TANZANIA and the world on November 19, this year, joined hands in celebrating World Toilet Day and spent the day reflecting on the challenges of meeting the MDGs on sanitation.
India's largest NGO, Sulabh International Social Service Organisation has been actively working on restoring human dignity to people of the lowest caste who traditionally cleaned toilets with their bare hands. Staff Writer interviewed Sulabh's founder, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak after winning the Lifetime Achievement Award instituted by the Rotary Club of Madras recently.
QUESTION: Does the World Toilet Day still have the same significance it had when you started the sanitation movement?
ANSWER: The World Toilet Day is just like a festival for those who are engaged in the work of sanitation and toilets. So it has significance and relevance even today. We also celebrated this event in Delhi. In late 1960s when I started the work no house in rural areas had toilets and the women had to suffer the most. Consequent upon my invention of the Sulabh twopit pour-flush compost toilet, women can now go to toilets in privacy with safety and dignity. So certainly it has made a difference in the lives of women. Girls now go to schools regularly because of provision of toilets.
Q: I know it takes a lot to change people's mindset, but you feel you have made a difference in eradicating open defecation? Please answer in relation to the lady who you rewarded for walking away from her husband because there was no toilet?
A: Sulabh has awarded four women who after their marriage left their in-laws' house as there was no toilet and they had to go outside for defecation for one or two days while they stayed there.
In a village, going back to parents' house by a married girl is not welcomed. It is against the prestige of the family. The tradition is that once married, the women do not go back to their parents' house unless invited to join some functions of the family. So going back to parents' house without being invited by the parents was indeed a difficult but bold step by these women.
This decision sensitised the entire country that there should be a toilet inside the house before bringing their daughter-in-law in the family. Certainly, it aroused awareness among the people and this has since then become the talk of the country. This was noticed by many living abroad as well.
Out of the four women, two have agreed to work as Ambassadors of Sulabh and they go house to house to motivate and educate people to have Sulabh toilets inside their houses. They are doing a good job along with their husbands and the idea of having toilets is being spread by them.
Q: In April, this year, you made it on the list of Top 10 'Weird and Unusual' Museums in the world November 19 being the World Toilet Day, how did you celebrate the day and how if any was the passing of the Bill help brighten up the day?
A: On 19th of November, we celebrated the World Toilet Day and certainly put forth the works and artifacts from the Museum. I am planning to have a feature film on the subject.
The day was the beginning of the first shoot and we remembered Mahatma Gandhi and Mrs Indira Gandhi who inspired us to restore the human rights and dignity of untouchables. What is more important is that I have given a new identity to the untouchables to come at par with the upper caste people. For the last 5,000 years they are called untouchables. I have changed the total identity and now they are just like the upper caste people.
Q: You recently incorporated widows on your portfolio, so to speak; are there plans to add a sanitation component in this? What I mean is, does Sulabh have plans of having or constructing Ashrams for the widows and having twin-pit latrines for them?
A: As you know now, we are involved in looking after and taking care of the widows of Vrindavan. Recently we also added Varanasi as one of the towns, where the widows live in large numbers. Another place that we have taken up is a village named Deoli at Dehradun, a city of India where 32 women lost their husbands.
The youngest widow is of 19 years. So I am spending my time and money for the welfare of widows in India and trying hard to change the thought, behaviour and attitude of the people towards widowhood. At present I am doing all this work from Sulabh's fund. Although we have not taken donations so far, we are trying to mobilise funds from outside to be able to take care of widows of Vrindavan and Varanasi.
We have plans to build widows' Ashrams. But in a place with population of more than 500, it is better to have biogas digester linked with latrines. Thus in future if Ashrams are built then I would like to inform you that there should be provision of toilets with biogas plants, which will be equipped to give energy which may be used to cook food and lighting, etc.