My Tour of India to Take Part in International Toilet Day Festival – Shanika Ishanthi Sudarshanage

Shanika Ishanthi Sudarshanage This is my first chance to visit India. Moreover, it is a privileged for me to be among all of these important occasions. Horizon Lanka Foundation chose me to visit New Delhi, India to take part in the International Toilet Day Festival which was held on 20th November 2014 by Sulabh International.

Originally my parents were little scared to send me to Delhi as I was just 14 and had never been overseas. But when Mr. Rupak Roy, National Coordinator, Sulabh WaSH in Schools Program, Sulabh International communicated with us on e-mail to welcome us we felt comfortable. Actually from his emails we made sure that it was a genuine event. So I got my lucky chance to visit India. Honestly speaking, I did not have any notion about Sulabh International. I only knew that it is just a sanitation club. But my idea was so wrong as I got into know what it actually was. I was so willing to visit India and that was my first flight experience as I had never been to any other county before.

The staff of Horizon Lanka Foundation helped me to get ready for the presentation I was expected to do. I practiced it many a time with my teacher Mrs. Ramanee Wanninayaka till I was confident of doing it alone.

So, the day came and me and my teacher went to Katunayake International Airport and bid farewell to my parents. Actually they did not know much about anything; they only trusted Horizon Lanka Foundation and the words of Mr. Rupak Roy. We had a safe flight and arrived at New Delhi, India around 1.00 a.m. and Mr. Rupak was there with another person to welcome us. He was holding a white board which said “Welcome Horizon Lanka.” We recognized them easily as they held that board, if not we would have never found him because there were a lot of people at the airport. After that we went to our apartment by a taxi which was brought by them. Dwarka Palace was very nice hotel in Dwarka, South West Delhi. Mr. Rupak and the other person helped us to unload our baggage and they lead us to our room and asked us to enjoy ourselves and also he said about our next day plans and programmes. At that time the other delegates had already arrived there. Actually I felt that he was very kind person. I was somewhat unwell because that was my first flight and may be because of that I felt exhausted. After all my teacher and I had a delicious dish of Chapathi and Poori with Tandoori Chicken. Actually it was superb and we had a comfortable sleep.

In the morning while we were having our breakfast we heard smiles and laughter but their words were not very much clear and we were sure that was not Hindi. After our meals we went out and found the people who made those smiles were Sonam, Minh and another girl. They looked like same as they had same eyes and faces. Sonam and the other girls were from Bhutan and Minh was from Vietnam. They all had a lady escort with them. In no time we became good friends. There was another girl from Afghanistan with her escort. She looked so innocent and calm. We were good friends too later she described her experiences about war and difficulties faced with bomb explosions, etc. in her country.

After all those meetings we went to Town Hall area which we had our program. So many delegates were there and five of us wore white T-shirts and cards which were given to us by Mr. Rupak. Actually that place was so nice and attractive. There we had a nice time and for the first time I saw Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, the Founder or Sulabh International. He had arrived there and was with a bright look and walked slowly with a calm appearance. His look made a positive attitude of him within me. He made a speech and in his words there were concealed emotions. But that time also I had no clear idea about what he was doing. After his heart binding speech there was a small drama like event. It also shows the importance of cleanliness and sanitary facilities.

I remember a small conversation with a Sulabh girl. She was so friendly. I was somewhat backward when making friends but all the people in Sulabh International were so friendly. We discussed about sanitation and cleanliness in schools in India verses Sri Lanka. She said that in India if they keep soap in the washroom at the morning, the vary day after the interval it would be vanished and even there is not any marks of a soap. We laughed together and I did not feel any difference between Sri Lankans and Indians because all their jokes emotions and also thinking ways are extremely same. I felt that I was not in India, was in Sri Lanka as even the weather make me fell usual. Wind, pleasant sun rise, fragrance of flowers and the nature of people made me to think that I am not in an unknown country.

Lastly we had a walk with thousands of people. We walked with a commode on our shoulders and a “lotta” with our hand. That was an excited experience I ever had. Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak was with us. We shouted “Toilets for all” Actually very interesting moments we had. Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak did a small explanation about Indian “Shauchalaya problems and manners” He walked with women who wore blue sarees and they looked so traditional and poor. Later I got into know that they are “scavengers.” Scavenging is a manual cleaning of human excreta. They crawl and clean the dry latrines and load them on their head using bamboo baskets. It is a caste based profession. They were humiliated, hated, vilified and avoided by the Indian society. But Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak carry out a Liberation and Rehabilitation process for scavengers by his Sulabh movements. How humble he is to do such a great service and to walk with them as he is a ritzy man. I heard about scavengers from Buddha’s era. The Lord Buddha also helped “Sopaka,” a scavenger and later become a Buddhist monk. But actually I thought scavengers are used to be but not in this globalized modern world. From the participation of this Sulabh event I got so many hidden subjects from my eyes. I remember a word from Mahatma Gandhi which I read from the book, Sulabh Sanitation Movements. He said “I may not be born in again, but if it happens I will like to be born in a family of scavengers, so that I may relieve of them of the inhuman, unhealthy and hateful practice of carrying night soil”. After Mahatma Gandhi I heard another person like him. He is Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak who sacrifices his time wealth for the well-being of scavengers. And also I can remember, in that book one of a scavenger woman has said “it was like drops of blood dripping down my body.” While she engaged in cleaning excreta she felt like this when excreta drip down on her. How helpless they are and what a big service this great man, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak carries on. There are no any words to appreciate him in this whole world. After our walk we watched largest commode and everyone took photographs of it.

After all these long hours we were treated by yummy South Indian foods. That was an amazing hotel, very much attractive and also much popular. There were two girls with us from Sulabh. They helped us a lot to select tasty foods as they soundly know the taste of Indian meals. According to their suggestions we tasted so many foods. I was already taste “Rasam” from my home but this time “Rasam” was somewhat different may be it is because of spices they used. Out of all i love “Samosa.” Actually our meal was so good and tasty in no words. After our meal we went to our apartment and rest for some time.

According our agenda we were given by Mr. Rupak we were to go to Sulabh School and Toilet Museum. We visited Sulabh School and there we so many underprivileged people and students. They were given education and also vocational trainings with job opportunities. We visited each classroom and spoke with the children. Their eyes showed how happy they are learning together.

After visiting there we had a short round table discussion at the upper stair of a school building with Mr. Rupak. He announced that each of us would be given a laptop and the following day we had the big Toilet Festival and also a competition. He briefly explained about the competition and asked for our ideas about shopping, visiting and things we would like to do in our tour. Most preferred to go shopping and only me and my teacher wanted to visit Taj Mahal. Unfortunately we lost that chance because everyone agreed to go shopping. That night of the same day my teacher helped me study the book which was the source of tomorrow’s competition. The book was somewhat thick and I thought I would be lazy and drowsy reading because I’m not much interested in reading. But actually it was a wonder that I was attracted and absorbed to that book. There were so many projects and photos which have been done by Sulabh Organization and also while reading it I came to know about scavengers in India who are disgraced by the society. That time I really appreciated this organization and the work they do. Actually he is as great as a god. He does everything not for himself, but to create a clean and hygienic environment for everyone. He carries on a struggle, a nonviolent struggle like Mahatma Gandhi did. He is dedicated to making this polluted society into a healthy one and converting hell into heaven.

In Sri Lanka sanitary problems do not closely affect me and are not much debated so I didn’t know much about them. After my Indian experience, I now know that there are lots of people who have no place to defecate and no hygienic procedures. Frankly,  we are blind and we don’t know what is going behind-the-scenes. Mr. Rupak revealed that as a developing country all the citizens should be civilized and ought to have proper facilities to be healthy. I read every single word in the book carefully. Sulabh programs extend a great distance offering services and I remember some them I read from that book. Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak has helped two widows of Varanasi and Brindavan. And also, ostracized scavenger women as I told above. Sulabh has invented eco-friendly technologies used in toilet pits which are economically affordable. I was lucky to visit those places, the Sulabh Public Toilet Complexes, which are also very useful and advantageous for people who can do all of their washing there. The technology and alternatives used by Sulabh is a large topic to discuss. I got surprised when I read about the technologies used by Sulabh Organisation. They make Bio gas from those public toilets and there is a Sulabh Effluent Treatment System, which was very useful and environmental friendly and also Sulabh Technology reduces Green House gas effect. Marvelous actually, I cannot imagine how big of a service he is engaged in.  I felt ashamed because, as I told you when I come to India, I thought Sulabh is just an organization, but I did not know the value and the huge service undertaken by this organization. I felt that I was very lucky to get the membership in this great organization.

That morning my teacher and I worshiped Lord Buddha and then went to the place where we had our program. There were so many people and I was a little bit scared before I had to speak before them. My friends were afraid too. We were warmly welcomed with an offering of smelly rose garlands and a white shoal. At the hall I met a Sulabh girl. She was so nice and I told her that I was afraid to talk before all these people. She said, “Stand up and look around and catch faces.” Thank you my friend, it was a great trick!  She taught me how to drive out stage fright. I did my speech well in front of so many honorable people, including Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. We were refreshed by beautiful songs, dramas, dances etc. There was a hilarious fashion show with beautiful Indian girls dressed in extremely marvelous fashions. Lastly, our competition was held. I faced a little problem with my computer but I did my best. The thing is that I could only answer the questions with short answers. However I got the third prize and won a laptop and a cheque. I was very happy about my victory as I was the smallest girl among my friends and they were older than me. Still, I was able to compete with them. After everything, the most unforgettable and the most valuable praise I got was from Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. I felt that I was very lucky to touch his feet as he is like a live God. I have godly thanks for him to make a huge change within me, and also these experiences made me to love this organization. Gradually I fell in love with all of India and also the language. By inviting students like us and making us aware about these problems and solutions to overcome these things, you are doing a great job.

After I got my statue and gifts, a big Toilet cake was cut. My friends and I went near the cake with Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. While we were there, two beautiful ladies came and told many things in Hindi to me but I was so astonished that I froze. I did not speak and I just showed my card I wore which mentioned my name and country. They said that I looked like an Indian and I was flattered. However India is our fatherland so we ought to look similar. That was a remarkable moment.  After this festival we visited a toilet museum. It was a very significant and eye-catching place. There were supernatural commodes we cannot imagine ever. A commode made as a throne and a commode that looks like a leather chair were just two pieces. There were couple commodes for lovers who are madly in love with each other. There was a map of the Sulabh Public Toilet Complex and also some photos. We went to a place where the whole recycling process is going on. A man shows water used after defecation in toilets can be recycled and made into pure water again. He shows the whole setup and we smelled that water. It’s actually amazing because there was not even a tiny disgusting smell. The day lasted with beautiful experiences.

After that day we were to go shopping. We first visited the huge, old Akshardham temple. We were provided two girls who told us about the site and to support us. There were beautiful ponds, statues of Buddha, roof art, gardens and also beautiful statues of lovers. I was very happy to visit there and learn much from that place. One of the Sulabh girls, from Tamilnadu, told me about a specific pond. She said if we throw a coin into that pond and wish something it would come true. I wished to visit this place again with my parents and show them the beauty. As she told it is just a myth. We talked a lot about war between Sinhalese and Tamils. We both were against the war. Before I met her I was very much afraid of Tamils, even the word Thamilnadu. And also while we were in the Chennai airport we spoke in English because we are so afraid of Tamils. But after our conversations I felt I was wrong and it is not possible to judge one from their language or appearance. After visiting temple we had a tasty Samosa from a nearby boutique. After that we went to IDIOMS complex market in Delhi. We bought beautiful sarees for my mom and we went to “Sarojanee Market.” I bought gifts for my friends there. Mr. Rupak was with us and how much I was bothersome and spiny as I cried for “Mehendi”. So he led us to a Mehendi shop and I bought nice Mehendi tubes from there. Actually within me an Indian lover was born.

After our shopping we went to visit the Sri Lankan high commissioner in India, Professor Sudarshan Seneviratne. He was very happy to meet me and I felt consoled when I talked with him as I talked with him in Sinhala (my language.) He said lots of things about his former life of work as an archeologist. And I also shared my experiences on this tour and about the Sulabh Organization, which Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak carried out. He was very happy about my victory and we had a coffee there. After that we returned to our apartment. That night we all had a wonderful dinner in hotel Taj Palace. It was really like a palace. We had a delicious dinner there. At last the time came for us to be separated and we had to return to our countries. We had to leave and to say good bye to our friends and to India.

I want to thank Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak and Sulabh International for organizing an event like this that can have a huge impact on the socio cultural lives of the people, the coordinator, Mr. Rupak for arranging our beautiful and comfortable tour, Mrs. Ramanee Wanninayaka for supporting me and protecting me as a mother. The Founder of Horizon Lanka Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka for giving me this lucky opportunity. To all my new friends I met on this tour and lastly Mr. Raju who took photographs of us on the trip.

Sulabh is doing much more than one can expect from an NGO generally. Such exemplary leadership can be rarely seen in the world. It is an honor for me to meet you as I have heard that BBC Horizon has selected Sulabh techniques among 5 best technologies of the world. With the motivation of this India tour I selected Hindi for my Ordinary Level exam and I got A pass for Hindi. The cheque I won from the competition was deposited and the laptop is on my lap in this moment. I am extremely thankful for everyone and for everything. This is the biggest, most remarkable tour I have ever had and it was also a turning point in my life because Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak’s ideas were keenly absorbed in my mind and I am a follower of that great person. I salute all for your efforts and for the citizens of the world.

Thank You!

Shanika Ishanthi Sudarshanage