A Healthy India
PM Modi pushing India for a cleaner, better version
The recent emphasis one sees in India on cleanliness has actually worked from top to bottom. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, an ambitious campaign to clean up the country and raise public awareness on the topic. It is no hidden secret that in India cleanliness, especially in public places, has been a huge problem. Even today one gets to see garbage littered on the roads and people spitting in full public display. Hence, the powerful image of Modi on October 2, 2014, wielding a broom was an important message for all the people in the country.
The fact is that in a country like India, where cultural and societal issues are intertwined with most public problems, images then serve as important policy initiatives. People need to see to believe that there is no shame in picking up a broom and becoming a part of a drive to clean the country. However, there is a certain reluctance among many people who feel that jobs like cleaning need to be done by people from the lower strata of society. This problem becomes more of an issue when it comes to the cleaning of toilets where people usually hire others to do the job and that is also where the problem of manual scavenging starts.
It is then no surprise that manual scavenging continues till date despite laws that prohibit this practice. The practice was banned in 1993 and made a punishable offence under The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. But it nevertheless continues and deaths of people involved in this are reported frequently. In response to a question raised in Parliament in December last year, the government confirmed that 97.25 per cent of the people involved in manual scavenging belong to the Scheduled Castes, or from the lower castes.
This also leads us to the next set of problems one encounters with hygiene issues in the country. Caste and societal prejudices are harder to break than a simple change to the law. The problem of open defecation is another such case. The government claims that in the first phase of Swachh Bharat Mission, over 110 million toilets were built in rural India from 2014-2019 and that around 600,000 villages across 699 districts of the country have now become open defecation free. But it’s important to note here that the availability of toilets has not automatically led to their usage. A number of reports indicate that many of these toilets are actually being used as storage shelters while people continue to defecate in the open. But at the same time, these problems should not take us away from acknowledging the fact that the Swachh Bharat campaign has been a partial success. The government has finally brought out this topic in a public forum. Hitherto many were reluctant to even discuss these issues.
Last year as India celebrated 75 years of its independence, it was a great gesture by PM Modi to then talk about the Swachh Bharat mission in his address to the nation. In 2014, during his first address from the Red Fort, the PM had announced the launch of the mission. Eight years later, he credited the collective action of India and its people for its success. This has indeed been a great success of the PM and his policies. By bringing this issue in the public domain and talking about it, this has gained societal awareness. The first sign of the success of any policy initiative is when people are willing to talk about it, action then usually follows.
Money has also been spent to educate the general public via television and movies. One Akshay Kumar movie, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha did the job quite well. The movie does a good job in delivering the message pretty well. It also attempts, logically, to answer many of the prejudices people in rural areas harbor about building toilets in their homes. In a country like India, where differences outnumber similarities, it’s never easy to change the status quo of anything.
Politics aside, the Swachh Bharat Mission also needs to be looked at from that perspective. It’s an attempt in the right direction, with many steps already taken and many more needed. Its one initiative that we all must support because at the end of the day, a cleaner India is a victory for all Indians.