Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No toilet? Then no bride: Indian government's bizarre new campaign to increase indoor lavatories

Dr Pathak unveils a new toilet

 Indian families have been instructed to ensure their future son-in-laws can provide an indoor lavatory before marrying off their daughters.

The ‘no toilet, no bride’ campaign has been launched by the government after it emerged that that more people have a mobile phone contract than access to a toilet.

The instructions were given by the country's Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, who recently angered religious groups by claiming India has more Hindu temples than indoor bathrooms.

Over 75 per cent of the 1.2 billion population currently have a mobile phone subscription.
In comparison, only 50 per cent of households have a lavatory and 11 per cent have one connected to the sewerage system, according to the 2011 census.

This has led to Mr Ramesh calling on families to not only consult astrology when deciding the perfect match for their daughters, but also to check if the potential husband has an indoor toilet, the Daily Telegraph reports.

‘You consult astrologers about rahu-ketu (the alignment of sun and moon) before getting married.
'You should also look whether there is a toilet in your groom's home before you decide. Don't get married in a house where there is no toilet,' he warned during a speech to villagers in Rajasthan.

Earlier this year Mr Ramesh branded India the ‘world’s largest open-air toilet’ saying that 60 per cent of the people in the world who carry out their business in the open, live in India.

India is branded the ‘world’s largest open-air toilet’
 Speaking at the launch of an ‘eco-lavatory’ in June, Mr Ramesh said the country should be ashamed of this and that ‘even countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan have better records.’

Brindeshwar Pathak, founder of the sanitation charity Sulabh International called on the government to offer cheap loans to help families build lavatories and to make defecating in the open a punishable offence.

As well as a sanitary issue, the lack of proper bathroom facilities is a security risk for Indian women as tradition begs them to rise before dawn to go to the toilet.

This has led to a number of cases where women have been raped or assaulted whilst searching for somewhere to go to the lavatory under cover of darkness.

Sourced from Mail Online 

Fortnight of blissful life lessons with a ‘philanthropist’

One among thousands or maybe even millions African sayings say that when a person invites you to their house, they consider you a friend but when they invite you to their ancestral home, then consider yourself part of the family.
I had the immense privilege of visiting Bihar State in India where the Founder of Sulabh International, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak was born.
Dr Bindeshwar Pathak

 For those unfamiliar with Dr Pathak, he was born at Rampur Baghel village in Vaishali district of Bihar. Dr Pathak’s grandfather was a famous astrologer who, believe it not, predicted the death of his own sibling at a certain age that actually happened.
He had also predicted that the wealth that his son, Dr Pathak’s father would be left with would one day all whether away and that too, happened. His father is an ayurvedic (a holistic healing science) doctor and so he came from a prosperous, respected family.
Dr Pathak was the proverbial child with a silver spoon. He grew up in a sprawling house with a large compound. There were nine rooms including a prayer room and another where only atta, a flour used to make most South Asian flat breads such as chapatti, roti, naan and puri was ground. Water too was drawn from this room. 
This house still stands today and though it is in ruin, it all the same stands. I made a tour of the house and saw the unique well split into two by a wall. My host told me that it was built in such a way that one side was used by men while the other was used by women.
The reason for the split was that men should not catch a glimpse of women when the latter were drawing water to bathe. Bihar was and still is a very conservative state.
Bihar State
One very distinctive feature that I noticed was that there was no toilet in the compound.
Dr Pathak then told me every morning at 4.00 a.m, there was total chaos in the house as women had to get up early and complete their personal cleanliness before sunrise.
“Even though I would be in bed, I was aware of all the activity. Some woman picked up a bucket, another was drawing water, while some one would push another to hurry up. In case a woman in the house fell sick, she would have to relieve herself in a straw basket or a pot lined with ash,’ he told me.
During my trip to his home town, I visited the four schools that he attended. Back in his time as a student, there were two distinctive features, one was that there were no toilets and two, there were no female students.
As the tour progressed, I was fortunate enough to pump into one of his school mates who, when probed on whether he ever saw something special about Dr Pathak, said that his kindness was a rare trait, but like all other children at that age, he climbed trees and did other naughty things.
During the two weeks, I visited the capitals of the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal, Rajasthan State in Jaipur, Tonk, Alwar and Delhi. However, the memories of Bihar, will linger on my mind for a long while, largely because of the countryside fresh air, the sights and sounds of the moving
trains, the fresh vegetables I mercilessly devoured and the thrilling stories I was told about the history of this great man who also happened to be my host, Dr Pathak and the birth of the Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement.
I realise now narrating the whole story of how Dr Pathak became ‘successful’ may take probably forever and so I will give snapshots of it. By the way the ‘successful’ is in quotes because for two weeks I tried cajoling Dr Pathak to admit that his work and sacrifices have been a success and totally failed. 
That’s just how modest he is but does say that, in reference to the technologies that he has developed over the years and that have made a difference to millions of people the world over, “You take a seed planted by someone else and water it. The fruits of the labour are just as sweet!”
Some key lessons I learnt from Dr Pathak, a person I am very proud to call a friend and a great host: Always keep your options open in life. Dr Pathak started out as a schoolteacher, joined the family of ayurvedic medicines, was supposed to major in Criminology but ended up being in the centenary celebrations committee for Mahatma Gandhi and got engrossed in sanitation.
Ayurvedic medicines
“Our movement is to restore the human rights and dignity of untouchables (the lowest caste who manually clean toilets). And to bring them into the mainstream of society. The toilets, biogas plants, all these are means to achieve that dream,” he kept reminding me. 
Messengers of God are everywhere. During Dr Pathak’s journey of establishing his now renowned NGO, he sought a grant from the Indian government of 70,000 Rupees and a 50,000 Rupee grant was sanctioned.
Unfortunately in 1971, the government fell and he was asked to meet one Rameshwar Nath. When Mr Nath saw Dr Pathak he laughed for he had expected a seventy year old man with a walking stick as the Secretary of the NGO.
 He told him that he saw that his work would create a dramatic impact in India but worried that asking for grants won’t have the desired results. He gave him a life lesson,” Don’t ask for grants, charge money for doing your work.” This has been the model Sulabh has adopted ever since.
There will always be hard times in life, keep God closest. Running an NGO is no easy task when you are not getting any work. During his journey, Dr Pathak had to sell the little property he still owned in the village and also had to sell his wife’s jewelry.
“I remember how girls whose parents could not afford a good enough dowry cried in their in-laws houses. People would taunt them that their father has sent them without a fridge or a car - your family has no status. When I got married, I could not afford to buy my wife the kind of
jewelry which is generally given to the bride and even that I had to sell,” he narrated to me.
It’s okay to act without thinking twice sometimes. Dr Pathak in the early days only specialised in transforming toilets connected to the sewage system into twin pit latrines. 
In 1974 the Patna Municipal Corporation Administrator asked him to build a toilet block in a span of 24 hours. You see, there was a large piece of open space opposite the Reserve Bank of India where two to three thousand of men and women used to relieve themselves. 
With 20,000 Rupees in his hand, he ordered his workmen to bring twenty truckloads of red sand. By the time it arrived, it was late evening. Then he told them to bring as many potted plants, brushes and trees as possible whatever the price.
Then a big pit was dug and filled with sweet smelling sandalwood. At 7am when the Administrator came, he was thrilled with the changes, you see his superior had wanted something to be done about the black spot and it was. That was another turning point of Sulabh International.
Sulabh International
I am currently reading a book titled “I have a dream’ by Rashmi Bansal that partly features Dr Pathak. His advice to young entrepreneurs is, “create your own identity and leave your own stamp in whatever you choose to take up. I told my son to take up some work other than Sulabh and to be number one in a field of one is a great feeling.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How the invention of a simple pit latrine changed the lives of millions in India

By Masembe Tambwe

Dr Pathak stands beside his invention, the twin pit latrine

It is unbelievable and incomprehensible even to the greatest believer of fairy tales that the invention of something as simple as a pit latrine could wipe out a ‘practice’ that had been going on for over 5000 years and was accepted in society.
Usha Chaumar, a 30 something year old woman of two children and a resident of Alwar colony in Rajasthan, India is a former human scavenger. Scavenging is the practice of manual cleaning of human excreta from service/ dry latrines.
The scavengers had to crawl into the dry latrines and collect the human excreta with their bare hands, carry it as head-load in a container to dispose it off. Scavenging was limited to women mostly. They are invariably from the lower-caste, "untouchable" (Dalit) community.
Usha who was liberated from scavenging in 2003 and till today has to literally pinch herself every time she steps out of her house without having to wear a bell around her neck like her mother did, as a way of identifying her as an untouchable because she was a toilet cleaner.
She has to pinch herself because only a decade ago she wasn’t allowed to draw water from a well, wasn’t allowed to worship in a Hindu temple, wasn’t allowed to touch another person who wasn’t an untouchable like herself, wasn’t allowed to eat with the rest in society and had to live in the outskirts of towns because they were not ‘humanly equal’ to live with others.

Former human scavengers seated around Sulabh International Founder, Dr Pathak
The story of Usha is the same as that of more than a million other scavengers that have been liberated thanks to the ingenious and sacrificing work of Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of the Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement, a man these women consider as their God.

My interest in the Sulabh Movement begun last year after I attended the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) forum in Mumbai and three weeks ago I had the divine privilege of visiting the foundation including Alwar and Tonk colonies where the movement begun from.
After having read about Dr Pathak, I have to say I was weary about meeting him in person largely because of the many achievements under his belt both for humanity and in the sanitation sector.  
I mean honestly, do you extend your hand or touch someone’s feet who in spite of his high society standing in the Indian caste system, decided to throw all the privileges and prestige that comes with it and spends three months with an untouchable family eating and sleeping in the colony, manually cleaned toilets, sold his wife’s golden ornaments to help build his first twin pit latrine and still became one of the most respected people in India?
I have to say though with all his achievements and successes, Dr Pathak is one of the humblest, down to earth and simplest person I have met in my 30 odd years on this earth. I spent nearly three weeks with the Sulabh family including Dr Pathak himself, my memories are endless but my fondest  ones are when we went to Alwar and the second one was when we went to Bhopal.
The Alwar colony visit was memorable for me because after touring the  ”Nai Disha” (a new paradigm), one of a number of centers that Dr Pathak set up after the women stopped cleaning toilets, I had the opportunity of having lunch with former women who once cleaned toilets and the owners of the houses whose toilets they cleaned.
An unimagineable sight a decade ago! Former human scavengers eat together with the owners of the houses they once cleaned and me seated in the striped T-Shirt enjoying the moment

Believe it not, this was unthinkable just over ten years and it was considered bad luck to whomever came close to untouchables, ate with them and even touched them. Dr Pathak still vividly remembers a time during his youth when he was caught by his mother touching an untouchable and he was forced to drink cow urine, swallow cow dung and take a bath in the Ganges River for purification.
After the hefty meal, we broke another taboo we took a walk to a nearby temple. With heads held high, Dr Pathak walked side by side and as equals with the former human women scavengers to the temple, walked up the flight of stairs and entered it with dignity.

Another rarity of the day! The ladies had the opportunity that was for decades denied to them to worship in a temple, having Dr Pathak added icing on the cake
My other memorable time was when we flew to Bhopal. You see, sometime in December last year, a community newspaper ran a story about a woman who left her husband because he didn’t have a toilet in his premises. The story landed on Dr Pathak’s ears and pledged to award Anita Narre a token of 10,000 US Dollars for her bravery.
“When I learnt of the story it was like music to my ears. Why? For starters it goes without saying that India has a huge challenge in eradicating open defecation and so for a newly wed to leave her husband’s home unaccompanied and to return her parents because of a toilet, he knew this was the start of something big,” he told me in an exclusive interview.

Anita Narre (in blue sari) with husband welcoming Dr Pathak (in white and red) when he visited her village
Anita Narre explained that it took her only two days after moving in with her husband to reach the decision that unless her husband built a toilet, she would go back to her parents and not return until there was one.

She narrated that on her first day she had to walk 2km away from her house to go and ease herself and vowed that she wouldn’t undergo that torture everyday unless something was done.
 “I grew up in an environment that had toilets within the premises of the homestead. I confided with my husband about my concerns and when I saw nothing was being done about it, I took matters into my own hands,” she said.
The Local Government Village Executive Officer, Ms Lalita Narre said that when she learnt that Anita had left her husband because of the lack of toilet facilities, she supported her and saw a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
She revealed that thanks to the bold move of Anita, in a space of two weeks, 95 out of the 150 households that previously didn’t have toilet had constructed toilets and the rest were underway.
Globally, 79 per cent of the urban populations use an improved sanitation facility, compared to 47 per cent of the rural population.  In rural areas, 1.8 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, representing 72 per cent of the global total of those unserved. 
A great deal of progress has been made in rural areas since 1990: 724 million rural dwellers have gained access to improved sanitation while the number of people unserved in urban areas has grown by 183 million (during a time of massive urban population growth).
Open defecation is defined as defecation in fields, forests, bushes, bodies of water or other open spaces.  The majority of those practicing open defecation (949 million) live in rural areas.  About 234 million fewer rural dwellers were practicing open defecation in 2010 than in 1990.

Open defecation is practiced by 692 million people in Southern Asia.  In the poorest two-fifths of the population of this region, 4 out of 5 people practice open defecation. Official statistics in India say that there are still around 340,000 scavengers working in villages and small towns.  The UN aims to reduce by half the number of people without basic sanitation by 2015.

I once told someone that sanitation is more than washing hands, it’s a human right, visiting the Sulabh Foundation and their activities made me see this in a much clearer picture. I tell everyone who cares to listen, if there is one person who honestly deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, it is Dr Pathak.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Treasures of the Museum of Toilets at the Sulabh Foundation


My visit to the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation Headquarters in Delhi

Each morning, staff of the Sulabh Foundation gather for morning prayers. This particular morning, they had a special guest, ME!

Part of the congeration of the prayer. The ladies in blue are former human scanveners who had to collect human waste with their bare hands. Thanks to Sulabh Foundation, they no longet had to do this inhumane activity and are now getting free training in different economic activities

A group photo of members of Sulabh, students and staff of a Delhi College and of course MOI in the back

Sulabh Senoir Vice President Abha Bahadur explains the Foundation's twin pit technology to MOI

Sulabh Foundation has designed numerous models of the twin pit toilet to fit different sizes of the wallet

I am being given the technicailities of how the Sulabh toilet works. Unlike the conventional toilet, the Sulabh one has a steeper bowl such that it was only smaller quantities of water to flush meaning that millions or even billions of liter of water are saved

A water quality expert explains how the Sulabh Foundation has developed a technology that uses a water weed called duck weed to purity sewage water and at the same provides nutrients for fish. Fish when they feed on the weeds grow three times in size and are fit for human consumption

Buried under these beautiful flowers is a tank that is connected to the public toilet (not in the picture) and from it bio gas is generated after the gas passes through a number of processes 

This is the model of the bio gas technology that was designed by the Sulabh Foundation

After the human waste was been worked upon to extract the gas, effluent water remains and this is also passed through a number of processes to purify it. The end water comes out odourless and clear and though it is not suitable for human consumption, the nutrients in it is ideal for agriculture and horticulture and the secret behind the flourishing garden

AND THERE WAS LIGHT...Over 500 people use the public toilet located outside the premises of the foundation. The gas that is generated is was is lighting the mantle lamp. Imagine what this simple and very affordable technology can do to solve rural electrification and help developing countries meet their MDGs.

The bio gas is also ideal in heating during cold seasons

Using a combination of batteries and bio gas, the world would live in less darkness

Adjacent to the headquarters is a public school that is also run by the Sulabh Foundation. 60 percent of the students of the school are former human scavengers and the remaining 40 percent are from families that are too poor to afford school fees. Sulabh International provides free education to these students

The Sulabh Foundation is taking a holistic approach towards finding a sustainable solutiion to the sanitation and hygiene problems of India and other developing nations. It is for this reason that it has recently purchased a sanitary towel plant. At the moment they are in the familisation stage and are manufacturing towels for its students and staff. They plan to go big scale in a few months

This is a sanitary towel vending machine. Several thousands have been installed in a number of schools through a collaborative project between the government of India and Sulabh. Sanitation or the lack of it infringes more on women and girls for it doesn't only put them in danger of health but most importantly it denies them their basic human rights and their dignity

Being in the computer age, pupils of the public school are taught early how to use these gadgets and also the English language in order to know how to operate them 

The Sulabh campus over and above is a very inspiring place. To add icing on the cake, the foundation has a Toilet Museum. Mr Bageshwar Jha is its curator and believe me he is great at what he does. I am being briefed on the history of toilets

A toilet fit for kings! Mr Jha explained to me that during the olden days, this chair cum toilet was a great way for rulers to be close to their subjects in that they wouldn't have to be away from them when the need to answer the call of nature came.

The brain and engine behind the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak. Having read so much about him, it was indeed more than an honour to meet him in person. The foundation started in 1970 and has constructed 1.2 million pour flush toilets, constructed and maintained 7,500 public toilet cum bath complexes, built 200 human waste based biogas plants, has liberated more than a million human scavengers, made 640 towns scavenger free, trained 7000 scavengers, has four English medium schools and created employment for more than 30 million. Does he have to walk on water to prove he is a saint?

For the achievements that he has managed to pull over the years, this action should be reversed but I humbly bowed down and received it

Ooh I am almost blushing at this point, sweating buckets and my knees are knocking together like someone is tickling me with feathers on the soles of my feet