Sikkim Governor Ganga Prasad visited Sulabh Gram where he was welcomed by Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, emancipated scavengers and widows of Vrindavan
In the small north-eastern state of Sikkim, there is a bright, wide smile on faces. There is a sense of pride in the people. That pride is not of any power or money, but of something which is a basic necessity for humankind. The pride is of being the first open-defecation-free (ODF) state of India.
Sikkim’s cleanliness drive did not happen over a night. It was the continuous strive of the people that first began 15 years ago in 2003. For this to happen there was the commitment and self-imposed discipline of the Sikkimese people that did not dither. The people adopted a holistic approach that would improve sanitation and hygiene, protect the environment, and accelerate an over-all top-notch development of the state.
From building toilets to door-to-door campaigns to hygiene and sanitation education programmes in school – a lot of efforts were put for over a decade through which Sikkim bagged a national award for sanitation and cleanliness, emerged as a ‘Nirmal Rajya’ and finally became the first state in India to be declared ODF.
Sikkim has clean food, clean air and clean water. It is also a fully organic state. It is a perfect example of a clean, healthy and happy living.
Being a part of the governance of such a beautiful state is a matter of pride but no less a huge responsibility. Cleanliness is the top priority because maintaining the achievement is much difficult and necessary than reaching that height. A sense of cleanliness and the vital role it plays is clearly visible in the approach of Ganga Prasad, the 16th governor of Sikkim, when one speaks to him.
Another such person for whom cleanliness and sanitation is his life mission is Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement, whose cleanliness drive dates even much before than that of Sikkim’s. A journey that Dr Pathak embarked upon 50 years ago, is not hidden from the world. To experience what he had heard for ages, Ganga Prasad paid an extensive visit to Sulabh Gram in New Delhi.
The Sulabh campus was excited to have the honour of receiving Ganga Prasad. The Sikkim governor arrived amid blowing of conch shells by Pandits and was warmly welcomed with garlands by Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, followed by some senior executives of Sulabh, erstwhile scavengers of Alwar and widows of Vrindavan.
Of Freedom & Religion
There are thousands whose lives have been changed for good by Dr Pathak and his Sulabh organisation. Few from among those people stepped forward on the occasion to enlighten Ganga Prasad of the improvements that Dr Pathak’s initiatives brought about in their lives.
Narrating the story of how from manual scavenging to living a life of dignity, she has come a long way with the help and support of Dr Pathak, Alwar’s Usha Sharma (earlier Chaumar), who is also the president of Sulabh International now, said, “It is a joyous moment that we got to meet His Excellency Ganga Prasad today and be able to welcome him and address him. Earlier when we were trapped in the malpractice of cleaning the night soil, we were not even allowed to meet anyone. We were ‘untouchables’. But all that has changed ever since Sulabh freed us from the heinous activity. Now we not only meet and greet but also sit together, eat together, pray together, make conversations like any other common person of the society.”
“He could understand our plight because he dared to carry the night soil on his head to practically experience our pain. Dr Pathak is our Gandhi, he is our God,” she added.
Paramjeet Kaur of Ludhiana said, “There were no toilets in our houses and we used to go out in open to defecate. We had to walk miles and this was like an obstacle in our day-to-day life. We were poor so we could not construct a toilet in our house. Ever since a Sulabh toilet has been constructed in my house, it has become a home. Households today have toilets because of which we are working through the days hassle-free, children are completely focused on their studies. With this, India has attained its true freedom. This freedom has been given to us by our prime minister Narendra Modi and Dr Pathak.”
Also present at the occasion was Abdul Lateef Khan, who had come all the way from Jammu and Kashmir. Terming Dr Pathak as the second-Gandhi, he said, “No words are big enough to define and praise Dr Pathak’s mission. Dr Pathak is God, Dr Pathak is a religion. He is that religion which has accepted all, uplifted the poor, raised the status of the ‘once-untouchables’ in the society.”
The Second Freedom Struggle
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak said that he did all he could, and continues doing all he can. People usually talk of only problems, but Sulabh finds solutions to those problems.
Quoting Paramjeet Kaur’s words, Dr Pathak said, “Kaur says when the toilet was built in her house she felt like true freedom was given to her. It was the true meaning of independence for her. It is a big thing to say. It is a message for us too. We were not a part of the independence movement of Gandhi. But his second biggest movement was a fight against casteism, gender bias, harsh treatments with widows, lack of proper sanitation.”
He drew parallel that how Bihar has made a huge contribution to both the freedom struggles. Gandhi initiated his freedom movement from Bihar. The second freedom that Gandhi always dreamt of (proper sanitation in India), Sulabh initiated that movement, too, from Bihar. His Excellency Ganga Prasad is from Bihar and so is Dr Pathak. So he is already aware of Dr Pathak’s works.
Dr Pathak told that Sulabh actively carried this freedom struggle forward, and did it all with non-violence. Never for once Dr Pathak or his organisation ever protested, nor did they ever bad-mouth anyone. They observed and understood the plights of the society and devised ways to solve those problems in a manner in which the society can accept as well.
“Today you met both former-scavengers and those whose houses they used to go to clean the night soil. Today, they stood together to welcome you to Sulabh Gram. It is a huge societal change that the people who were never allowed to touch each-other are today standing and talking together. This is the freedom that Sulabh has given them.”
Be That Which Gives You Dignity
Mahatma Gandhi wanted that they (manual scavengers) should get a respectable place in this society. Sulabh took a step further and not only ensured them the respect they deserved but also rechristened them as Brahmins. Dr Pathak recalled that how these people were earlier threatened that if they dare chant Vedas then their tongues will be chopped off and ears will be stuffed with pieces of glasses.
“The women of the same community today chanted Sanskrit shlokas in your welcome. To bring about this change, we did not create any ruckus, did not tear or burn down Vedas or Puranas.”
Dr Pathak said that people often question him that why only ‘Brahmin’? To that, he replies, “I am of the view that it is not about rechristening as ‘Brahmin’ but any such caste by adopting which you attain the due respect. It is your choice. I am a Brahmin so I converted them too into it, but that does not mean everybody has to turn a Brahmin.”
“Gandhi had said that only one of the two can exist – either Hindu religion or casteism. So I thought why the religion should die when getting rid of untouchability is better. So I came up with the theory that if people are allowed to convert their religions then why not castes? You are free to change your caste into whichever you want,” he added.
EM Forster Wrote, Sulabh Did
EM Forster had said that to get the ‘untouchables’ out of their plight, toilets are needed. In his Preface to Mulk Raj Anand’s 1935 novel ‘Untouchable’, he wrote that only and only the flush system can rescue the Untouchables. To end the 5000 years old practice the first thing Sulabh did was of inventing the ‘Sulabh Shauchalaya’. Dr Pathak said that had it not been invented, then neither the malpractice of manual scavenging would have ended, nor the habit of open defecation.
Gandhi wanted that a woman from Valmiki community be made the President of India. Dr Pathak told that this thought led to Usha Sharma becoming the president of his organisation. “I thought I have no authority over deciding the president of the nation, but why not implement it for Sulabh organisation? And today we have Usha Sharma as the president of Sulabh. If you ask me what I have done in the last 50 years, I will not have to give the answer. But instead, these people, my books, will speak for themselves. All these people who came forward to speak their minds out today are a testimony that my books, my saplings speak.”
Dr Pathak signed off with the words: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
The Need Of The Hour
Addressing the gathering, Sikkim Governor Ganga Prasad said that a house without a toilet is a house of diseases. Women would open defecate when it is dark outside, but what about when it is daytime and they need to relieve themselves? Holding it in for long hours gives birth to many diseases. It is a matter of concern.
“Today when I visited Sulabh Gram and got to observe Dr Bindeshwar Pathak’s works this closely, I was really happy to know that he is fulfilling Mahatma Gandhi’s dreams with all his heart. Through his Sulabh organisation, Dr Pathak is promoting cleanliness and sanitation, and with his efforts uplifted the once oppressed former manual scavengers. His contributions have not only been recognised by the society but also praised by the government.”
Being a resident of Patna, Prasad told that he has long witnessed Dr Pathak’s works. Even after facing many tough times, Dr Pathak’s dedication and contribution have been exemplary. It was his truthfulness, strong will, and the love and support of the public that kept him going. Praising Dr Pathak for bringing the oppressed to the mainstream of the society, Prasad said, “It is the need of the hour that we serve the human interest through cleanliness. The society salutes such personalities who serve the nation through their distinguished qualities. There are only a few who pave their own path and travel on it to reach their destination. One such rare person is Dr Pathak. This path benefits the society, uplifts the oppressed, overcomes poverty and brings unity. He has shown the society a path of development.”
No Task Is Small Or Big
The governor called the practices like untouchability and casteism as “taint on the society”. He said that these were the very reasons why our country first became a slave to the British Raj. The two have cost the nation heavily.
“To maintain social order it is necessary that we all invest our energy towards human welfare. Generosity and compassion make human humble. Those who always reflect humanity and are dedicated to the society, such personalities create history. Dr Pathak is among those personalities,” he added.
He highlighted that how with the presence of Sulabh toilets in almost every nook and corner of the nation, improving the cleanliness scenario of India has been possible. Indore is Asia’s cleanest city and Sulabh International has played a vital role in taking it to this height. Sulabh has taught that no task is small or big. The passion towards that work gives it shape. “I have been informed that the organisation has also stepped forward to provide clean drinking water. The initiatives taken by Sulabh to turn the dreams of top-notch cleanliness and health into reality are laudable.”
Swachh Bharat, Swasth Bharat
“Today, for the growth and development of nation and society, clean and healthy environment for citizens are the need of the hour. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made people aware of the importance of cleanliness through his flagship Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Every citizen should contribute to his mission to ensure a ‘Swachh Bharat, Swasth Bharat’,” the governor urged.
The initiatives taken by the Central government to end the practice of open-defecation are resulting into villages getting open-defecation-free (ODF) one after the other. This is an indication that the nation is moving towards becoming a Healthy India, Prasad said. He said that the toilets built by Dr Pathak at various places are a blessing to the people. People are happy that they get to use proper toilet facilities and must surely be blessing him for his work. “As he (Dr Pathak) aptly said, it is like a feeling of freedom for all those people.
First was the freedom from British rule, and now the freedom from such a stigma. The world has recognised Dr Pathak for his contributions.”
Appreciating Dr Pathak
Prasad also spoke highly of Sulabh’s initiatives other than toilets for all. He said that education plays a vital role in the development of a nation and its society, and Sulabh Public School and Sulabh Vocational Training Center are making children and women independent, who can go ahead to pave the way for a strong India, and dedicate themselves to the service of the nation.
“Dr Pathak began his movement by building toilets and went on to give the world Sulabh Bio-gas Plant, Sulabh Water Treatment Plant, Sulabh Museum of Toilets, and techniques like producing electricity from human waste. He is a person of appreciations.
My best wishes are with Dr Pathak that he continues making his valuable contribution to the development, progress and betterment of the society. How hailing from Bihar, a place that has been a land of inspiration and knowledge to many – from Gautam Buddha, Mahavir, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Pathak went on to awaken not only India but the world, and is continuously doing social work, it is extremely appreciable. No words are enough to speak highly of him,” he concluded.
Accompanying Ganga Prasad were Manoj Sandhwar, OSD to the Governor, and Thakur Thapa, IPS Additional Secretary to the Governor, who were also welcomed by Dr Bindeshwar Pathak. The guests paid a visit to the entire Sulabh Gram. The Governor also keenly observed the Sulabh Swachhata Rath spreading the message of sanitation in remote areas, Public toilet based biogas plant, Health centre, water ATM & Kitchen operating on biogas fuel.
Thereafter the guests were taken to the Sulabh Public School where they were welcomed by the students. While seeing the trainees of vocational training branch, Prasad took interest in cutting and tailoring and the manufacturing of cheap and clean sanitary napkins by the students themselves.
Inside the Sulabh Toilet Museum, the guests were surprised to know that India is the champion of flush toilet and sewer system. After that, the guest saw Sulabh Technology based two-pit-pour-flush toilet. He was accorded a traditional welcome with garland, shawl, citation and mementoes in the prayer hall.
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