Admittedly this is a new experience for even me: toilet history! And if ever there was a place to create such a monument, it would be India.
India has a population of over 1.3 billion humans, all doing the same thing every human does as beings. Thus, a need for disposal. When I first moved to India in 2008 it was brought to my attention that almost a full 700,000 people were without proper toilet sanitation. In other words, the best they were able to get was a hole in the back yard/field or thereabouts. Now think about that! Half of the country’s population operated on a daily basis without anywhere to do their business in a clean and mannerly way. Think of the opportunities for disease and illness that presents! https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-30/world-s-biggest-toilet-building-spree-is-a-windfall-in-india
Another factor to consider with such a huge problem is the safety of people wandering around out back looking for a private place to poop, particularly women. Appavou, who was a consultant for a UNICEF project that funded the installation of toilets in rural India said, “Open defecation leaves women at higher risk to sexual violence. Using fields to defecate can expose them to snake and scorpion bite,” he says. Today, after the government’s efforts Clean India Mission initiative, there are now only 564,000 openly defecating. This is progress. http://unicef.in/Whatwedo/11/Eliminate-Open-Defecation
It came as a big surprise to me to be told (thank you Chelsea) that close to where I am staying in Dwarka, is a Toilet Museum (https://www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org/ ), tracing the history of the toilet, or water closet, from 2500 BC to now! So of course I had to go and see for myself what all the fuss was about, and find answers as to what is being done in this country of toilet deficits. I was not disappointed.
I was happy for the comic relief of Vikram, my girlfriend’s driver who accompanied me on this experience.
The approach to the entrance looks extra busy and the reason for this is rather ingenuis: the materials needed to prove the toilet sanitation theories of the museum are provided right at the street front. There is a line of toilets housed within a building, called a sulabh, along the road in front of the museum. The ‘materials’ are piped in to the back side of the sulabh to the museum for ‘processing’!
Once off the street and past the gates, we found ourselves in a long courtyard that led to a covered area featuring a selection of what looked like outhouses to me. Well, they were, but what was important about these outhouses was the fact that they represented the way in which India is now able to afford placing toilets in rural areas, efficiently and effectively. The build of these houses show how the ‘materials’ are properly processed without any fear of contamination or spread of disease, while giving privacy to the occupant.
The founder of the museum, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, is the inventor of this system, and it’s success is such that to date, there have been over 1.5 million of his eco-friendly community toilets set up in public places spread out over 26 States. As a matter of fact, much of Dr. Pathak’s methodology is implemented in our western, modern day toilet engineering.
We entered the building that housed the history of toilets and were surprised and entertained by what we saw: toilets represented there were made of stone, or wood, or plastic, and there was one that was referred to as a microwave toilet. It actually is an incinerating toilet and burns the contents after being deposited. I learned that the world’s most expensive toilet is the one created for the space shuttle! I suppose that would be a tricky one.
The one toilet that made me react the most was the table/toilet made for people on the move, and/or small spaces. The premise is that after eating your meal on the table, all dressed with utensils and napkins etc, you would lift top and voila! There underneath the table top is a toilet seat, pot included! Sit on the seat, do your business, empty the pot, then lower the lid just in time for lunch!
After having viewed a collection of toilets that made me go ‘huh?’, we were led to the human excreta kitchen area which in truth was fascinating. This is the area that we learned about the street sulabh in front of the museum’s entry point. With all of the ‘material’ being collected from the street side, the museum was able to show how our poop can provide useful energy for things we use on a day-to-day basis. Want some lighting along your walkways after dark? Light up that lamp with Biogas. What about some warmth while you sit out on your deck in the cooler months of the year? Some Biogas fuel will do the trick. And cooking? Why not use energy that is guaranteed and cheap?
Our guide assured us that this fuel was without smell and clean: not potable, as most people would certainly not be pleased to be drinking in what has come out, but it was clean enough for most everything else. To prove this fact, after having shown us the method by which the liquids are cleaned and sanitized, she turned the tap on from the tank that holds the cleaned water and poured some out for our inspection. It was clear and scentless like any water that I might have scooped up from a fresh water lake.
India takes it’s problem with plumbing seriously. It is seen through the government’s efforts to clean up the habits across the country, but it also is evident in Bollywood!
Recently there was a movie hit titled “Toilet – A Love Story” that went on to gross millions of dollars. ‘Toilet’ is a comedy about a newly wed couple that struggle with the toilet deficiencies first in their home, and in to their community. It chronicles their battle to bring attention to the need for sanitation even in rural areas, but here is the irony: it is a story that finds truth in a real life! A woman in India was granted a divorce a week after the movie’s release because her husband failed to support her need for a safe and clean environment for her basic human need.
Truly, I hope you enjoy the pictures and the story, but I ask you not to walk away without understanding the importance of such a topic. This touches on safety, both physical health and sexual health, and it is a serious topic. Take the time to learn more of how our fellow humans living in other countries can at times be subjected to situations that are not good, either by ignorance or other reasons.
And if ever you are in Dwarka India, go see the Toilet Museum: it is well worth dropping in!