For “Swachh Bharat”, STOP the Cleaning!!!

From the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the kickoff of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in India on the 15th August this year, India has been on a cleaning overdrive. Routinely we have been seeing ministers, netas wielding the broom and doing a cleaning act. It culminated in the actual launch of this new social awakening campaign by the PM on the 2nd Oct where he himself did a bit of sweeping. Its’ been a while since India actually saw the top leader championing a social campaign which Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Shashi Tharoor in their articles refer to as the “Bully pulpit” a phrase meaning to drive change top down. Close on the heels of the PM, we saw many ministers, MPs, MLAs, officialdom, volunteers from NGOs, celebrities and general public doing their bit of Shramdhan on the 2nd Oct in cleaning in different parts of the country. So far so good.

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But the moot question is does a country become clean by cleaning alone?

Among the many countries I’ve visited if I have to pick up one country which stood out for its cleanliness it will obviously be Japan. Many who have been to Japan agree to this. Is Japan spic’n span because they have more people to clean and for longer? Or do they put technology to use to ensure cleanliness? May be they do. But the fact is Japanese are extremely particular about cleanliness not just within their homes but in public spaces as well. So what they do is not just cleaning but not creating many opportunities for cleaning. They just don’t litter.  The cleaning up of the football stadium during the FIFA World cup by Japanese fans that too after their team’s exit from the World cup is now part of WhatsApp “forward folklore”. I’m sure most of the litter must have been generated by the Columbian fans!!! From having a small personal ashtray in their pockets to having 4 or 5 waste bins in every nook and corner to separate wastes, cleanliness is one of their two biopolymer strands in their DNA!!!

Contrast that to we Indians, forget DNA, cleanliness need to be searched in our hair strands!!!

I was walking down the stairs after leaving my daughter in a class yesterday. This was when the country was still reeling under the Swachh Bharat mania. A young man must be in his 30’s was standing on the edge of the stairs talking on his mobile phone. As I turned to exit the building, he used all his energy to spit the red juice of the paan he was chewing, on the floor.  I stopped and gave a long stare at him and asked him “Swachh Bharat”??? He started smiling and I felt like slapping him then and there. Now the red remnants of the “paan art” will be cleaned by someone someday. But the stains will remain to remind the world of our dirty etiquette.

For a while, I was of the view that public etiquette is an education thing. After seeing the walls and corners splashed in red in Mumbai, I have concluded that it is not. Day in day out in Mumbai (and indeed in many parts of our country) gentlemen “paint the city red” by spitting after chewing paan in public spaces and wherever they are.  In most walls, the warning sign goading people not to spit is submerged in paan stains.

For us Indians, by and large cleanliness is within the four walls of our homes. Beyond that is not our concern. This is the core issue and the reason behind the pathetic state of our public places.

If Ganga is dirty, it is not for want of cleaning. In the past Governments sanctioned crores of rupees on Ganga cleaning project and I am sure a fraction of it indeed would have been spent on cleaning. But if we don’t stop littering, then this cleaning is of no use. Like Shashi Tharoor in his article says, in the past also they have been different campaigns for a “Clean India” though not necessarily as visible and of this scale as Narendra Modi’s. They have not yielded results for the same reason that people don’t feel the need of a clean surrounding beyond their four private walls whether they are bus stands, temples, railway stations, airports, parks, gardens, schools, hospitals,… ,…

To be realistic, we cannot expect the PM to keep cleaning his surroundings in public every day in public view. And similarly the ministers, babus, NGO workers,.. . Even I heard that once the programme was over in Delhi, it left behind a trail of of water bottles,.. When the optics fade out in a few days, it will be back to the municipality workers to pick up the thread and litter literally.

So are we to stay condemned with a dirty India? Certainly not. From that point of view, the PM’s initiative is extremely laudable in creating awareness about cleanliness. This awareness needs to be transformed into an awakening by us citizens by educating our children right from the young age about the need to have clean surroundings wherever they are. I don’t have much hope on the current grown up generation to give up their few minutes of self-pleasure and stop chewing paan and spitting from tomorrow. That will continue. And for that may be the PM’s push to all to spend few hours in cleaning every year may help.

But, what will make India a Swachh Bharat though not in 5/10 years but may be in 20/25 years is when attitudinal shift happens in generations. For that we have to follow as per me the most vital part of the pledge which is “I will neither litter or let others litter” and drill this in our children.

Swachh Bharat is not about cleaning but a clarion call to cease the need for cleaning!!!

After thought: If Swachh Bharat Mission leads up to this type of cleaning no complaints though 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Cartoon courtesy : Satish Acharya

Do read my another post on Swachh Bharat – Towards Swaasth and Swachh Bharat!!! https://anandkumarrs.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/towards-swaasth-and-swachh-bharat/