sulabh swatchh bharat

Wednesday, 22-May-2019


There is need to rework our concepts of scavenging and about regenerating our rural economy


GVVSDS Prasad is secretary of Sarva Seva Sangh, a loose confederation of Gandhian organisations. Basically a Telugu, Prasad keeps flitting between Sevagram, Wardha and Hyderabad besides of course travelling across the country and the continents propogating Gandhian values. While on a visit to Sulabh Gram, Delhi to meet its founder Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, he spoke to Sharad Gupta about where Gandhism is headed to and how relevant Gandhian thoughts are in the present context. Here are the excerpts...

Tell us something about your Sarva
Seva Sangh...
Mahatma Gandhi wanted to organise a meeting on February 5, 1948. But six days before the meeting could take place he was assassinated. So his followers and nationalists at the time organised the meeting in March, a month later.
The meeting was headed by the then President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, and attended by the Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narain, Aacharya Vinoba Bhave, Zakir Husain, Sarojani Naidu, JB Tripulani. All the national leaders of the time, around 80 of them, attended the meeting. Sarva Seva Sangh was founded in that meeting.
What was the meeting about?
The title of the meeting was, Gandhi is gone, who will guide us now. We had developed a slavish mentality after 200 years of British rule that had broken our morale. So Gandhi said let’s discuss how to rebuild our society. And he felt that we should do it on the foundation of truth and non-violence which can be found in the simplest of villages.
He understood the culture and traditions of our country embedded within the roots of Indian civilisation. This organisation was established under the leadership of Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narain, Siddharaj Dadda. So that is the virasat (herirtage) the entire Gandhian movement is into Sarva Seva Sangh.

Do you think the youth is still interested because there is a huge campaign against Gandhi and Gandhi-ism especially on the social media?
Gandhi stood for equality of all people. Some people who do not believe in that can never accept Gandhi. Because his basic principal is ‘Sarvodaya’, welfare of all.

But our Prime Minister is himself promoting Gandhi. Do you think there is conflict somewhere in the ruling party itself?
I think when the Prime Minister has spread the message of Mahatma Gandhi today, the whole nation has started taking Gandhi and his words seriously. I believe it’s a positive thing, and according to me for everybody who is working for the values of Mahatma Gandhi, it is a strength. So the nation has a good opportunity to work on the Gandhian ideals.

Do you think there is a lack of information and interest among youth about Gandhian values?
Here I would say it’s a failure on our part. If we don’t teach them the Gandhian values we can’t blame them for not having those values. If we do teach them these values and still they are indifferent, then you can say youth are not in our fort. And I would like to stress that these youths are our children and we should take the responsibility to teach them the values.

Do you get the support you should be getting from the public?
We go to the public, teach them these values and inform. Then if our people reject that, it’s a different story. Gandhi wrote in Hind Swaraj detailing the image he had for the future of India. He emphasised on the rural mindset.

How to check the disparity between the villages and cities?
Exodus from the villages is something I am also not happy about. And the best model of development is that the rural wealth should stay in the villages. The products like tobacco, liquor, soft drinks are taking away the rural money. All this doesn’t add an inch to the quality of life in villages. Villagers are using Colgate, don’t they have alternatives? One can make toothpowder out of cow dung. I use it myself. So, excellent alternatives are always available. The Britishers took your money beating us; now with westernisation of our culture, same is being done. Gandhi said, we hug the chains that bind us.

Then how to reverse the trend?
Don’t use them. I estimate around Rs 20 crore is being taken away from each village in the country every day. All with liquor, tobacco, soft drinks, confessionary, cosmetics, etc. On top of that they are taking it to our subconscious with the advertisements. And if a state has 30,000 villages around Rs six lakh crore is being taken away from each village every year. We have to save our village economy.

But employment opportunities are dying out in the villages. What is the alternative if not migration?
There are employment opportunities within the resources available. With technology it’s possible. There are models. Just like biogas, such an excellent technology. It can be performed in every household. It’s a policy matter. There is no encouragement, no policy support for the decentralised systems. And the conditions are so bad because the policies are in the hands of people running the centralised systems.

In the 73rd amendment, Panchayati Raj, the idea to take financial empowerment to the grassroots. Has it succeeded. Have schemes like MGNREGA succeeded?
It’s one of the most beautiful systems where you can manage the areas, resources, people and determine your priorities. People’s self government. But today these have become, I think training grounds for corruption. I have worked with many of them, they cry over finances shortages. I tell them, you don’t have the money but you do have the power. Use that power and you can achieve anything with that. But the centralised model that we have in the country today, that destroys any good possibilities like that.We have to allow independent economy in the rural areas, only then can the Gandhi come alive.

How close do you think, is Sulabh to Gandhi’s model?
It’s completely Gandhian model. One, a social issue was taken, harijan, scavengers. Gandhi said I would be born a ‘Bhangi’ in my next birth, Dr Pathak has done it already. He became a part of their community and got them rid of the malpractices using technology. He brought them respect and gave them back their self respect. He brought awareness about how the same product can be properly used. This is not an ordinary action and this is purely a Gandhian model. I can say that Gandhiji’s real work was done by Sulabh.

So do you think that it’s a sustainable model that can be used to connect with the youth?
I think not only sustainable, but for youth it is a dynamic model. He has shown, what is taboo can be converted into a commodity for merchandise. There is a huge demand for toilets across the country. That’s a business model for you.