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People choose to be poised over cleanliness

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On October 2, 2014, Prime Minister Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a mission to clean India’s cities and villages. On the same day it’s Gandhi Jayanti, a national festival celebrated in India to mark the occasion of the birthday of Mohandas Gandhi, who is called the “Father of the Nation”. It is one of the three national holidays of the country. “Gandhiji believed that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’. He had stressed on the importance of a disease free and clean body. This is the reason why PM Modi synchronised Gandhi Jayanti with Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Three years back when this campaigned was launched, it remained only as a photo-shoot media and publicity event, each and every celebrity and politician took the broom in hand, got done nice photo-shoot and posted photos on social media. Some got personal mentions from the PM, while some went ignored. The campaign was largely criticised on the grounds that Modi was using it as a platform to gain political mileage by rebranding the existing Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan mission.

Government may announce any number of schemes in this connection, but implementation of the schemes has to be done by the bureaucracy and police, which have unfortunately become largely corrupt. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched with a vision to keep India clean. People find it very convenient to throw garbage everywhere. But this Mission was not just to encourage people to stop littering. It was initiated to encourage people to not only litter but also pick all the litter around them. In the months after it was launched, the campaign gained momentum with many celebrities, politicians and academic institutions organising cleanliness drives across the country. Modi nominated nine celebrities, asking them to nominate nine more people to make the initiative go viral. These included Goa governor Mridula Sinha, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Congress lawmaker and former union minister Shashi Tharoor, industrialist Anil Ambani, actors Kamal Haasan, Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan and the team of popular TV serial Taarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashmah. They all did their bit, but more than that they got media publicity and some good will of Modi.

Anyways, this campaign will run till October 2, 2019, aiming to eliminate open defecation by constructing toilets for households, communities. Forget about villages, metro cities like Mumbai, you will find hundreds of slum residents defecate on local train tracks. If you pass through Mumbai slums, you will find shit across the lanes and streets because the numbers of toilets are less to fulfil the requirement of residents. Lack of modern and scientific solid waste management practices is another reason. The scheme was launched to change people’s attitudes to sanitation and create awareness, but this could hardly change their mindset. The campaign paddled into hullabaloo as many politicians were turning it into a mere photo-op. the ministers latterly littered the garbage on a clean pavement so they could clean it. But none of these people ever went to slum or dumping grounds to clean any mess.

In spite of all odds, some good things happened such as, a total of 31.83 lakh toilets were built between April 2014 and January 2015 under this campaign, which is 25.4 per cent of the target for 2014-15. Over the next 5 years, the government plans to invest nearly Rs 2 lakh crore to construct 12 crore toilets across India. But still these toilets are not enough in comparison to the population. Most common — there are no dustbins, so people left with no choice but to throw the waste in open. If adequate dustbins are placed properly, then it is upto us to dump waste in it. Where Swachh Bharat Abhiyan fails is that it’s not providing the place to dump garbage. In a feudal society one keeps one’s house clean, but throws garbage and litter outside the house. That is why heaps of garbage is spread everywhere on the streets of India. Also, in recent decades there has been mass migration of people from the rural to urban areas looking for jobs. These people coming from rural areas and still have the primitive mindset. They throw litter anywhere, and often ease themselves in open spaces, as they do in the villages. How can this mentality be changed instantly? It will take several decades.

If you go to traditional chawals of Mumbai such as Girgaon and Dadar, having toilet inside house was considered unclean. Today, we talk about constructing toilets in every house. The problem is ‘lack of water’. People walk large stretch to fetch drinking water. In such situations, how the toilets inside the house would be kept clean? To address such problems, community toilets were built generally at the end of every street. Cleaning with water was still a problem but at least those toilets were cleaned twice a week. These were open dry latrines, not with flushing provisions. You can see many such toilets across Mumbai. While using these toilets you were exposed to all the shit the street could produce. That was the reason of people taking a long walk in the morning and evening and do their business in open fields or near a source of water, at least doing it in the open is certainly cleaner and safer than community toilets.

It is 2017, but still there are people who shit in open places. It’s very common in city slums and suburban areas but larger in small town or village side. Indian government is putting every effort to solve this problem but the efforts are not enough. It is, however, a problem of open defecation in a place far away from residential area, an inadequate number of public toilets and a poor maintenance of existing public toilets both by illiterate population and lethargic local governing bodies.

The United Nations, in a report on water access and sanitation in India released in 2015, said that 564 million of the country’s people still defecated in the open. The UN estimated that 65,000 tonnes of uncovered, untreated faeces — equal to the weight of around 180 Airbus A380s — were being introduced into the environment in India every single day. The Swachh Bharat Mission makes it a major objective to completely eliminate open defecation in India. This is an enormous goal, and an admirable one, but the mission does not stop there. To succeed, it must, by its deadline in 2019, make rapid progress in fighting some of India’s most stubborn and appalling practices of hygiene and sanitation.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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