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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 8, February 15, 2014

Wield the Broom to Clean the Minds of the People

Monday 17 February 2014

by Jeevesh Gupta

The difference between saying and doing is infinite, if you really look at the state of our nation today. A Central Parliament along with the Legislative Assemblies and Councils are filled with representatives elected by us who have been either speaking or filling pieces of paper with no action. Our history of last 66 years is verbose and has been written and rewritten but not acted upon yet.

The recent Assembly elections in Delhi saw tall promises being made by all the political parties, as they always do. This election also saw a people’s movement turning into a political party and contesting for implementing a model of self-governance. This political party called the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) has been voted to power by the people in expectation that they would bridge the ever widening gap between “kathni” (saying) and “karni” (doing).

Mahatma Gandhi, during his speech at Benaras Hindu University in February 1916, said: “The Congress has passed a resolution about self-government, and I have no doubt that the All-India Congress Committee and the Muslim League will do their duty and come forward with some tangible suggestions. But I, for one, must frankly confess that I am not so much interested in what they will be able to produce as I am interested in anything that the student world is going to produce or the masses are going to produce. No paper contribution will ever give us self-government. No amount of speeches will ever make us fit for self-govern-ment. It is only our conduct that will make us fit for it. And how are we trying to govern ourselves?” The words of Mahatma are self-explanatory. While we have spoken a lot about the issues which ail the society, no change is visible.

Adding further to his speech, Mahatma remarked: “I visited the Vishwanath temple last evening, and as I was walking through those lanes, these were the thoughts that touched me. If a stranger dropped from above on to this great temple, and he had to consider what we as Hindus were, would he not be justified in condemning us? Is not this great temple a reflection of our own character?” Gandhi pushes us towards introspection to realise one fact that we can never have clean cities till the public undertakes to keep them clean.

Gandhi further goes on to say, “I speak feelingly, as a Hindu. Is it right that the lanes of our sacred temple should be as dirty as they are? The houses round about are built anyhow. The lanes are tortuous and narrow. If even our temples are not models of roominess and cleanliness, what can our self-government be? Shall our temples be abodes of holiness, cleanliness and peace as soon as the English have retired from India, either of their own pleasure or by compulsion, bag and baggage?” Leave aside any visible improvement, the Kashi Vishwanath temple and the city of Benaras have just deteriorated all along. On my recent visit to this city, I couldn’t stop myself from believing that this could be the filthiest city of India. If one sees the garbage lying on the streets and the condition of roads and walkways (if any), it speaks a story of India which awaits a revolution to activate the laid back public to improve the society. As Gandhi rightly said, keeping our surroundings clean is the fundamental building block towards cleaner cities and healthier societies which are a reflection of the most effective form of self-governance.

Though we claim that we are a much more educated society based on the literacy rates (refer to table 1 below) but the reality is very stark. If the child is not imparted the basic lessons of cleanliness and hygiene by his parents, how will he/she make the much needed difference we have been waiting to see in our environment?

Literacy Rate (%)

Rural 78.05 82.67 +4.62
Urban 81.93 86.43 +4.50
Rural 58.7 68.9 +10.2
Urban 79.9 85 +5.1

Census of India 2012

423 Dirtiest Cities in India

Rank Name of the City
1 (cleanest) Chandigarh
4 Delhi (NDMC)
5 Delhi (Cantonment)
12 Bangalore
25 Kolkata
45 Mumbai
168 Delhi (MCD)
420 Srinagar
423 (Dirtiest) Churu

The above list is from India’s Urban Development Ministry (2010)

While children go to school and come back every day, the most basic value addition seems to be completely ignored, especially in government schools at the primary level. As is evident from Tables 1 and 2:

a. Though the literacy rate in Delhi and India (Table 1) has gone up but Indian cities continue to remain the dirtiest in the world. Mumbai comes last in the list (of the world’s 40 cleanest cities) released by the trip advisor in 2012.

b. As is evident from Table 2, Even within India, 94 per cent area of the Capital (administered by the Municipal Corporation) was ranked at an abysmal 168th position by the Urban Development Ministry in 2010 on the parameter of cleanliness and sanitation.

Delhi currently is at a juncture where people are motivated to participate in the change which they want to see. The AAP needs to ensure that they don’t let people go off to sleep. People, as always, will enlist their problems and doze off. They will only rise during the next elections when they will once again realize that most of the problems still exist the way it was when they voted last.

While the AAP elucidates its 17-point manifesto in all their meetings, the model of self-governance will only be successful when they start requesting people to take the pledge of commitment towards contributing to the cleanliness of the society. The AAP and Arvind Kejriwal currently have that moral force to extract that commitment from the people that will take the society and the movement a long way. This pledge should include “not littering their streets”, “not spitting on roads” and similar issues.

People today don’t feel proud of their country (India) and keep their personal property top notch, being least bothered about their external public surroundings. The sense of ownership will only come when they feel that all put together can improve the look and feel of Delhi.

A curative approach has been followed for decades. Following these measures, we end up losing roughly six per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to World Bank estimates, by raising the disease burden in the country which has to move towards a precautionary approach. All the stakeholders have to believe in the age old adage “prevention is better than cure”. Sanitation can only be taught by parents because a child at a tender age imitates his/her parents. If the parents would throw litter outside the car window while driving, the child would do the same tomorrow. If the parents would practice hygiene, the children will understand the value of having a clean surrounding which would not just make the adjoining areas healthier but also make a huge positive impact.

Parents, schools and teachers have to be made the perfect models of hygiene which will take their children forward. Hopefully the powerful broom will use its moral force to accomplish this task and clean the minds of the people towards a better tomorrow.

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