Monday, July 14, 2008

Dr. Pathak

Have you heard about him ?

I am going to "merge" two stories that I came across today. These are a little lengthy but the work that he is willing to do and is doing is amazing to me. I wish there were more people that were willing to make a difference.

Picture above is Dr. Pathak working. Here is a little information from him and what he has done and is doing:

DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK is a great humanist and social reformer of contemporary India. To the weaker sections of society especially, his is the compassionate face of a paternal redeemer. He has the vision of a philosopher and the undying zeal of a missionary. He is the icon of a new culture which embraces the poor and extols the dignity of labour. His boundless love for the downtrodden finds expression in myriad and tangible ways. No wonder those who know him intimately swear that Dr. Pathak is born to help the helpless. He is the leader of a national crusade for restoration of human rights and dignity to millions of scavengers (cleaner and carrier of human excreta), traditionally known as untouchables; and for providing safe and hygienic human waste disposal system to 700 million Indian population who go outside for open defecation even along roads and railway tracks described graphically by V.S. Naipaul and Ronal Segal. He has himself identified with the problems of the untouchables. Dr. Pathak's multi-pronged efforts in bringing scavengers, worst victims of institutionalised caste discrimination and engaged in a sub-human occupation, in the mainstream of national life has taken the shape of a movement for social justice. Moreover, he is an internationally acclaimed expert on sanitation and has developed and implemented on pan- Indian scale a low-cost and appropriate toilet technology recommended by UN bodies for about three billion people across the globe. To him goes the credit to sensitize Indians towards sanitation and those engaged in the sanitation work. Apart from low-cost sanitation, his contributions are widely known in the areas of bio-energy and bio-fertiliser, liquid and solid waste management, poverty alleviation and integrated rural development. In fact, he is a Renaissance Man and combines in himself the traits of a social scientist, an engineer, an administrator and an institution-builder. What is remarkable is that he has ingeniously utilised all these expertise to enrich and empower the depressed classes.

The widespread phenomenon of open defecation remains grim even after 50 years of India's Independence. Especially women have to suffer a lot due to non-availability of toilets. Even today 110 million Indian houses have no toilets and 10 million houses have bucket toilets causing filth and diseases. The situation is so appalling that about half million children die every year due to dehydration caused by open defecation.

Environmental cleanliness and sanitation was the dearest subject of Mahatma Gandhi who proclaimed that 'cleanliness is next only to godliness'. Gandhi had said, "There are many things to do. Let each one of us choose our task and stick to it through thick and thin. Let us pick up that position which we can handle best". Gandhi had two ideas in mind while talking about sanitation : one, that no one should clean and carry human excreta of others just to earn one's livelihood. There must be some scientific method of human waste disposal system. Finding no other affordable alternative during his life time Gandhi had suggested 'Tatti par mitti' (cover human excreta with soil) or use of trench latrine which he himself used while living in Phoenix Ashram in South Africa. Secondly, Gandhi wanted that those who are engaged in sanitation work should not be treated as untouchables. They should get equal respect in the society, he took pains to emphasise, and in his typical style went on to declare that "the Bhangi (scavenger) is as important as the Viceroy".

After Gandhi Dr. Pathak is the man, more than any other in India, who has championed sanitation and upliftment of the untouchables as mission of his life. For the last three decades he has been working relentlessly to keep the ecosystem clean and bring the marginalised sections of the society in the mainstream. He gave new dimension to the Gandhian movement and broadbased his principled fight against all kinds of discrimination. The New York Times, in the article 'Untouchables gain the help of a Brahmin', hailed him as a "full-time crusader against the humiliations of untouchability". His contribution in abolishing the inhuman practice of scavenging is seminal and unparalleled in the sense that he not only studied the social evil but provided its categorical solution through a low-cost toilet-technology and developed a self-sustaining sanitation system across the country. In the process of providing alternative to scavenging and rehabilitation and social upgradation of scavengers, Dr. Pathak created a pan-Indian network with 50,000 volunteers and gave birth to what is popularly known as Sulabh Sanitation Movement. "No body should go outside for defecation and every house in India should have a toilet" has become the passionate obsession of Dr. Pathak.

Now here is the story that came across the wires this morning that prompted me to post this and as I was reading this, I was directed to my readings in the book called: The Life of Meaning.

ALWAR, India (CNN) -- At birth, Usha Chaumar's life story had already been written. So-called scavengers collect the garbage, feces and urine of higher caste people.1 of 6 Illiterate and married off at age 10, Chaumar was forced into the only livelihood her family has known for generations.

As a Dalit, the lowest level in India's complex caste system, she was a so-called scavenger, a person who collects the garbage, feces and urine of other higher caste people. In the eyes of many, that would make her too disgusting to touch.

"They used to call me all kind of names,'' Chaumar, now 33, said. "I used to feel very bad. but what could I do? I didn't have any work to do but this job."

Traditionally, the age-old Hindu caste system is a social hierarchy that determines what occupation a person should pursue. Broadly, the system has four major castes and thousands of sub-castes.

At the upper rung are Brahmins, the priestly class; followed by the Kshatriya or warrior caste; the Vaishya, the trading community; and the Shudras -- trades like carpenters, barbers and metalworkers. The Dalits are involved in menial professions that no one else wants. Hundreds of thousands of Indians are believed to fall in this category.

Officially, the caste system has been outlawed, but millennia of tradition have left deep dividing lines in Indian society. In the town of Alwar in the northern state of Rajasthan, there are about 300 so-called "untouchable" women working in this profession. For her efforts, Chaumar got paid $7 to $10 a month. But it helped to feed her three children.

India has laws against "manual scavenging," as it is called. But the work is still around, in part because of the poor sanitation system in India. In many parts of the country, especially in rural India, many toilets are dry bucket toilets (named for the way they are shaped) that are not hooked up to any pipes. The waste just drops to the ground below.

Manju Atwal says she cleans 20-25 bucket toilets a month and makes about $20 per month, which helps feed her six children. "For the past 20 years my life hasn't been a life. The world treats us like insects," Atwal said. "I want to walk upright, get a good job and get rid of this dirty work so the world wouldn't oppose us. We want to walk with the world," Atwal said.

Now 56 former "untouchable" women from Alwar are getting their wish. They are quitting their demeaning jobs and walking with their heads held high, no longer invisible to those around them.

Dr. Bindeswar Pathak of Sulabh International is their guide.

"I saw their conditions, and I thought they were living like ... pigs," Dr. Pathak said. "So why not give them some alternative jobs ... to do something else." Dr. Pathak happens to be from India's highest caste. His interest in helping Dalits began at an early age.

"While I was a child at 13 years old, I touched an untouchable. For that my grandmother forced me to swallow cow dung, cow urine and Ganges water to purify myself," Pathak said. He was dismayed at the experience and for the past 40 years has made it his mission to elevate the downtrodden. So far, his organization says it's helped more than 60,000 "untouchables" and installed more than a million of its eco-friendly, humane toilets in India alone.

The United Nations Development Program estimates 2.6 billion people do not have access to a clean and safe place to go to the toilet. It is a recipe for deadly disease. The U.N. deemed 2008 the Year of Sanitation to bring awareness to the importance of proper sanitation.

Dr. Pathak and the former "untouchables" of Alwar were invited to New York to illustrate that point and also be honored. Pathak took 36 of the women to the United Nations, the women's first trip outside India.

In New York, the spotlight shone on the women, as they strode down the runway modeling the blue saris that they now design and tailor. The former sanitation workers used to spend their lives covering their faces so they did not upset those around them. Now they are objects of admiration.

Usha Chaumar was singled out for her amazing accomplishments: She can read and write now and is no longer doing the dirtiest of work. She was crowned "Princess of Sanitation Workers" at the United Nations. Watch Chaumar wear the crown and describe her life before »

It is a title that will take time to get used to after being treated like dirt for most of her life. "I am overjoyed getting this honor in New York and wearing this crown," Usha said. "There was a time when there was only filth on my head, and now it has a gold crown."

I think that we might have a "biblical" principle in there ......

What are we doing as the church ?

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