Whose broom is it anyway?
The ‘Clean India’ or the ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign was launched last year by Prime Minister Narendra Modi amidst much fanfare. The image of Prime Minister Modi sweeping the road sparked a selfie rage amongst people of all walks of life. Millions of people came onto the streets, a broom in one hand and the camera in another, clicking selfies and nominating others for the same challenge on social media. After all, the challenge of sweeping the road looked far more sensible than the ‘ice bucket challenge’. For once, it seemed India was really changing. Then reality dawned upon all of us.
Unfortunately, much like the content projected on social media, this campaign too became just another public relations event. While institutions like the armed forces and few companies like Infosys and Tata continue to pursue a cleanliness drive, most often on their own premises, the rest of India seems to have forgotten about it.
The aching reality of the <g data-gr-id="62">Swachh</g> Bharat initiative is that it is more or less similar to the UPA’s Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. It may even be <g data-gr-id="71">worse,</g> because the current ruling dispensation’s scheme has cut spending for information, education, communication activities, from 15% of the program’s total expenditure to just 8%. Right below a huge hoarding on Howrah Bridge of an unusually smiling West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is seen announcing free WiFi all across Kolkata, one can see children and adults alike, lining up to defecate in the open. They would do it at the side of the road, at the underpass, or at the railway track nearby. They have even dug burrows into the side walls of an underpass to facilitate the seamless flow of faeces.
The dirtiest area in the eastern city of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh adjoins the world’s longest railway platform. The same area is littered by beer cans all across the road, thanks to the innumerable liquor shops. As a country, we may have progressed from glass bottles to cans, but the habit of leaving our muck behind remains the same. A look at the areas adjoining the railway stations in Allahabad or Patna, or the bus stands at Lucknow or Ludhiana; or the dingy by lanes of Delhi’s Paharganj, and you’ll know that a ‘Clean India’ is plausible only in a parallel universe.
‘Swachh Bharat’, the initiative, has unfortunately become a victim mired in some muddled mythology created around Prime Minister Modi. It’s as if the people of this country expected him to sport a magic broom and just wipe off all the dirt. In reality, it was a mass movement ‘initiated’ by Modi, which was expected to bring change in the way people thought of cleanliness. Much like the “Beti Bachao” (Save the girl child) initiative, the people were expected to come forward and take part into shaking this once great nation out of its slumber. However, that wasn’t how it turned out.
Cleanliness is simply a matter of mentality. And it is not like we are a dirty lot by default. After all, we were the pioneers of the sewage system and town planning. Why are our airports and metros, especially the one in Delhi, always shining? It’s the same people who travel in them. Why do so many far flung villages in South India, Nagaland or Meghalaya remain squeaky clean? These places are clean because people understand the ‘need’ to remain clean. It then simply boils down to our attitude as a community. That basic desire to not sully the clean premises and surroundings comes from within. It is this aspiration, which must be targeted. A simple step like the <g data-gr-id="63">community-imposed</g> ban on Gutkha and littering of plastic waste can go a long way in ensuring basic cleanliness.
A very apt example of this attitude in contrast can be found in the remote town of Jaigaon at the Indo-Bhutan border. Adjacent to it, across the border, is the small town of Phuntsholing and a medium sized see-through iron grill marks the boundary between the two countries. In many senses, it also marks the difference in the attitude of the people living on either side. Through this grill, one gets a peek into another world. Phuntsholing is a well-planned town with squeaky clean roads, covered drains and stain free walls. All this is in a stark contrast to what lies on the Indian side; the noisy traffic on broken roads, stashed waste on the sides, no dustbins in sight, gutkha spits all over the walls and on the streets, innumerable street vendors throwing used polyethene wraps in the open drain nearby.
In a cleverly worded introductory passage of her book Indian Summer, British historian Alex Von Tunzelmann writes about India and England. “In the beginning there were two nations, one a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England,” Von Tunzelmann wrote.