Bindeshwar Pathak realised that India’s future depended on toilets
The social reformer and revolutioniser of national sanitation died on August 15th, aged 80
Aug 24th 2023
It all began with a dare. Bindeshwar Pathak, then seven or so, wondered why the thin little woman who came through the back door sometimes, selling bamboo utensils to his Brahmin family, was called “untouchable”. He wondered why his grandmother sprinkled holy Ganga water over the floor where the woman had walked, and was told she had polluted it. So, one day, he dared to touch her sari, to see what would happen to his body.
Nothing happened to it. But uproar broke out in the house. They called in the pandit; he said Bindeshwar must be banished. His mother intervened to save him from that, but the rest of the priest’s remedy was almost as terrible. He had to plunge into cold Ganga water and, much worse, drink a mixture of milk, ghee, curd, cow urine and cow dung, to purify himself. Grandmother mixed it up fiercely and forced it down him.