Oct 27, 2014

Swacch Bharat... Healthy Bharat

It all started off with the PM of India, Mr. Narendra Modi starting off a campaign to keep India clean. Clean India, and that will make a healthy India, was the simple message. A message that started off from the Ramparts of the Red Fort on his inaugural speech as the PM of India, a message that he carried on during his move to Rashtrapati Bhavan, following it himself, sending direct / indirect messages to various departments in the Ministries, that his penchant for cleanliness was not something of a flash in the pan.

Cleanliness is said, is next to Godliness. Old saying. The Father of the Indian Nation, Mahatma Gandhi too propagated it and lived by it. He knew very well, that being clean not only meant cleanliness of the self, but also of the surrounding areas within oneself.

We are all aware of the Plague that hit 20 years back in Surat. A plague that rocked the country like never before. A sickness that literally cast India as an untouchable. A disease that nearly knocked India in its guts. There have been enough discussions and articles on this, and I don’t plan to start another theory, as to what went wrong or how it could have been avoided, but a simple question does come. Did we ask for it?

As one reasearches the topic (and there is enough material on the web), one finds, that it was not the number of deaths that were caused by the plague that was an issue (It is reported at a number of places, that only 56 people died). It was the way it came about, the terrifying speed with which it created havoc and near calamities, the impact to society, business and economy as a whole (a loss of nearly $600 M + in 1994), and at the same time, the urgency and vigour with which it was cleaned and cleared

The cause if one looks at it, was simple. Cleanliness, the lack of it. The fact that the city was not amongst the best in the country in terms of good living conditions, the fact that urbanization in the need for the State’s / City’s development led to a situation where living conditions started moving South, the fact that poor living conditions also meant that interactions with infected animals (rats in this case), started becoming the norm, and before one could probably shout, Shiver Me Timbers, the rot had crept in.

Fast and swift action resulted in the infection being subdued within a week. Fast forward to 2014, Surat today is a bustling city, with not a trace of the near calamity that engulfed it 20 years ago. Yes, time flies, people forget, new generations arise, but history remains the same What contributed to ensuring that this was not repeated, was a drive by the citizens and residents of the place to ensure that the first time was the last time. After all, nearly 45% of the world’s diamond polishing takes place in Surat!

A huge push to ensure streets were cleared of garbage, rats were exterminated, sewers were cleared of all obstacles to ensure a free flowing drainage system, effectively minimizing the chances of diseases. A drive that pushed all across India, as this was a grim reminder of what could have been, but did not.

But hang on, if this started a drive, why is the PM reinforcing the message. Why has he started a momentum for all of India to follow? Did we not have a similar scare in Mumbai years ago, when the rain water filled up in the drains and spilled over onto the streets, where people could not walk without fear of being sucked into some open man hole. The reason for the overflow at that time, plastic bags!

Fact of the matter is, that we are back to the same causes that initiated the sickness years ago. It may not be that bad yet (else, half the country would have been dead by now), but the fact is, that we are still a long way before we reach our goal of cleanliness across the length and breadth of the country.

We do not think twice before we throw a wrapper of a chocolate on the street, into a drainage if possible. What will one do, we say, but then so do a thousand others. We insist on buying plastic bags when we go vegetable shopping, only to come home and throw the plastic bag into the bin. Could we not have taken that bag?

We will not hesitate to throw out the garbage on the street, as long as it does not sit in our kitchen waste. We cannot sit with the smell, and if it smells on the street, the down trodden are used to living in filth. We lose our temper on our children when they scratch our painted walls with a pencil, even taking upto an hour to ensure that the wall is cleaned properly and no stain mark remains, yet we have no hesitation in spitting Paan or any thing in our mouth on the wall of another.

The list can go on and on, it is never ending, but the issue remains. What will it take us to learn? Why can we not realize that the streets we dirty are nothing but an extension of where we live. One will not leave his house every time a street gets dirty, but why can some one not take the initiative to ensure that he or she will not litter? Why do we have to wait for some one else to commence, so we follow. Why can we not, LEAD?

Are we so stubborn and beyond redemption that unless we are fined, or unless we live in countries like Singapore, New Zealand, Norway, we will not contribute. We don’t utter a word if we are fined for littering, but quietly pay. Do we need to be reminded that we are dirty?

As we progress to do something that is so basic and something that should be inbuilt, I cannot but wonder. What went wrong? India was a clean country, centuries ago, what changed? It could be various factors, going from ruralization to urbanization and the price of the same, increasing populations leading to lack of space, but most important, what I do believe is “Lack of Basic Education”

No matter what one does, the  key factor to any kind of progress is Education or lack of it. This is not being educated in terms of having a Degree or Masters in Economics, but simple house hold education that every child should be a part of. Education that can only be provided by one’s parents. Education that comes from communities, schools, friends, from society as a whole, which if not, would be unfortunate.

That despite all our setbacks we still need to learn the hard way.
That something that should be part and parcel of our very nature, has to be taught to us by others.
That once bitten twice shy is not an adage that we follow.
That we never learn from History, and are condemned to repeat it.

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