Saturday, November 08, 2014

Swachh Bharat – beyond the politics of broomsticks

Look at the way the broomstick is held in these two very different campaigns. Do you know what the humble broom said to Arvind Kejriwal?
“Sir, you didn’t know how to hold me in the right position in your election campaigns, otherwise you’d be not only winning with a sweeping majority, but sweeping the corruption away!” However, this was not to be. As we all know, the story took a different turn when the honourable prime minister Mr.Modi launched the broom as a weapon to fight for clean and green India. Are we ready to make small changes to our lives, may not be sweeping though, to be clean?

Perhaps the humble broom never got such media attention as it is doing today. It really has traveled a long journey from the hands of the aam admi to the rich, the famous and the powerful, making it to the national headlines all over the country.

The taste of Hyderabad in Swachh Bharat campaign
Some snippets from conversations in the heart of Hyderabad:
In a wholesale shop in Begum Bazar...a customer looking at the almost empty stack of brooms:
“Arre jhadu poore khatam ho gaye kya... mereku dus hona tha”                     
“Hau bhai jhadu ke achhe din aa gaye ich nahin hai ... itta demand bad jaara roz roz.  Sab logan jhadu leke safai shuru kar diye...apni Sania ko dekho tennis chhod ke jhadu pakad li...”

In an early morning shift, two GHMC women sanitation workers looking at a picture of the film stars wielding broomsticks on the roads of Banjara Hills:
"Chusinava akka, pedda pedda actorlu, ministerlu andaru cheepurlu pattukoni photolu digutunnaru...mana photolu eevaraina teesinara?"
"Aunu nijamee...idi manam roju chese pani kada eevaru pattinchukuntaaru?...ippudu mana udyogala sangatenti?"

In an undergraduate college, the campaign coordinator, preparing the team of volunteers:
"Listen all of you, please come dressed up in your Swachh Bharat T-shirts, the brooms and the cleaning material will be available on the spot. You don’t need to worry about selfies, we have hired a photographer to do the job!"

It is really heartening to see the enthusiasm and involvement from all walks of life in this much needed campaign. It’s nice to see everybody talking about it. But how do we move from ‘talking’ to ‘taking and owning action’? Especially, when we have always considered littering as our birthright! Imagine the humongous challenge that our country faces – with ever increasing consumption patterns, lack of organised waste disposal and an ingrained apathy towards the ownership and maintenance of public spaces. Unlike many other top-down campaigns, Swachh Bharat is as basic and essential as the requirements of food, clothing and shelter. But somewhere down the line, there’s an apprehension that this well-intended initiative may become a symbolic episode if we don’t take some immediate actions, of course, besides the high-profile campaign with top celebrity endorsements.

Six points that can make Swachh Bharat a reality
Inculcating a sense of ownership of public spaces and natural resources– the roads, the common amenities, places of tourist interest and historic value, the lakes, the rivers, forests, the buses, the trains,  the railways...the list can go on. The problem is that our notion of cleanliness has long been confined to the walls of our homes and this will take a long time to change!

Imbibing, sharing and spreading “I-care-for-you" attitude – Most apathy and negligence comes from the fact that we are self-centered that we literally ignore what is next to us. When we start caring for something or someone other than us, automatically we will make a positive difference in the public domain.

Recognizing efforts at grassroots level – Sure, there are plenty of stories of how people have taken exceptional steps in making their villages, towns and cities clean. An award or incentive or some form of public recognition for the cleanest town or a part of a large city, based on some parameters could make it more participatory and competitive.

Dealing with culture and mindsets – For ages, we've been producing tonnes of waste and garbage in the name of religious festivals. It’s time people are educated about the impact of such practices in protecting the environmental disasters, besides creating a nightmare for the sanitation workers.

Including formal learning and training – Nothing like catching them young – if children can pester their parents to buy the choicest brands of TVs and cars, why not use their pester power to keep our surroundings clean. I’m sure schools are already trying their best to tell the children that if they wish to earn their right to a clean and green India, it is their responsibility to teach their elders.

Introducing fines and penalties – Bitter pills work like miracles on most maladies. It’s high time people are fined if they litter, spit or urinate in public spaces, however harsh it may sound. But then, it really needs some political faith to impose such things without hurting the public sentiment.

Public campaigns have their limitations. They can inspire and incite. But, the duty and responsibility remains with us at the grassroots to do our best. It's as simple as owning something (materialistic or non-materialistic) and flaunting it proudly and caring and sharing and taking responsibility for it. Isn't this what communities and societies are built around? 

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