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Bindeshwar Pathak’s life has been an amazing story of sacrifice, selfless service and undiluted commitment. He fought against the most obnoxious and degrading practice of manual scavenging in India. Defying taunts, ridicule and even isolation from members of his family and friends, he pursued his mission to make India scavenger-free with single-minded devotion and unadulterated determination.

We invited him to address our officer trainees before they were to leave for a week-long stay in villages. Sitting in his class, I was reminded of my visits to our village during my childhood days. I would dread going to the village as there were no private toilets, and answering the call of nature turned out to be quite an ordeal. Small kids would defecate anywhere in the village; men would go to the fields; and women would trek the katcha pathway in a group to the nearby forested area called `bani’ (in Haryanvi), either before sunrise or after sunset. God forbid, if someone had diarrhoea.

My elder cousin was assigned the task of guiding me how to go about the task of answering the call of nature without messing up things. He virtually tutored me, step by step, how to perform the act both in the fields, and near a water channel where finding a safe position on the slippery slopes was quite a skilful and tricky manoeuvre; and doing the washing an acrobatic exercise that often left me running out of my breath. In December, 1974, I, along with my batch mates, landed at Mount Abu National Police Academy where I shared room with another officer. I was shocked to see dry toilets. There was a raised platform in one corner of the bathroom with a hole in the centre.

One would squat on it and ease oneself into a removable iron pot. One door of the toilet opened into the rear corridor. A person with face masked (to minimise the stink) would enter from the rear door, take away the pot, clean it up, and put it again ready for use by the roommate, quite a dreadful and dehumanizing experience. I would skip the dinner and eat food that would constipate, to make the nightmarish morning experience a tri-weekly affair, instead of daily hell. In contrast, the childhood village ordeal looked far more dignified.

The training acquired in village flashed across my mind. I quietly searched for an open space around the Academy and ran with a mug of water in hand in the morning darkness to ease myself, sitting in high-alert squat position to avoid being spotted, and getting punished for violating the rules.

Thank God, after a month-and-a half of our reporting, the Academy was shifted to a new location in Hyderabad. I was thrilled to find a room all to myself with an attached bathroom and a modern flush toilet. My head bowed in reverence and thankful tribute to Bindeshwar Pathak.

(The writer is former DGP, Haryana)

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