Founded in 1970 by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Sulabh’s contribution in the field of sanitation is both monumental in scale and historical in its application of human rights framing to sanitation.
Dr. Pathak’s foray into sanitation was in response to tackle the deep rooted discrimination, abuse and stigma faced by a community of people – known as manual scavengers – who cleaned dry latrines manually and were labelled as untouchables.
1968, whilst working as a volunteer for a committee set up to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary celebrations, Dr. Pathak witnessed first-hand the sufferings of the community in the state of Bihar. He saw that their freedom, voice and basic human rights were forfeited as they belonged to the lowest stratum of India’s caste-based society – formerly known as ‘untouchables’. The community was systematically denied access to mainstream education, health or employment opportunities.
Strongly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of peace, equality and non-violence, Dr. Pathak was determined to alleviate their plight. He took a resolution to free them from the shackles of modern-day slavery and dedicated his life for this cause. He developed a sustainable technology known as a two-pit pour flush toilet, which replaced the bucket toilets that had to be manually cleaned. The objective was to bring an end to this inhuman practice of cleaning night soil manually – this was the beginning of the Sulabh Sanitation Movement.
Areas We Work
In its 50 years of public service, Sulabh International has worked to achieve equitable sanitation and hygiene for all. It has been in the forefront of Government of India’s flagship Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) with a focus on ending open defecation. It has built over 1.5 million household toilets and has been awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize for 2016.
In the context of rural sanitation, Sulabh has adopted a community-based behaviour change approach by creating awareness and demand for sanitation and hygiene. It has converted dry latrines into two-pit pour flush latrines in 1749 towns and built approximately over 1,60,835 toilets. In most villages, Sulabh has worked with women – mainly mothers – to achieve total sanitation by making them the agents of change. Sulabh’s intervention has had a remarkable outcome in reducing diarrheal disease, mortality and morbidity among children.
URBAN SANITATION (PUBLIC TOILETS)
Sulabh has put thrust on integrated programming so that issues of sanitation, water and hygiene are addressed simultaneously. In 1974, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak introduced the concept of pay and use public toilets in India. Since then over 9000 public toilets have been built across India. Now Sulabh toilets are seen in all major public places including 36 railway stations which are used by approximately 20 million people every day.
COMMUNITY TOILETS IN SLUMS
Sulabh has built and maintains 2489 toilets in slums across major urban areas. Additionally, it runs a concerted WASH campaign in 310 slums. It has trained 12,099 women in WASH related activities in slums of Delhi alone. These women play a pivotal role in raising awareness and driving change.
FAECAL SLUDGE MANAGEMENT (FSM)
Sulabh has 190 biogas plants installed in public toilet complexes in India and five in Kabul, Afghanistan. It is a special system in which human excreta from the Sulabh public toilets goes through the biogas digester. When decomposition takes place, it produces biogas which can also be used as manure. In this type of biogas digester, human excreta is fully recycled.
WATER FOR ALL
Sulabh has introduced a pro poor system to make drinking water affordable at 1 rupee/litre. A process was developed to produce drinking water of appropriate quality from the surface water in arsenic affected areas of West Bengal and Bihar. The objective was to create a decentralized people friendly approach aimed at empowering communities so that the villagers, with training, can run the plant effectively.
TOILETS IN SCHOOL
Sulabh has built 19603 toilets blocks covering 6241 schools across India. Its school intervention programmes are designed to promote girls right to education and this has resulted in a remarkable improvement in school enrolment and attendance of girls. They are taught how to make sanitary pads along with other vocational training which played a positive outcome in addressing the issues of menstrual hygiene, and more importantly enhancing the agency of rural women.
GENDER IN WASH
Sulabh has always stressed in adopting a gender-inclusive approach in its intervention programmes with a specific focus on girl students. It has set up Sulabh Sanitation Club, which is a child-centred and girls-led global movement of children and young people engaged in bringing about positive social transformation in schools by empowering girls. So far 64 clubs in 12 states of India, six in Nepal and Bhutan and one in South Africa have been set up. About 6,500 school children in more than 200 schools have been trained in school sanitation and hygiene education and menstrual health.
EDUCATION FOR THE UNDER-PRIVILEGED
In 1992, Sulabh set up a public school, which has provided English medium education to nearly 10,000 students. The school provides free education to children who come from underprivileged and economically-weak backgrounds, whilst a nominal fee is charged from those who belong to the general category. Designed for school-to-work transition, children are trained on a number of skill development programmes alongside formal education. 100 % of the school graduates have been able to find employment to support their families through this education programme.
AWARENESS AND ADVOCACY
Sulabh has been leading the way to spread the message of cleanliness, hygiene and good health. To achieve its advocacy drive on WASH, Sulabh has used both conventional and unconventional means to drive its sanitation campaign at the grassroots around the country. It has composed ‘sanitation’ songs in local languages, made animated videos and launched Sulab Rath (bus) equipped with state-of-the-art communication tools. The bus travels in the rural areas to raise awareness about Swaach Bharat Abhiyan and use of toilets.
DIGNITY OF MANUAL SCAVENGERS
Sulabh International under the leadership of Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak has been campaigning to alleviate the plight of manual scavengers since its inception. The success of his specific five-point interventions are prominent in two towns of Alwar and Tonk in Rajasthan. Whilst, overall, it is estimated to have liberated over 200,000 women on account of the conversion of dry latrines into two-pit water pour flush technology.
WIDOWS OF VRINDAVAN
In 2012, Sulabh stepped in (at the behest of India’s Supreme Court) to provide care services for the widows of Vrindavan and Varanasi, who were shunned by their families and were impoverished and neglected. Sulabh’s intervention transformed the living conditions of the widows bringing them security, solace and joy during their old age.
SAY NO TO SINGLE-USE PLASTICS
Sulabh has been successfully running a “Say No to single-use plastic” campaign in 100 towns across the country motivating over 1,32,000 people to join hands in its efforts. The Campaign was strategically planned in regional languages to reach a wider target audience, cutting across diverse communities across India.
SULABH MUSEUM OF TOILETS
Rated by Time magazine as One of the 10 unique museums of the world, the museum traces the history of the evolution of toilet systems through various civilisations spanning over 4500 years – from ancient to ultra-modern facilities. From simple chamber pots to elaborate decorated Victorian toilet seats, visitors see it all! There’s even a toilet disguised as a bookcase. Thousands visit the museum every year from around the world.