Cleaning up

Civil servants on their holiday gingerly handling a jhadu to satisfy the PM will not be enough.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Published:October 5, 2014 12:00 am
modi-480 If we are to deliver ‘Swachh Bharat’ as the PM would like, it will need more than taking up the broom on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.

Indians invented the zero and the decimal system, the most powerful and useful concepts in mathematics. The Chinese invented the wheelbarrow and printing, labour saving and mind-broadening inventions. Indians are philosophical; the Chinese practical. Indians look to the sky and meditate on the Eternal. But their surroundings are filthy. Well-off people do not clean up after themselves. That is the job of the lowest people whose karma, we believe, led them to be born to do menial jobs. No wonder India has a dirt problem.

If we are to deliver ‘Swachh Bharat’ as the PM would like, it will need more than taking up the broom on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. To begin with, the broom — the jhadu — is an extremely inefficient way of removing dust and dirt. If you have ever swept a room, you will know. The jhadu just displaces dust; it does not remove it. The dust rises for a while and then settles right back down. We need more efficient instruments to clean, machines which suck up the dust, which swallow and crunch up the garbage, not the jhadu. The jhadu is a sign that the elite does not know how to clean and does not care.

The problem of urban filth is a national emergency. Civil servants on their holiday gingerly handling a jhadu to satisfy the PM will not be enough. It is a daily struggle in which every citizen has to be engaged. One army which can be recruited in this struggle is another ugly feature of our cities — beggars. Beggars are not necessarily BPL (below poverty line). Begging can pay well. Begging is an industry, the only one in which children are the larger part of the workforce. The trick would be to harness the beggars to become permanently engaged in cleaning up our cities. Give them simple uniforms, tools and cash incentives to do the cleaning up round-the-clock, considering begging is a full-time job anyway.

The one other force which knows more about cleaning than anyone else are women. The job of keeping the home clean is their responsibility. To supervise the cleaning servants is their job. Women know and care about cleaning much more than men. Harness their knowledge and their ideas and see how much progress we can make. There should be street committees with women involved who would see to it that their streets stay clean. Give them incentives to do this job.

It need not stop there. I have visited universities and walked through corridors where there is dirt and filth, broken window panes and peeling paint. As I have walked through, vice-chancellors and professors have accompanied me, all keen to get to the tea they have arranged for me. They do not want to look as I point out the dirt. They shout at their subordinates. The subordinates shout at the peons.

The peons mumble something. I know nothing will change because the big people don’t think it is their job to clean, or even to notice the dirt and the filth. It is a cultural trap.

The new generation has to do better than their elders. In schools and colleges, bursaries should be given to students who would see to it to keep their surroundings clean. This is again a task where the professionals employed, invariably the lowest-paid employees, have no power or inclination to take responsibility. The principal task is to make people ashamed of their tolerance of dirt. A people who value ritual cleanliness above physical cleanliness needs re-educating. Our desire for ritual cleaning has made the Ganga the dirty, polluted river it has become.

Dirt is also gold. Towns and cities can collect their garbage and convert it into energy. This is not rocket science. Making this possible will require asking households to separate their waste, as is done all over the developed world. India generates enough garbage to make recycling and treatment of waste an activity that can generate revenues for town and city governments. Not just October 2; every day should be Gandhi Jayanti.

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  1. A
    Arun Sharma
    Oct 5, 2014 at 7:30 am
    India has already large number of government employees for cleaning in every munilities and offices. They also have bought several modern machines for cleaning. There are two major problems. First dirty conditions outside our home does not bother us much as we have learnt to live with it. Second, we ourselves make public places dirty by spitting, littering and any other activities . In every country, there are workers who do cleaning professionally. We can not expect every one to do it in offices and public places. What is required is not to spoil already cleaned places as cleaning can not be done w day. A lot of dusty condition in India is also there due to our dry climate causing soil to get loose and fly. We need to sensitize every one that we should not be indifferent to dirty condition in public places and should not make them dirty.
    Reply
  2. B
    Brijkhanna
    Oct 5, 2014 at 10:55 am
    These JHADU wielding POLITICIANS, BUREAUCRATS look good for News Papers Photos or for TV coverage. So long as we the INDIAN DO NOT REALIZE IN THE DOGMA OF CLEANLINESS AND PRACTICE IT WITH SINCERITY AT HOME AT WORK PLACES AND AT PUBLIC PLACES NOTHING SHALL COME OUT OF THESE ROAD SHOWS. THERE SHOULD BE SEVERE PENALTY FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT OBSERVE THESE NORMS AT HOME AND AT PUBLIC PLACES. I REMEMBER HAVING BEEN FINED FOR THROWING BUS TICKET ON ROAD AT MUNICH
    Reply
  3. G
    Guru
    Oct 5, 2014 at 3:19 am
    What a bone headed conclusion and analysis. Mr. Meghnad. The jhadu is not for cleaning tiled floors. What that indicates is that although the well polished floors may be clean, the actual cleaning is required on the Roads next to your house, the drain near you office and the garbage bin at the market. What the cleaning by Jhadu represents is that the dust soil and sand is not to be removed but the litter and garbage is to be collected and dumped at its' proper place, the garbage bin. So please do not start beating the elite drum, come down from the pedestal, walk outside and start cleaning the surrounding. Make sure that when you are outside, you do not litter, you do not let anyone else litter and if you see some place littered with whatever resources you can gather, please, do please clean up.
    Reply
  4. D
    dee vee
    Oct 5, 2014 at 11:13 pm
    idea of harnessing any group is not bad.But an initiative or a movement by anyOne to do or motivate to to get it done is also equally good.
    Reply
  5. A
    Amit Sood
    Oct 5, 2014 at 5:45 pm
    No cleanliness campaign is going to succeed, unless it gets embedded in our psyche.
    Reply
  6. G
    Gopal
    Oct 5, 2014 at 4:17 am
    This is a well-written article. The author has made some good points. As others have noted we cannot achieve clean India unless our atudes towards cleanliness change. I like the point that the jhadoo is a useless device for cleanliness. We need other ways of removing the dirt and filth if we are to improve cleanliness in India.
    Reply
  7. S
    ss
    Oct 5, 2014 at 8:02 am
    I fail to see the connection between Hindu philosophy and the squalor that is found in our cities. Filthy slums, very much comparable to our Dharavi, can be found in Islamic Karachi and Christian Manila. The truth is that it is poverty and congestion that breeds slums and lack of adequate civic infrastructure in the form of a sewage system and solid waste management system sustains it. Filth and squalor are the direct outcome of widespread poverty. Till such time as undeveloped countries remain poor, no amount of photo opportunities or exhortations by publicity seeking politicians will help.
    Reply
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    Marko Mamic
    Oct 11, 2014 at 12:59 pm
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