Posted by: adithoughts | November 19, 2009

My trip to the International Museum of Toilets

On the occasion of World Toilet Day, here is a repost of an article I wrote for the student newspaper last year.

I was sitting around reading the news on my laptop about a month ago when I saw a link to the “International Museum of Toilets” in New Delhi. I was intrigued, particularly since I had lived in New Delhi for five years and never heard of the place. As it happened, I was to be going to New Delhi for a family wedding and decided that I should really go the Museum.

The International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi is run by an organization called Sulabh. Sulabh was founded in 1970 with the initial objective of stopping an Indian custom in which human “scavengers” carried the waste excrements and disposed of it. Since India had a caste system, the human waste carriers were/are treated as “Untouchables” and shunned by the rest of society. It should be noted that the practice of carrying waste and caste-based discrimination is illegal. However, the practice continues in some parts of the country. Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh and a sociologist by training decided to set-up modern toilets in order to stop this age-old custom of discrimination. Since then, Sulabh has “been able to restore human rights and dignity to 120,000 scavengers, set up about 1,100,000 household toilets and 7500 community toilet blocks, constructed over 190 human-excreta-based biogas plants and made 640 towns scavenging – free. The sanitation facilities created by the Sulabh are used by over 10 million people everyday.” In addition, Sulabh has been involved in research and development in sanitation technologies.

Lack of sanitation is a problem all over the world. It is estimated that 2.6 billion people (about half of humanity) do not have access to proper sanitation. UNICEF estimates that lack of safe water and sanitation is the single largest cause of illness in the world, with 4500 children dying each day because of it. However, because sanitation can be a queasy subject, people are often loathe to talk about it. One of the biggest accomplishments of the International Museum of Toilets is to make people think about the problem in a clear-headed fashion. Here are a few fun “potty facts” that I learned from my tour guide:

1)      Did you know that the English used to shit on toilets that were shaped in the form of French books and the French kindly returned the favour. Here’s a picture of a replica toilet that I took at the museum. The toilet is shaped in the form of the Shakespeare classic “Macbeth”.

2)      Managers used to shit on top of their employees heads in the US. You might ask, so what’s new? Seriously though, here’s a picture of a two storied toilet which was used where the managers used to use stall on top of the employees.

3)      King Louis the 14th of France used to sit on a “toilet-throne” and pee in front of his court. Here’s a picture of me on a replica of the “toilet-throne”.  I could sense the power King Louis the 14th must have commanded as I sat on the toilet.

4)      Toilets used to be a part of living rooms and hence were elaborately made.

(source: http://www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org/pg01.htm)

5)      My personal favourite was this toilet from Japan which washes, dries, plays MP3s, and releases room fresheners, all at the press of a button. 90% of Japanese use this kind of toilet. I think I want one.



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