the slum dwellers.
Women in absence of toilet facilities at home are the worst sufferers. Compelled to withhold answering call of nature from sunrise to sunset and subjected to likelihood of facing insecurity, indignity and lack of privacy women have gained the most from provision of toilet facilities which have eliminated the mentioned problems. In rural India, absence of toilet facilities at schools makes the girl students averse to attending schools. Dr. Pathak’s effort to provide toilet facilities at schools has removed the aforementioned discouraging factor.
By providing the toilet related sanitation facility, Dr. Pathak has used it as a tool to combine technology with a social purpose and human face. Through it he has touched the untouched, reached the unreached and helped them overcome social barriers based on caste distinctions in India. The crusade of sanitation has converted into a movement without involving violence or social resistance and upheaval. The Sulabh International Social Service Organisation in its nearly 40 years of existence has seen a silent revolution in the sanitation scenario, a fundamental change in attitude of people and a transformation of mindset towards improved sanitation practices. He has shown the path and ushered in the dawn of sanitation amidst area of darkness.
Dr. Pathak has written several well-received books including Road to Freedom, a sociological classic on the problem of scavenging. Besides, he has been frequently contributing on diverse topics for newspapers and magazines. Some of his notable published books are:
1. Sulabh Shauchalaya – A Simple Idea that Worked (1980).
2. Road to Freedom – a Sociological Study on the Abolition of Scavenging in India (1991).
3. Action Sociology and Development (1992).
4. Gandhi: Sanitation and Untouchability (2009).
5. Serfdom to Freedom (2009).
6. New Princesses of Alwar – Shame to Pride – Concept & Vision (2009).
7. Untouchability… No More
8. Environmental Sanitation and Eradication of Scavenging in India
9. Sanitation and Scavenging In India : Achievements and Challenges
Dr. Pathak is the recipient of many awards including Padma Bhushan by the Govt. of India. He was awarded the International Saint Francis Prize for the Environment “Canticle of all Creatures” and Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar. His Holiness Pope John Paul-II gave him audience and appreciated his contribution for the upgradation of the environment and selfless service to the poor. Dr. Pathak was awarded Stockholm Water Prize for the year 2009 by Stockholm International Water Institute in August during the World Water Week.
From the above, it is seen that practices of environmental protection and conservation compatible with sustainable development have been successfully implemented by Sulabh under the able leadership and guidance of Dr. Pathak who has ingeniously utilized technologies and expertise to enrich and empower the depressed classes, improve community health, hygiene and environment. Thus, he is fulfilling the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi.