Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak is renowned for founding the Sulabh International which was a pioneering institution in providing public toilets to the Indian citizens in cities, villages and public places all over India. When it started its office in India, it is said that whereas offices around the world have toilets, this is one office that has toilets around it. Besides providing economical paid and free toilets to people, the organization also disposed off the human waste in an environmental-friendly way besides using the gas generated from it for generation of electricity and using it to power streetlights.
He had been made the Brand Ambassador for Swachh Rail Mission of Indian Railways. He is also a pioneer in social reforms which includes abolition of scavenging and carrying of human waste by low caste people of India. His organization has been applauded for its contribution to human rights, environmental sanitation, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and many more similar activities. He and his NGO has received several national and international awards. He has been honoured by the Governmnet of India with Padma Bhushan, one of the highest civilian awards. Recently in 2017, he was honoured with the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for excellence by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind.
Early Life and Education
Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak was born on April 2, 1943 in a respectable orthodox Brahmin family of Rampur Baghel village in Vaishali district of Bihar. He was the second of his six siblings. His father Rama Kant Pathak was an Ayurvedic doctor. His grandfather Shiv Sharan Pathak was a astrologer who predicted that he will become a very renowned person. He had a traditional upbringing which was typical of boys of his social stature. When he was six, he touched a scavenger woman. Scavengers were of low caste and considered untouchable. He was punished by his orthodox grandmother for this. He was made to swallow cow dung and urine and was then rinsed in holy Ganges water. This left a deep impression on him. As he grew up, he witnessed several situations where the scavenger community was discriminated against and humiliated. He resolved to do his best to uplift their social and economic status.
Bindeshwar Pathak studied in a government school. Later he went to RDS College in Muzaffarpur, which was about 60 km away from his hometown, for a year. Then he shifted to Patna and took admission at B. N. College. After graduating in Sociology in 1964, he did his Master of Arts in both Sociology and English in 1980 and 1986 respectively. He then completed his PhD in 1985 from Patna University.
He wanted to become a lecturer but was not able to score sufficiently high mark for it. Over the years, he worked at odd jobs and was unable to settle for long in any profession. In July 1965, he was married to Amola, a resident of Mehnar in Vaishali district. The couple has three children.
Movement for Sanitation and Hygiene
In 1968, he joined the Bhangi-Mukti Cell of the Bihar Gandhi Centenary Celebrations Committee. Here during his participation in the social work, he was first exposed to the plight of scavengers and people whose occupation was to manually clean the toilets.
He lived with scavengers families in their ‘bastis’, studied their habits; as he travelled throughout India. He did his Ph.D on the subject and resolved to do something for them to elevate their socio-economic status.
This came not just of sympathy for the horrendous living conditions that they were exposed to; but he also considered manual scavenging a very dehumanising experience for a human being in the modern world. He felt that such severe inequality is destructive and will not make a modern Indian society that a citizen can be proud of.
In 1970, he established the Sulabh International Social Service Organization, on humanitarian principles and using technical innovations, to promote human rights and social reforms, waste management, sanitation, use of non-conventional energy etc.
Sulabh International has more than 60,000 volunteers in the organization. It has found innovative ways to treat human waste by linking Sulabh toilets to fermentation plants to generate bio-gas which can run electricity generators. This model is being adopted for sanitation all over the world, especially in developing countries.
The process releases odourless bio-gas as well as organic manure rich in constituents that help plant growth. This ensures cleanliness, prevents greenhouse gas emission and also produces usable organic manure.
Awards and Honours
Among the numerous awards that Bindeshwar Pathak has received, is a Padma Bhushan which is one of the highest civilian awards, from the Government of India in 1991. Other significant awards that he received were Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar (2003); Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award for Environment (1994); Stockholm Water Prize (2009); Indian of the Year 2015 and Outstanding Achievement Award – 2016 by CNN-News 18; Public Health Champions Awards by World Health Organisation (WHO), 2016; Lifetime Achievement Award by ABP News, 2013; Swadeshi Vigyan Puraskar 2017 and more than 100 of such awards.
He is also a prolific speaker and has participated in conferences in India and abroad. He has also been invited to deliver lectures at the Cambridge Union, in the University of Cambridge in January, 2011. In April 2016, 14th April 2016 was declared as Bindeshwar Pathak Day in New York City by the Mayor.
He has authored several books sanitation, livelihood and health, social progress and similar causes. One of his well-known books is The Road to Freedom. In July 2017, Bindeshwar Pathak released his book, The Making of a Legend, on the life of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Quotes by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak
“Nobody should go outside for defecation and every house in India should have a toilet.”
“Let us save them from squalid conditions and in doing so we’ll be saving the national conscience.” (On scavengers)
“You will have infinite power if you are spiritual and never be arrogant of your success.”
“Sometimes God creates circumstances to make you do things.”
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah