legend-of-planetDr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder, Sulabh Sanitation Movement, strode into the Hall of Fame in Paris on June 4, 2013 among 100 environmentalists from all over the world, who were declared as the Guardian Angels of Environment. He along with five others was chosen and honoured with a plaque declaring him as Legend of Planet.

It was a unique three-day brainstorming Green Games Congress where the Sulabh Founder was honoured because the simple toilet he had designed over four decades ago is now being considered the answer for the worsening pollution problem, assuming alarming proportions. Organised at the UNESCO Headquarters in the French capital, the Congress was attended by environmentalists in droves from all over the world.

The offices of UNESCO with multi-storey buildings, halls and lounges decorated with impressive paintings and state-of-the-art furniture and furnishings, all surrounded by impressive lawns and populated by upscale gentry working in its offices in Paris or other capitals of the world, are not the likely venues for discussion of pollution caused by open defecation or stinking dumps of wastes seen at crossings in cities and towns in developing and under-developed nations. But this was what stylishly dressed officials, women clad in skirts and jeans, environmentalists and social activists sporting beards and looking brash, all from different countries, discussed in Paris during the three-day session.

All this reflected the anxiety of people occupying key offices in this world body about the worsening pollution scenario in India and neighbouring countries, African nations and in Latin America where ailments caused by pollution are taking heavy tolls. Seeing this impressive show in Paris, the capital of the slick and savvy, it was clear to one and all that “haves have started worrying over the plight of havenots” the world over. As pointed out by Dr. Pathak himself, “the Congress has succeeded in unifying the world as never before.” He declared “it is honour for India”.

Protection of Environment

legend-of-planet-2Replying to felicitations at the Congress and the questions by media from all over the world, in formal and informal discussions on the fringes of the global get-together throughout his stay in the French Capital, Dr. Pathak maintained he is confident that God will help those who have lost contact with Nature and guide them about the ways and means to save the environment. How to keep the planet clean and the environment green is the message of this global meet, Dr. Pathak said again and again.

“In America and Australia, they have solved this problem. Although the sewerage system was introduced in India long ago, most of the cities and towns in the country have no such provision. The pollution problem is assuming alarming proportions in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It’s a momentous and glorious day for me not only because I have been named Guardian Angel of the Planet, but because of the sharp awareness worldwide that the worsening pollution problems call for remedies. We cannot sit and wait for solutions to emerge. Gandhiji used to say an ounce of action is better than tons of knowledge. We have to act fast, and right now.”

That Dr. Pathak, wearing a bright red waistcoat with his unvarying ensemble of snow-white Kurta and Churidar Pyjama, was not an idealist with a bee in his bonnet, but a practical charming pioneer was obvious from the special attention he grabbed of men and women environmentalists. In fact because of his ideas and the enviable mention he had received at the small and big sessions of the three-day Congress, he was the cynosure of all eyes. Frequently, many of those impressed by Dr. Pathak’s contribution in protecting environment had a heart-to-heart discussion with him, sitting in the lounge or lawn outside.

But it was not for the first time that Dr. Pathak had grabbed attention of the international crowd. He was the darling of the people greeting him at various venues when he won the Stockholm Water Prize in the Swedish capital in 2009. He was a celebrity in Italy when he was conferred by Pope John Paul II the Canticle of All Creatures Award in 1992. He was hailed as a great pioneer when his toilet model was declared the best sanitation practice in Dubai in 2000. He is winner of the Padma Bhushan award given by the Government of India in 1991. He won the International Human Rights Award in 2006. Besides these honours his achievements in sanitation were hailed with many other awards in India and other countries.

The President of French Senate hosted a reception in honour of 100 environmentalists across the globe who were declared as ‘Guardian Angels’ of the planet. The Vice- President of the Senate, Ms. Chantal, while honouring the six eminent personalities congratulated them on behalf of the French Senate President and the French Government. That it was not a formal tribute but expression of heartfelt feelings for Dr. Pathak was obvious from the way Ms Chantal praised the Founder.

Achievements

Recalling the contribution of Dr. Pathak, Ms. Clemenceu Errard, Director of Green Games Congress, making the announcement honouring Dr. Pathak with “Legend of Planet” award said, “We have the great honour to announce the name of Dr. Pathak as one of the six Legends of Planet.” The award was presented on the eve of the World Environment Day on June 5. The Vice-President in her remark appreciated the efforts of Dr. Pathak in providing a safe and workable solution to sanitation for both the rich and the poor and especially for the people living in stinking slums. His accomplishments span the fields of sanitation technology, social enterprise and healthcare education for millions of people, serving as a model for NGO agencies and public health initiatives around the world. He is known around the world for his wide-ranging work in the sanitation field. He has improved public health, advanced social progress and restored human rights to scavengers.

Accepting the award, Dr. Pathak said the present honour for him was in recognition of his 40 years of service to society. After showing to the audience a bottle containing transparently clean water, Dr. Pathak drew the attention of people to a small container having dried feces, collected from a pit of the Sulabh toilet. “If you have the toilet I designed, there can no pollution problem. The bottle I exhibited contains water extracted from toilet wastes treated with Sulabh technology. The dried feces in the small container were also obtained with the application of Sulabh technology. Certainly, I’ll be very happy to contribute to reducing pollution especially now that you have declared me the Guardian Angel of Planet”, Dr. Pathak remarked amidst applause.

“In fact whatever I have done is due to the inspiration provided by Gandhiji’s teachings. The Father of the Indian nation wanted to end untouchability and restore dignity to scavengers. Gandhiji used to say untouchability is like TB afflicting Indian society. Gandhiji often commented, Indians are not afraid of British Government’s bullets but they are afraid of Brahmins who hate sharing food with Untouchables”. Recalling a story Dr. Pathak said: “A small boy was in great pain and distress. An old man helped him. The boy grew up and became a doctor and tried to pay his debt of gratitude to the old man by treating him free. Later, the same doctor invented penicillin, the drug that saved millions. Spinning jenny brought about industrial revolution. The toilet I designed is now bringing about a social revolution. The emancipated scavengers are being recognised as equals in society, completely free from caste stigma. It’s happening for the first time in India, the land of one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

“I wanted to change the scavenging practice. But it was all impossible unless the scavengers were liberated from the demeaning task of carrying night-soil as headload. In order to find the way for their redemption I designed a toilet which did not need scavenging and could do without their services and thus liberated lacs of scavengers from their ignoble profession and rehabilitated them in other vocations where they earn and live like respectable citizens”.

Dr. Pathak added: “It is very thoughtful of the organisers of this Congress to underline the importance of imparting ideals of clean and healthy living to young people. They are after all the future citizens; it would be very good if they learnt the importance of sanitation early in life. Whatever has been stressed at this global meet would be communicated to children in the Sulabh Public School. Already, we have in India school sanitation clubs aimed at propagating the virtues of cleanliness. In fact, schools all over the world should lay greater stress on sanitation. This alone could ensure that the planet remains clean and the environment green.”

Dr. Pathak also made a brief reference to his work in rendering help to destitute widows of Vrindavan and Varanasi. Sulabh provides these widows, abandoned by their kith and kin, the wherewithal for survival. They are provided monthly handouts and steps have been taken to ensure that they are properly attended when they fall sick.