In the era of 'Mr India' and 'Mr Handsome', except some 'Active Few', most of the people would be surprised to know that somebody could be respectfully called 'Mr Toilet' as well.
Ishwarbhai Patel, popularly known as 'Mr Toilet', passed away on December 26, 2010 at the age of 77. Many books can be written on him to list his work and service to the society, especially in the public sanitation and cleanliness.
An innovative toilet designer and committed Gandhian, Ishwarbhai Patel lived his life just for the up-liftment of most downtrodden community in the society involved in scavenging.
Ishwarbhai inspired many lives to join the cause - considered dirty and regarded as one of the reasons for the prevalent untouchability in the society.
After completing education, he developed interest in the up-liftment of scavengers and launched campaign against the untouchability and fought for the entry of untouchables into temples.
In his early days, he spent many nights in front of public toilets to study and understand the sanitation practices to find out effective solutions, where human would not be needed to handle the night soil.
In fact, if he had charged royalty for his toilet designs, he would have made lot of money, but he submitted all his designs to the sanitaryware manufacturers, and they are still used today. Talking about Ishwarbhai's personality, Viren Joshi, who joined him after returning from US, says, "Saheb (Ishwarbhai), was committed to his work of up-liftment of scavengers and sweepers till his last breath. Lot of people - especially the Gandhians had taken up various works of social up-liftment as per their capacities, but only few took it as a mission. The most important part of his personality was the values and clarity about the work to be done, and transparency with which the work was done."
Till his last few days, Iswharbhai's sense of humor continued to defeat the pain. "His lungs were collapsing, his sugar level was 450 and kidneys were failing. He could not lie down and had to sit straight up for 12 days in hospital bed! He would try getting some sleep nodding a little.
On the 5th day, when a doctor asked him "how was the night Ishwarbhai"? "He smiled and replied "I feel like I have been riding a horse all these days!" No one can imagine where this sense of humor was coming from." recalled Joshi.
Hailing from Patel community of Unjha, Ishwarbhai first encountered untouchability at the age of 12. His teacher Gopalbhai Patel recalls, "He was studying in primary school and on October 2, 1946, we had organised a cleanliness programme. Ishwarbhai took broom of a sweeper lady and started sweeping. However, his aunt saw him using the broom of the untouchable lady. She got angry and started scolding Ishwarbhai that he had polluted them by touching the broom. So to clean him, she pulled down a pot of water that was used for toilet from a bucket full of cow dung on her head, took some water in her palm and got it cleaned by touching her gold earring sprinkled on Ishwarbhai. This incident made Ishwarbhai think about the ignorance prevailing in the society about sanitation and cleaning."
Today there are nearly 7 lakh toilets in the country. Even now, human excreta are being handled manually by nearly 2.5 lakh people.
However, it is believed that the work of Ishwarbhai Patel is often misunderstood with his work of innovative toilet designs, which is very useful to reduce the water usage, the centre of his all activities was the up-liftment of scavengers and sweepers and establish their human dignity.
His demise, significantly brought all the sections ranging from current and former ministers in the state government, CEOs of big companies to sweepers and scavengers in one line, gathered to pay tribute to him. Swami Sachchidananda, during the book release function just 12 days before Ishwarbhai's demise, rightly pointed out that Ishwarbhai Patel is the living god for sanitation. Iswarbhai Patel lived his life like a god of smelly things and left behind an immortal fragrance of his work.