social-reformDr. Pathak clearly realised that the liberation and rehabilitation of scavengers or Balmikis was not an easy task. It was indeed difficult, for the worst victims of institutionalised discrimination over the centuries, to break out of the vicious circle and join the mainstream of society. Hence, he devised a well thought-out and multi-pronged strategy to rehabilitate the Balmikis by providing them alternative employment and integrating them into the mainstream. His strategy for liberation of Balmikis through the Sulabh movement consists of a mixed package of technology, rehabilitation, with alternative employment and social reform. This holistic approach is radically different from other social reform movements in that it combines technology with social idealism. His scientific and humane approach towards abolishing scavenging is inspired by a commitment to basic human rights and based on years of research and study of the problem.

The Sulabh approach to restore human dignity to Balmikis has five distinct stages:

a.   Liberation;

b.   Rehabilitation;

c.   Vocational training;

d.   Proper education of next generation; and,

e.   Social elevation

Sulabh’s determined and principled intervention has yielded good results. It has been able to liberate and rehabilitate more than a million Balmikis during its four-decade old struggle.

Traditionally, no attention was paid to occupational hazards of hygiene and health, associated with scavenging. On the one hand, society required scavengers to remove night soil by hand and carry the buckets on their hip or head.  On the other side, they were socially looked down upon, and boycotted for their unclean work. Moreover, people don’t realise how cruel and callous they have been towards this community and that Balmikis’ civic disabilities are largely a result of the open and prolonged exploitation.  There is need to sensitise people, particularly the new generation, about the nightmarish plight of this community.

Committed to stave off the historical and prolonged injustice against Balmikis, he strove hard and finally came up with a suitable technology to convert lakhs of bucket latrines into flush toilets. The two-pit pour-flush toilets developed by Sulabh caught the imagination of the nation and as a result Sulabh public and individual toilets came up all over India. At the same time, Sulabh took care to provide alternative jobs to the Balmikis, rendered jobless by large-scale conversion of privy latrines into Sulabh toilets.

Skill development is important for all but it is crucial for the less educated. To the members of depressed classes, particularly Balmikis, it has a pointed relevance. Not only are they low in literacy and education, but also possess few skills that merit market demand. Sulabh has paid special attention to skill-development and vocational training of the children from the Balmiki community. It has set up many centres and institutions across the country to equip wards from this community with vocational training in many market-friendly trades.

The problem of Balmikis is as much economical as it is socio-cultural. Traditions take time to change and require the will and initiative from all sections of society. Sulabh has evolved the modality of ‘social adoption’ with this in view. It is purely voluntary. All it costs is a will to shed social prejudices and compassion for fellow humans. A well-meaning and committed citizen formally and publicly adopts a Balmiki family. Subsequently, the two closely interact and visit each other’s home. At times, the adopting person helps the adopted family to get over minor or major problems of social adjustment. As adopters are generally persons of social standing and prestige, their approach and interaction become role models for others. Social adoption has salutary effect on the integration of the Balmikis in the mainstream of society.