Gandhi is not sufficiently remembered for his crusades on Bhangis' behalf. At the 1901 Calcutta Congress Convention he shocked delegates asking them not to engage scavengers but to clean their own toilets. Finding no takers, he shocked them some more by dramatically cleaning his own. It left a deep impression on the convention. Subsequent annual conventions had only Congress volunteers cleaning toilets. Never lived a man more fit to utter, "Be the change you want to see around you."
Apprenticeship among scavengers:
At Das's urging, Pathak went to live in a Bhangi colony in Bettiah. The three months there were a revelation: people who cleaned others' toilet did not care to keep their own, clean. They had accepted that they were a condemned lot.
There was time on Pathak's hands to ponder a solution.The only solution was to make toilets maintenance-free and re-train the scavenger caste for other occupations. The western-style flush toilet and centralised water-borne sewage system was too unaffordable for India. Gandhi popped up in view again. He had coined a slogan: 'tatti par mitti' [soil over shit]—he was saying 'compost it!'. He would dig a pit, put a toilet pan over it, cover it with soil when it filled and dig a new one. Several Gandhi followers practiced the simple system [See last para at this page].
In a book that Pathak treasures till today, the World Health Organisation [WHO], many years after Gandhi and after much research with all toilet available solutions, said "out of heterogenous mass of latrine designs, the pit privy emerges as the most universally applicable type." It was low-cost, needed little water, did not pollute [-it in fact turned waste into resource], offered privacy, could be built quickly, locally, and most all needed no scavengers to maintain. So here was an answer.
Not so Sulabh [-easy]:
Meanwhile, the Gandhi Centenary Year had ended, but Chief Minister of Bihar, Daroga Prasad Rai wanted the sanitation cell to be spun-off and institutionalised. Sulabh Sauchalya Sansthan [Simple Toilet Institution] was formed in 1970. R L Das was President, and Pathak its Secretary. Then the roller coaster rides began again. There was no money for Sulabh. D P Rai government collapsed. Successors were not as keen. Grants were approved but never materialised. IAS officers promised much but were transferred and gone, before they could deliver. Even a letter coaxed out of Indira Gandhi by Pathak to Chief Minister Kedar Pandey, took them nowhere. Exactly the set of circumstances we would list as reasons for not being involved in India; but Pathak's obsession with scavenger eradication made him hang in there.