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Fala Fil talked to Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder of the Sulabh International Toilet Museum. He is Ph.D., D.Litt. Action Sociologist and Reformer, International Expert on Cost-Effective, Biogas and Rural Development.

Read below the full interview.

The “Toilet” is part of the history of humanity. The first pieces were developed over five thousand years. Where in the first toilets were developed?

Historically speaking the first wet toilets are recorded to have come in use in the third millennium BC meaning some 5000 years ago.

At Skara Brae, an island of North Scotland, there are some wet toilet constructions of the mentioned period. However, some experts of the field express doubts about their being toilets. During the period under consideration, flush toilets were also perhaps in use in Egypt and Mesopotamia. But, there is no doubt about the existence of pour-flush toilets of the Indus Valley people of the Bronze Age or New Stone Age (5000 years ago). Some of them are still extant in Sindh province of modern Pakistan. They may be treated as first wet toilets.

How did the idea of creating the “Toilet” Museum in New Delhi?

I have been engaged in sanitational field since 1970. Once while in England when I visited Madame Tussauds in London. I got the idea of establishing a Museum of Toilets in New Delhi so that the people associated with the subject including scholars, researchers, teachers, students, architects and journalists could learn about the history of toilets.

This idea persuaded me to set up the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in 1992, perhaps the first of its kind in the world.

The “Toilet” is a piece and subject that can be seen and approached in several angles: As an essential part of hygiene, the aspect of design and technology, among others. What are the points raised by the Museum?

The museum works for the following objectives:

To educate students about the historical trends in the development of toilets.

To provide information to researchers about the design, materials and technologies adopted in the past and those in the contemporary world.

To help policy makers to understand the efforts made by their predecessors in this field throughout the world.

To help the manufacturers of toilet equipments and accessories in improving their products by functioning as a technological storehouse.

To help sanitation experts learn from the past and solve problems in the sanitation sector.

Tell us about the Museum Collection. How many pieces? What is the oldest piece? The most valuable? The most curious?

There are nearly 300 pieces on display today.

The display shows and relates to the oldest wet toilets, drains (both open and underground) and public bath of Indus Valley, today referred to as the Harappan settlement of 5000 years ago.

The most valuable piece is an electric toilet, named Incinolet from USA. Over ten years back when we purchased it, the value of US dollar in rupee being much less, it had cost US 0.2 million.

There is also a photograph of a Russian made toilet for use in a satellite. Its original which cost 19 million dollar is presently with NASA. The most curious piece is the throne-like chamber pot of the French Emperor, Louis XIV, 17thcentury who while using it, used to give audience to the people.

If we consider 5000 years, how was the evolution of the Toilet during this period?

For thousands of years, when the proto-historic man lived in the forests, he defecated like other animals.

In the New Stone Age, he started giving up the forest life and making his own shelter and, shunning and not liking being near excreta he resorted to defecation in the open, away from the residential area.

As a matter of fact this practice gave birth to the concept of a toilet. When he became more comfort loving, at the fag end of the third millennium BC, he decided to use water closets as the toilets came nearer and nearer to the residential area, rather entered it. After that, till today there has been no perceptible innovation in the concept.

The changes have occurred only in raw material-used, design and color. Under pressure of paucity of potable water today, there is a hectic search for water free toilets, a couple of which stand displayed in Sulabh toilet Museum. Development is a continuous process and hence man’s ingenuity may bring up startling experiments in this field. Socio-sanitational compulsions will shape the future ‘glorious-thrones’.

Despite being apart directly related to hygiene and public health, even today we can find various locationsaround the world who does not know the Toilet. What percentage of the world population are still unaware of the“Toilet”?

Today, the world’s population is nearly 7 billion. Some years back, when it stood at 6 billion, the UNDP had said that 2.6 billion people on this planet had no access to ‘improved’ toilets. Despite the Millennium Development Goals being followed seriously, the UNDP slogan of ‘toilet for all’ still remains a far cry.

The act to use or not using the “Toilet” and its evolution is more related to cultural or economic aspects?

Nobody can deny the inseparable relation between toilet and economy or that between toilet and culture. Good availability of toilets hints at good economy of a country. Absence of a toilet or dirty toilet makes people ill and weak. The consequent absenteeism results in the loss of mandays and ultimately production.

On the other hand, according to an expert, one dollar invested in sanitation brings eight dollars in improved productivity. The use of toilet is also related to culture. Its design varies from culture to culture depending upon geographical factors and historical development. Its use is inter-connected with ideas of pollution and purity, of its relationship with health and hygiene. Percentage toilet coverage of population is closely related to funding and economy and awareness and priority that is accorded to it by the people in general.

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