INDIA. New Delhi: Sulabh International Social Service Organisation recently completed 51 years of its engagement in the field of sanitation and social reform. During these 51 years, its Founder and well-known Social Reformer, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, has served society and the country with extraordinary dedication. Through his exceptional service to the nation, Dr. Pathak has embodied what Mahatma Gandhi dreamt almost a century ago, and given human scavengers a new lease of life.
Till the recent past, our society was facing the practice of manual cleaning of night-soil by a community called ‘untouchables’ in different parts of the country. During the last five decades, Dr. Pathak has succeeded in solving such inhuman practices by inventing “Two-Pit Sulabh Toilet”. Thanks to this technology, manual cleaning of buckets toilets have been completely stopped. Now human scavengers/‘untouchables’ have been relieved from the sub-human occupation of cleaning night-soil.
While delivering his lecture virtually at a webinar with a theme, “Earlier Human Scavengers Now Brahmins: A Social Upgradation Program to Choose One’s Own caste,” Dr. Pathak recounted his path-breaking initiatives through which the age-old practice of casteism and inequality have been checked in recent years. Several scholars and liberated ‘untouchables’ exchanged their experiences.
Dr. Pathak conducted this experiment in the two towns of Rajasthan—Alwar and Tonk—with the women who earlier worked as manual scavengers. He took these women out of the subhuman work of cleaning human excreta and provided them the opportunity to read and write. To empower and equip them with alternative employment, Dr. Pathak set up a Vocational Training Centre named ‘Nai Disha’ in Alwar and Tonk, where the formerly human scavengers were given basic education and trained in trades such as tailoring clothes, carpet-making, namada handicraft, making pickles and papad, facials and beauty enhancement, etc. The women, who were earlier treated worse than dogs, discarded as ‘untouchables’, whose even shadows were to be avoided, now successfully sell their eatables in those houses where they earlier worked as manual scavengers. Earlier, they would earn hardly Rs. 200-300 every month, whereas now they earn handsomely and lead a dignified and happy life.
In the same houses where they would earlier enter by backdoors to clean and carry away human excreta, now they freely go to the kitchen to make tea, which they sip with the house-owners, and they also do their facials, etc., thus dismantling all social distances. Now these women lead a life like any high-caste people, they joyously celebrate festivals, and they participate with dignity, like other invited guests, in the religious rites and social events being held at the houses of upper-caste people. As a consequence of this campaign aimed at bringing together people of different castes, the so-called untouchables visit the homes of the so-called upper-caste people on occasions like weddings, and vice versa, and thus they forge a new social bond and happiness with each other.
For hundreds of years, the scavengers had been debarred from entering any temple in the country. Dr. Pathak peacefully broke this cruel orthodoxy, paving the way for their dignified entry into the most sacred temples. He helped women scavengers by taking baths in the river Ganga in Varanasi, he helped them enter the Vishwanath temple and offer prayers, and he also helped them take an auspicious bath on the occasion of Kumbh in Prayag and Ujjain. He helped them sit together and take meals with the people of the Brahmin community, and thus he fulfilled the dreams of Gandhi and Ambedkar.
In the year 2008, Dr. Pathak took these liberated scavenger women to the city of New York, where on the occasion of International Day of Sanitation, they participated in the Fashion Show, held at the headquarters of the United Nations, and they walked the ramp with the internationally celebrated models. They visited the ‘Statue of Liberty and declared that they were no longer untouchables!
Dr. Pathak initiated a historic move on October 5, 2016, when he got them draped these women in yellow clothes and proclaimed these women as ‘Brahmins’. They have undergone a change of religion, as they have been invested with the sacred mantras. Now they recite mantras fluently, introducing themselves as knowledgeable and well-versed in rituals. After accepting the Brahmin caste, they now add ‘Sharma’ with their names.
Dr. Pathak was of the view that one can willingly change one’s caste, like one’s religion. He made it clear how this experiment was bringing about a new revolution and how this transformation was increasingly being accepted by society.
On this occasion, Dr. Vishwpati Trivedi, former Secretary, Govt. of India & National President, Brahmin Samaj of India and Prof. Shyam Lal, former Vice-Chancellor Patna, Rajasthan and Jodhpur Universities, Eminent Hindi Author, Pt. Suresh Neerav Ji, Prof. Nil Ratan from Patna and Prof. Ashok Kumar Jyoti ji of Banaras Hindu University also expressed their views over this topic.
Large numbers of liberated Manual scavengers who have been “Brahmins” by choice in recent years joined this Webinar from Alwar and Tonk. While recounting her journey, Padmashree Smt. Usha Sharma said that it was more than rebirth. She while terming Dr. Pathak was a real reformer of modern India who not only rescued a large number of untouchables but ensured their upliftment.
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