Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak passes away at 80

Pathak was the founder of Sulabh International, an India-based social service organisation which works to promote human rights, environmental sanitation, waste management and reforms through education

August 15, 2023 05:34 pm | Updated 08:26 pm IST - New Delhi

Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International. File.

Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International. File. | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

Sulabh International founder, Padma Bhushan recipient, and social worker Bindeshwar Pathak on Tuesday died of a cardiac arrest at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, shortly after he was brought in to the hospital. Mr. Pathak was 80 years old. 

Credited with bringing in the revolutionary Sulabh Complex public toilet system to India, which contributed significantly to reducing open-defecation and manual scavenging, Mr. Pathak was closely associated with his non-profit and “worked till the end”, said his associates. 

Sources at AIIMS, Delhi told The Hindu that Mr. Pathak was brought into the hospital at 1.15 p.m. on Tuesday, shortly after which he suffered a cardiac arrest and died at 1:42 p.m.

Mr. Pathak is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters and the death has come as a shock to family members and all those close to him, said Madan Jha, who worked with him at Sulabh International for nearly two decades now. 

“He was singing and dancing till yesterday. Even today, he was at the Independence Day celebrations at Sulabh Complex in Delhi,” Mr. Jha, 54, told The Hindu.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences in a post on X (formerly known as Twitter), saying, “The passing away of Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak Ji is a profound loss for our nation. He was a visionary who worked extensively for societal progress and empowering the downtrodden. Bindeshwar Ji made it his mission to build a cleaner India. 

“He provided monumental support to the Swachh Bharat Mission. During our various conversations, his passion towards Swachhata was always visible. His work will continue to inspire several people. My deepest condolences to his family and loved ones during this difficult time. Om Shanti.”

President Droupadi Murmu also expressed her grief at Mr. Pathak’s passing, saying, “Shri Pathak had taken a revolutionary initiative in the field of cleanliness. He was honoured with many awards including Padma Bhushan. I express my condolences to his family and members of Sulabh International.”

Born and educated in Bihar, Mr. Pathak had founded Sulabh International Social Services Organisation in 1970 to introduce a public toilet system in India that would go on to become a feature of hundreds of towns. He was conferred with the Padma Bhushan in 1991 for social work and later became an ambassador for the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission. 

Over time, Sulabh International also contributed to the welfare of people engaged in manual scavenging and helped them come out of the occupation. The organisation was conferred with the Gandhi Peace Prize for 2016, jointly with the Akshaya Patra Foundation. 

Mr. Jha said, “He always thought about society and worked for the nation and his work speaks for itself. We are short of words.”

Condolences poured in from other leaders across the country as well, with Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda also posting a message on social media, where he said Mr. Pathak’s contributions to bringing sanitation access for all was “incomparable”.

Union Social Justice Minister Virendra Kumar also expressed his condolences, saying, “The news of the demise of Padmabhushan Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh International, who made cleanliness an integral mission of life and provided accessible toilets to remote areas of the country, is very sad. Condolences to the bereaved family members and humble tribute to the departed soul. Om Shanti.”

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