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  • Interview Bindheshwar Pathak

Bindheshwar Pathak is an Indian sociologist known for his contributions to building toilets India and other countries. His organisation, Sulabh International, works to promote human rights, environmental sanitation, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms through education. Till now the organisation has constructed 1.3 million household toilets and over 8,000 community toilet blocks. Currently, Sulabh Sauchalaya is used by around 20 million people daily. Pathak is considered one of the pioneers in social reforms especially in the field of sanitation and hygiene. Samik Kharel spoke to Pathak on Thursday about transformation toilets bring about in society. Excerpts:

What bring you to Nepal this time?

Zonta Club Kathmandu, which is involved in promoting sanitation, has shown interest in constructing and promoting public toilets in Nepal. Since I am the founder of Sulab Sauchalaya, I was invited to share my expertise for the construction of similar toilets here. This will include helping the Club to build toilets in schools, houses and public places.

Is it your first venture in Nepal? And if yes, how do you plan to continue with your vision here?

Many organisations in Nepal had approached me with their interest to promote sanitation and build public toilets earlier. But none of the projects materialised. Now we see some positive signs from organisations and stakeholders in Nepal, of which our fist venture will be to construct a proper public toilet in Pashupatinath area. During my past visits, I had seen critical condition of toilets in Pashupatinath, and I always had a dream to initiate a project in the area. Since it’s a holy Hindu shrine which has high footfalls, it would be a great place to start our project.

How is your concept of toilet different from the rest?

Our toilets in India have proper facilities like washroom, toilet and locker system. Some of them are even air conditioned. They are maintained round the clock, which is a very important aspect of managing public toilets. Our toilet construction costs range from thousands to millions of Rupees and are segregated according to cost affordability of people. For example, in Shirdi we have built a complex with 150 toilets and bathrooms, which has 5,000 lockers for 

pilgrims. Similarly with the support of the Indian government, we have built five toilets in Kabul with similar facilities.

You have always been advocating that toilet is important for social change. Can you elaborate on the transformation toilets can bring about in a society?

Earlier in India, the untouchables were supposed to clean human excreta. Hence, there was a disparity among people. In 1934, Gandhi invited the so-called upper castes and the untouchables for a feast together. However, most of them declined and Gandhi later wrote that Indians are ready to face British bullets but are scared of the untouchables. However, things have significantly changed of late with toilets being constructed and scavengers are no longer needed to clean excreta. The revenue being earned from toilets are being invested in education and other vocational training, which help people earn their own livelihood. Similarly, toilets have also helped decrease diseases like diarrhoea and dysentery. Now people can go to toilet with dignity and women also feel safe.

You have also been producing bio-gas from toilets. How has it helped people and society?

It’s an inexpensive source of energy. In majority of our projects, we send the excreta to bio-gas tank and transform it into energy. With this energy, we have successfully lit up street lamps and public also use it for lighting and cooking purposes in their houses. Even water from these toilets are purified and made suitable for agriculture. Such purified water can also be discharged to rivers. We have envisioned similar concept of bio-gas and water purification facilities for our project in Pashupati.

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