Mera Swachh Bharat Mahan!!!

It’s now 4 years since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi espoused the dream of a Swachh Bharat during his 1st Independence Day speech. “A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150 birth anniversary in 2019,” said the PM as he launched the Swachh Bharat Mission.  On 2nd October the same year, the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched throughout length and breadth of the country as a national movement. After the initial dust and noise and just when we as common citizen almost forgot about the mission, it was back in news recently. All for the wrong reasons.

This time over a set of hoardings which were put by the Railways ministry in Delhi Railway station to educate people about the need to pick up trash and use dustbins.  Meant to promote the Swachh Bharat drive, the hoardings showcased apes evolving into cleanliness conscious humans leading up to Dalit icon Dr. Ambedkar using a garbage bin.  Enough for the most productive factory in the country today namely the ‘Outrage factory” to go over drive on social media to insinuate Railways and the Government of lampooning Ambedkar! To be fair, the campaign also used other icons like Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi and even the latest craze in town – Baahubali in the same context.  The hoardings have been pulled down since then. A classic example of how in India we routinely miss the woods for the trees and chase wrong priorities. Instead of an outpouring against this, probably an assessment of how the programme is working and coming up with ideas to make it work could have done Ambedkar proud and the PM happy.

On the eve of the Prime Minister’s next I-Day Speech for which he is crowdsourcing thoughts, I would like to look at how the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has fared so far.  First up, there have been many positives since the campaign kicked off:

  • The overall sanitation coverage in the country as per reports has increased.
  • Few states have become “Open Defecation Free” – a clear target the Prime Minster outlined of making the entire country “Open Defecation Free” by 2019.
  • Toilets are being constructed in towns, villages and even in cities. Even in Navi Mumbai I have seen a few E – toilets which have sprung up along the highways since the campaign started.
  • Dustbins have been placed in many places though they may not be sufficient.
  • I hear that in Varanasi the Ghats have been cleaned and they are spic and span now thanks to the efforts of an individual – Temsutula. Similarly in Mumbai, different Citizen’s Movements have taken up cleaning of the Versova Beach and now other beaches. I understand that the Centre has picked the Versova Volunteer model for cleaning up many beaches across the country.
  • We frequently see from the Railway minister’s twitter handle pictures of many “Super Clean” Railway stations from across the country.

So far so good. But just as I suspected, while the Prime Minister’s initiative made cleanliness part of our country’s discourse, it has not been into our conscience.  In Mumbai, the notorious paan spitting out in the open has not stopped nor it hasn’t come down even. In my own office building, which got a new coat of exterior paint few months ago, one cannot miss the red splash of paan juice in the corners of stair cases when you decide to take the stairs down. Or for that matter, endless cigarette butts right under the “No Smoking” sign.  Banana peels are back near the roadside corner shops. Sights of garbage overflowing onto the street from the common garbage bins and the overbearing stench of the same are regular now.  Empty packs of Frooti, Lays chips and the like lay strewn all over the place where people gather for leisure and this is from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

If Swachh Bharat movement is about cleaning and cleaning alone, I would admit that it is probably beginning to work.  But if you look at the movement as a mission to “Reduce” cleaning in the first place then it is tottering.

If one looks at Japan, (a country, you could say, that suffers from a neurotic disorder of maintaining cleanliness) for pointers, it is interesting. Strange as it may sound – they have fewer dustbins in public places. The underlying thought being – “Why litter in the 1st place?” Of course where they have bins, it will be a dozen of bins in rainbow colours to separate different types! More importantly, the need to clean your surroundings is ingrained as part of school education. I’m told that in Japanese schools there are no Janitors. Instead school children are taught and encouraged to do cleaning themselves. Thereby an important lesson is indoctrinated which is “If you don’t want to clean, don’t litter!!!” Tidiness in Japan is not a result of billions of Yen spent on cleaners, dust bins or Clean Japan campaigns. It’s due to people following one fundamental principle – “Don’t throw garbage in the open”!

Japanese children cleaning in schools

Back to our country, it is clear that any amount of Swachh Bharat Gyan cannot make the present and older generations to make an attempt to stop littering in the open. Our hope only is with the next generations. May be we need to follow the Japanese model of moulding our children early by making them clean their surroundings at home and school daily. So that they understand the premise that if they don’t litter they don’t have to clean. In my earlier posts on this (read here), I had mentioned that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is not about cleaning but to cease the need for cleaning.  Well, in order for the Swachh Bharat Dream to come true, let the next generation actually do some cleaning. Time for a new slogan – “Mera Swachh Bharat Mahan”!!!

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12 thoughts on “Mera Swachh Bharat Mahan!!!

  1. Sridhar says:

    Good one RSA. Can you think of any school, even in our cities doing away with janitors? The outrage factory will overwork and ki the idea. I plan to write a story on that. Your blog motivated me to do so tonight.

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  2. Any conversation about Cleanliness/Open Defecation in India cannot end without the mention of The Magsasay Award winner Bezwada Wilson and Caste. Swatch Bharath is not just about having photo ops of our leaders cleaning their premises one fine day for the cameras and new meaningless adverts. There is more to it. Even this article fails to mention even once the word SAFAI KARAMCHARIs who do the MANUAL SCAVENGING. ODF means no manual scavenging and unfortunately we have a long way to go.
    As rightly pointed out by Wilson, it wont leave a hole in government’s pocket to rehabilitate them by putting an end to the practice of carrying night soil. This involves root and branch eradication of Dry Toilets across the country. Because the real problem is not the lack of toilets.But even villages where toilets are built, they fall back into their age old practice of open defecation because they find it difficult to empty their septic tanks/pits. If they try to summon the low caste to empty them they are in turn promoting manual scavenging. Some villages achieve the ODF status but fall back because lack of water connectivity or scarcity..There are problems abound.More efforts from all side is needed…
    Good Write up but I must say its from an Upper Middle Class Perspective.

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  3. Brinda says:

    Yes true. Actually it has been ingrained in our psyche that cleaning is firstly a menial job..has to be got done by others and secondly it is not part of a morally fabric. We as Indians can be cleanliness conscious when abroad but it is not an internalised conscious behaviour. It is externalism by a fear of penalty. It’s like saying I am not corrupt. I am a God fearing person. So you are scared of god’ s karma penalty so are scared to be corrupt..but once done ..not caught ..then oh God is either not seeing or God has not punished others for it so why me..
    Great Anand keep writing and pricking some consciousness in people.

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  4. Ashok Kumar says:

    True. Each individual has to inculcate the habit of keeping his surrounding clean. Awareness created is less but much more ti be done if we need to achieve this completely. While in some cities this is taken seriously may be due to the enthusiasm of the respective Collectors Swach Bharath as a mass mission is yet to take off..

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  5. This is the precise weblog for anybody who needs to seek out out about this topic. You notice so much its almost arduous to argue with you. You positively put a brand new spin on a subject that’s been written about for years. Nice stuff, simply nice!

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