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India: The Scavengers
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India: The Scavengers

The Sulabh toilet is self-composting and requires no drainage, and already serves some 4 million people daily in India. What's more, this revolution in public sanitation—with help from the Sulabh movement's leader, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak—is empowering some of the country's poorest people.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Alwar, Rajasthan, North India
TITLE
The Scavengers
VOICEOVER
From 1.1 billion Indians, 750 million are completely deprived of sanitary facilities. It is a set morning ritual: just before sunrise, at 5 AM in the morning, they relieve themselves in the open air.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK [Founder, Sulabh Foundation]
More than half a million children die every year because of diarrhea, dehydration, hookworms, roundworms, cholera and so forth. And nobody is taking notice of it, this has to change in this country. Half a million children die! A lack of sanitation is the root cause of all these diseases.
VOICEOVER
There are hardly any sewer systems. The feces are cleared by the so-called "scavengers". These are always outcasts, also known as Untouchables, people who are at the utmost bottom of the hierarchic Hindustani caste system.
SHAKUNTALA [Untouchable]
I have to do this work to feed my children. I can't let them starve. So I am compelled to do this. Although I think it is horrible.
VOICEOVER
The Hindi word for Untouchable is "pariah." The Untouchables live -- just as here in Alwar -- on the outskirts of the villages and towns, in separate slums where other Indians don't come. Nowadays the Untouchables call themselves Dalits. For two and a half thousand years they are consistently, and often with impunity, discriminated. They account for almost a fifth of the Indian population.
PREM [Untouchable]
No one ever comes here to sit and talk with us. So we are sitting home alone, in seclusion of the society. No one will ever come here to spend time with us.
PREM
Work is like hell. People hate me because of that work. Sometimes they give me some food, but it is thrown to me from above because they won't touch me. Even cows have a better life than I do, because the people pray for the cows, and they take care of them.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
In earlier days, the scavengers had to wear bells to create sound, or if not, they had to create signs to clear the road so that people could keep away from them. They don't want to see even the shadow of the scavengers.
VOICEOVER
When Dr. Pathak was little, he liked to know what the matter was with the Untouchables. That is why he touched a Dalit on purpose one day. His grandmother saw that.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
She made a huge cry in the family: "How can he live in the family now because he has touched an Untouchable!" And for that matter she forced me to swallow cow dung, cow urine, sand and Ganges water to purify myself. I was crying.
VOICEOVER
The matter in question kept haunting Pathak, from the Brahmin caste himself, the highest caste with the Hindus. He decided to dedicate his live to the improvement of the position of the Untouchables. In 1973 he founded the Sulabh movement for that.
TITLE
New Delhi, Delhi, North India
VOICEOVER
The movement has her headquarters in a suburb of the capital city New Delhi, and offers employment to 50,000 outcasts in the whole of India by now. She is supported by one simple technical invention. Every Indian knows the Sulabh movement, if only because of the word Sulabh has become a synonym for "public toilet" in the meanwhile.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
This is a prototype of a Sulabh toilet. It requires only 1.5 liters to flush per use. You see, from there there's one drain, it has been divided into two, one leading to this tank, and the other to that one. When the first is in use, just close the other one, and after it is full, switch over to the other one.
MAN
You need a sewerage system for it?
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
No, it's not required, because it functions independently of the sewer system. The treatment is on the site itself.
VOICEOVER
It sounds so simple: a WC connected to two covered underground tanks. Water is hardly necessary and no sewerage at all. When the first tank is full -- this takes approximately four years with an average Indian family -- it is closed off and the feces fall into the second tank. After two years the contents of the first tank is fully composted, on site and in a complete natural way, without adding chemicals.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
This is the manure fertilizer taken out of the pit, as I told you.
MAN
This is human excretes?
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
This is human excreta. Here, no smell, no pathogen, no bacteria, nothing. It can safely be handled and used in the field to raise the productivity of the field on the flowers and the fruits. So this is a technology, which can reach each and every house of 2.6 billion people who have no access to safe and hygienic toilets.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
Suppose a person is living in a slum. They can have a toilet only for 10 to 20 dollars. So this is a technology that ends both the problem of open defecation as well as manual cleaning of human excreta and scavenging. It also reduces the diseases. It improves health. And it improves working man days. If he works more, then certainly he can earn more money, and he can be eliminated from poverty.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
Pathak is not just anybody. In India he is a celebrity, and recently his WCs were recommended for the second time by the United Nations for 2.6 billion slum inhabitants all over the world. He has been decorated by the Pope and praised by the former UN bosses Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan. He takes us along to the central station in New Delhi, where one of the many public toilet complexes is situated, which his Sulabh movement has set up.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
Here we have toilets and a bathroom. People come here to use the toilet. They pay 2 rupees, roughly 4 eurocents, they go to toilet, take shower and they go away. During night hours they can also come here, so they should not have to go outside for defecation. This kind of facility we have throughout the country. We have more than 6,000 complexes, used by roughly 4 million people every day.
VOICEOVER
The Sulabh complex near the central station in New Delhi is visited by 4,000 people daily. Just as with the other public toilet complexes the personnel consists of Untouchables. The Untouchables, who clear up feces on the street, earn approximately 6 euros a month. The Untouchables who work here earn at least 50 euros a month, eight times as much. Food and shelter are free. The Sulabh movement offers employment to 50,000 Untouchables in the whole of India.
SANITATION WORKER
My room is over there, sir. This is my bed to sleep in. It's really comfortable. This is my god. He fulfills all my wishes. He helps me. Here are my clothes. All my wishes have been fulfilled. Here is the tap. In the morning we turn it on. Look, water is pouring out! Then I wash my face. Here is my comb and mirror where I comb my hair. And if I want to, I hum with it. At night we leave on the fan, so it becomes nicely fresh. Then we sleep tight. No fussing, no problems.
VOICEOVER
The jobs are popular among the untouchables, as in India there are hundreds of thousands Dalits who have to live from cleaning the filthiness off the street.
TEACHER
"M" for monkey, "N" for nest, "O" for owl...
VOICEOVER
With the money that the Sulabh movement earns from the public toilets and the sale of WCs -- the turnover amounts to almost 20 million euros a year -- Pathak has set up schools and training institutes for Untouchables and their children. The Untouchables, who learn a profession here, are all illiterate and former street cleaners. During their education, they receive five times as much money as they earned when they still collected feces on the street, and therefore the Untouchables are craving to be educated.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
Were you often offended, when you still cleared feces with your bare hands?
WOMAN 1
I walked with the basket on my head. It started raining, and the basket overflowed, and all the poop poured over my body. Everybody was laughing at me. With difficulty I delivered the basket and then ran away.
WOMAN 2
After work, people came over to my hut. They threatened to drag me along to report me to the police if I didn't start cleaning again.
WOMAN 3
I walked with my basket in the rain. Everything ran over my body. Everybody was laughing and I had to throw up. If I got any food or money, it was thrown to me.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
I took them to a five-star hotel for dinner in Delhi. Everybody was surprised. Here are scavengers, in a five-star hotel, where Clinton had food? So I said they should also go there. Now see, this was a symbolic gesture to show that you are on the par with others. You also have the right to go to these places. Had I asked international aid agency or the government to give me funds to take them to this hotel for dinner, they would have said to me, he is a mad person.
MAN
So you're not receiving government money or Western money from NGOs?
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
No, we have not so far received any money.
MAN
It's completely self-supporting?
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
Totally self-reliant.
MAN
You don't want government interference?
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
Not at all while I am alive, because if you have your own money, you are independent, your decision, then you can do. But if you are tied by the decisions of others, the organizations whose money you take, then you can't do the way you want to implement the things. That is the success of Sulabh.
SHAKUNTALA
It isn't in my hands. It's in the hands of God. He decides on my next life, on how I return after my death. If he gives me the same work, it is the will of God. That's faith. We have to accept that.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
The women have to suffer most, because they have to look after the children. And the men they don't care. So certainly the ladies are depressed about the act of harassment. In our training institute, we also teach their husbands also, not to drink too much, and don't make violence. So this is a candle in the darkness, the beginning of the beginning. It will take time to change, but it is changing. If they leave this job and then do something else and live a proper life, then society will accept them. But while doing this job, the dirty job, they cannot be accepted by society. All you try to find out the solution of the problem. Talking about a problem is one thing. But all your talking only adds to the problem. But 90 percent of people in the world, they talk about a problem, not a solution. Anywhere, about the rivers, the forest, this and that, they talk about the problem and if you ask, "What is the solution?" "Oh, that I don't know. The government should do it."
WOMAN 1
I have already signed up for the training. I have even turned in a passport photo. I live here in the neighborhood. When do I get the chance?
WOMAN 2
I haven't heard anything yet. Just have patience. Next time it is your turn too.
WOMAN 1
I have called in there so many times.
VOICEOVER
By now, the solutions of Dr. Pathak -- the WCs and public toilet complexes -- are built in 14 African and in several Asian countries, including China and war-stricken Afghanistan. The Indian scientists and technicians, who are working for the Sulabh movement, haven't been sitting around doing nothing.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
This is the back portion of a Sulabh public toilet. Human excreta from there comes to the biogas-digester, which is not visible. It is 20 feet deep. Here the human excreta gets converted into biogas, and the biogas is tunneled through a pipeline for different purposes. So here again no electricity is required, nothing from outside. It's automatically.
VOICEOVER
In the bigger Sulabh toilet complexes, the human excreta are fully recycled on site. The only thing that remains is compost, purified water and biogas. Meanwhile, the gas is also used to generate electricity. In India there are 122 power stations where this happens. A few months ago Dr. Pathak received the Energy Globe Award in the European Parliament for one of the best permanent development projects in the world.
DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK
Just listen, one day you will be just as valuable as everybody else.