DR Bindeshwar Pathak was a phenomenal personality who did trailblazing innovations using his pragmatic wisdom without power, post or money. He turned the pages of India’s long history of untouchability, social discrimination, and the mass practice of defecation in the open.
As an avant-garde virtuoso and zealous reformist, he brought about a sea-change in the lives of the poor and the weaker sections of society. In recent years, he gave a new life to the long-suffering widows and provided clean drinking water to the people in arsenicaffected areas of West Bengal. After college, Dr. Pathak joined the BhangiMukti (scavengers’ liberation) cell, a group dedicated to celebrating the birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi and promoting a more just and integrated society. Through his work there, Dr. Pathak lived and worked in an untouchable colony at Bettiah in Bihar for three months and observed the way scavengers were dehumanised by mainstream society.
Even though Dr. Pathak wrote his doctoral dissertation on scavenging, he realised that academia could not solve social problems. In his commitment to human rights and dignity, he built up Sulabh as a systematic response to deal with the problem of manual scavenging.
He combined theory with practice and launched Sulabh International as a philanthropic, human rights, and social welfare organisation in 1970. It is a value-based organisation rooted in the emancipation of scavengers, widows and is working for a clean environment.
Even though Dr. Pathak’s organisation is sanitation-oriented, it holds true to its fundamental mission to smash phony norms and remove social discrimination. Toilet technology has become a tool for social transformation.
Apart from eco-friendly low-cost affordable sanitation, his contributions are widely known in the areas of bio-energy and bio-fertiliser, liquid and solid waste management, water purification, poverty alleviation and integrated rehabilitation, social upgradation, and empowerment programmes for the liberated scavengers.
According to recent figures, Dr. Pathak had built 1.6 million household toilets and 10,000 public toilet complexes, besides those which he built under the CSR. The biggest public toilet complex in the world is the one built by Sulabh at Pandharpur in Maharashtra.
Sulabh Shauchalaya technology has been approved and recommended by UNDP, Unicef, UN-HABITAT, UNCHS, and the governments of India, China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and South Africa. The Sulabh Museum of Toilets has been adjudged by the BBC as one of the ten quirkiest museums in the world.
At the request of the Supreme Court, through the National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA), Dr. Pathak had been providing material and moral support to the widows residing in Vrindavan, Varanasi, and Bhanigram Panchayat of Uttrakhand.
For his seminal contributions, Dr. Pathak had won several national and international awards. Prominent among these were Padma Bhushan (1991); the International Saint Francis Prize for Environment (1992); the Stockholm Water Prize by Stockholm International Water Institute (2009) and the LEGENDE DE LA PLANETE at Unesco, Paris; (2013). He was selected by Time magazine as one of the Heroes of the Environment for the designer low-cost toilet.