Bindeshwar Pathak is an Indian social reformer who founded Sulabh International, a nonprofit organization that works to promote human rights, environmental sanitation, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms. His pioneering work, especially in the field of sanitation and hygiene, has earned him various national and international awards. Born into a Brahmin family in Bihar, India, he grew up witnessing several instances of abuse and discrimination meted out to people belonging to so-called “lower” castes. As a young college student, he joined the Bhangi-Mukti (scavengers’ liberation) Cell of the Bihar Gandhi Centenary Celebrations Committee which further exposed him to the plight of the scavenging community in India. Disturbed by the experience, he resolved to do something to change the situation and proceeded to found the Sulabh International Social Service Organization. It was a social initiative to eliminate the dehumanizing practice of manual scavenging while providing hygienic toilet facilities and sustainable waste management to the citizens. He developed a technology of two-pit pour-flush toilet, popularly known as the Sulabh Shauchalaya System which has been declared as one of the Global Best Practices by UN-HABITAT/UNCHS (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements). In addition, he has also made vital contributions in the areas of bio-energy and bio-fertilizer, liquid and solid waste management, and poverty alleviation.
Childhood & Early Life
Bindeshwar Pathak was born on April 2, 1943, to Rama Kant Pathak and his wife in a traditional upper-class Brahmin family in Rampur Baghel village in Bihar, India. He received a traditional upbringing, typical for boys of his social stature.
When he was six, he was punished by his grandmother for touching a scavenger woman—then considered untouchable. He was made to swallow cow dung and urine and was then rinsed in holy Ganges water. Over the years he witnessed other cases where the scavenger community was discriminated against and humiliated.
He graduated in Sociology in 1964. As a student he aspired to be a lecturer but failed to score enough marks in his university exams to achieve this dream. Over the ensuing years he worked at odd jobs and was unable to settle successfully in any profession.
In the late 1960s he bagged a temporary writer's assignment with the Mahatma Gandhi Centenary Celebration Committee in Patna and joined the Bhangi-Mukti (scavengers’ liberation) Cell of the Bihar Gandhi Centenary Celebrations Committee. It was during this time that he gained a deeper understanding of the indignity and plight faced by millions of manual scavengers in India.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
Deeply moved by the dehumanizing practice of manual scavenging, he established the Sulabh International Social Service Organization in 1970. By this time he had also developed the technology of a two-pit pour-flush toilet (popularly known as Sulabh Shauchalaya) which could be conveniently built in Indian villages.
The idea caught up over the years and in 1973 he had a chance meeting with a municipal officer in Arra town, who sanctioned him Rs 500 to build two public toilets. This proved to a catalyst and soon several other toilets were built all over Bihar. The toilet system spread to neighboring states as well, freeing numerous manual scavengers from their undignified job.
Pathak introduced the pay-and-use system for maintaining the community toilets and bath in 1974. Within a few years, the Sulabh toilets were so popular in liberating the scavengers that the Ministry of Works and Housing, Government of India, in collaboration with the WHO and UNICEF, organized a national seminar in Patna in 1978 on conversion of bucket latrines and liberation of scavengers.
He earned his master's degree in 1980 and his PhD in 1985 from the University of Patna with his thesis on “Liberation of scavengers through Low Cost Sanitation.”
In 1985, he started a training and rehabilitation program for the wards of scavengers in different trades like shorthand, typing, motor driving, mechanics, masonry work, carpentry, etc. with the support of the Government of India and the Bihar State Scheduled Castes Development Corporation.
In the 1990s he focused on improving the social status of the scavenging community. In 1992, Sulabh organized a ‘National Seminar on Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers’ and encouraged steps to create social awareness against unfounded beliefs and prejudices. The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets was set up in 1994 to educate the general public about the development of toilets through the ages.
In 2001, Sulabh expanded its activities to include women empowerment and started a country-wide program for involvement of women in sanitation, health and hygiene. A vocational center in Alwar, Rajasthan, was set up in 2003 where women are trained in tailoring, embroidery, food-processing and beauty treatments.
Sulabh came with a new and convenient technology in 2002 to make biogas plant effluents free from color, odor and pathogen. The technology known as Sulabh Effluent Treatment (SET), makes the effluents safe and suitable for agriculture, aquaculture or safe discharge into a river or any water body.
In collaboration with the World Toilet Organization (WTO), Sulabh organized the World Toilet Summit–2007 in which representatives of 44 countries participated. A Delhi Declaration for a cleaner world was issued following the deliberations.
Bindeshwar Pathak is the founder of Sulabh International which is today the largest nonprofit organization in India. The organization promotes hygienic and sustainable sanitation and is committed towards the causes of human rights, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms through education.
Awards & Achievements
He was given the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1991 in recognition of his social work.
He is also the recipient of the Energy Globe Award, the Dubai International Award for Best Practices, and the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award for Environment.
In 2009, he was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize.
In April 2016, the Mayor of New York declared 14 April 2016 as “Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak Day.”
Personal Life & Legacy
Bindeshwar Pathak married Amla in 1965. The couple has three children.