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”!!!

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.

bharat

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 🙂 🙂 🙂

cartoon

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/