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Home > 2023 > Remembering Bindeshwar Pathak | Devaki Jain

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 34, August 19, 2023

Remembering Bindeshwar Pathak | Devaki Jain

Friday 18 August 2023, by Devaki Jain


We, that is my colleagues in the small women’s study center that was born in the 70s,- and I had a surprise one evening when a tall gentleman dressed in a dhoti and kurta walked into our office He had heard that we were identifying voluntary agencies or non-governmental centers which had been effective. He told us he was deeply engaged in the emancipation of the scavengers, one of Gandhi’s ideals, and he had found his own way of doing that .-Mainly to improve the Latrines/ Lavatories/ the toilets, whatever the name, which were used in the public domain.

His enthusiasm about his own effort was infectious. He was like a movement leader- passionate, wanting recognition and wanting to perpetuate the idea. What was the idea?? - the design of the commode where just one mug of water would wipe away the excreta. From his passionate description one could say he was obsessed with toilets. His passion was so tangible and his invitation so warm that I decided to visit one or two of the places where he was able to put it on the ground. He had managed to persuade a few municipalities to use his design in the public toilets near bus stops.

Apart from the design of the basic bowl, where the defecation would just slide into the drain, he had also designed the trap/ Soak system in which the excreta would be deposited in a pit and he wanted to see those pits turned into sources of energy/ heat for cooking!! Yes, I visited houses where the soak pit that came out of the toilet was well sealed so there was no odor. On the other hand the soak pit produced heat, which was could be used for cooking.

The very thought that something coming out of the lavatory could become the source of energy for food was repulsive for Indians who had the hypocrisy to see defecation not only as disgusting and dirty, but invariably dirtied their environment.

He was a revolutionary, He mocked at these old prejudices and ideas, he made the latrine and what it picked up as a useful tool for heating, for creating manure. The whole touch me not attitude of Indians to human waste and also towards those who dealt with human waste was pushed out by his constructive views towards human waste and handling of the waste itself.

His passion gripped us, us meaning the few of us researchers at the women’s center. As a part of the conversation I had asked him if he had built a seperate bowl in which children could also defecate. I said this because when we enter any public toilet space since the size of the bowl, is too big for the child, the children’s defecation and urination is all outside the bowl... making public toilets absolutely inhospitable. He grasped the idea and decided that next to an adult bowl there would be a childs bowl!

And so our relationship grew to a point where he introduced this idea to the the kind of toilets he was making in Kolkata. And soon I found myself in Kolkata walking in a procession to inaugurate public toilets- a sulabh shauchalaya at the Kolkata central bus stop.

Over the course of several months we improved the various linkages that we could get from his work, for example the gas which comes of the wastage could be used to make tea, so some tea vendors were located in the neighbourhood of the toilet. Water was saved, recycled and used again in the same toilet.

He wished to be recognised with awards – he yearned for publicity. Prime Minister Modi’s passion to stop public defecation, swachh bharat offered the great leap forward for Pathak ji and he was awarded the Padma Bhushan

REST IN PEACE, dear Bindeshwar

Devaki Jain


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