Gandhi realised it quite early in his life that cleanliness and sanitation are absolute necessities for India’s progress. He exhorted countrymen to work actively for it
Once a British man asked Mahatma Gandhi what shall he do if he is made Viceroy of India for a day? “I will clean that slum area near Rajbhavan,” replied Gandhi. He asked him again, what if he remains on the same position on next day too. He said, “I’ll do the same thing again. You cannot keep your cities clean until you take broom and bucket in your hands and clean your surroundings by yourselves.”
This wasn’t an one-off instance. Gandhi ji used to treat cleanliness above worshiping God. Right from his South Africa days till his assassination, he kept making people aware about the importance of sanitation. He had sensed the reluctance of Indians towards sanitation and wanted to create a change in their mindset.
eminence of toilets
People generally make loathsome faces when they hear about toilet but to everyone’s wonder, Gandhi ji used to clean his toilet, all by himself. His first chore after getting up in the morning at 4 am, was to clean the Ashram. He even built a toilet by himself in Vardha ashram and cleaned it every day. Once, he said, “I learnt 35 years ago that a lavatory must be as clean as a drawing-room. I learnt this in the West. The cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing excreta anywhere and everywhere. I, therefore, believe in the absolute necessity of a clean place for answering the call of nature and clean articles for use at the time.”
The construction of more than 2.5 crore toilets, under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, is certainly a result of Gandhi’s views on toilets. More than 1 lakh villages have become open defecation free. Sikkim has shown the best work in the field of sanitation with hundred percent completion of toilet construction and cleaning of the state. It has become first state that is completely open defecation free. Himachal and Kerala have also been a glorious part of the success story. Other states are also following the footsteps to become open defecation free. More than eighty percent work has been completed in Haryana, Uttarakhand, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur and Gujarat and more than seventy percent in Punjab, West Bengal, Goa, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.
taking a cue from the west
Sanitation was an important social issue for Gandhi ji. During his visit to South Africa in 1895, he observed that Asian and Indian businessmen were discriminated because they used to keep their work places unclean. Therefore he gave immense importance to sanitation.
According to him, it is the duty of municipality to provide people with a proper place for sanitation, fundamental and structural facilities and clean atmosphere. He also wrote a letter to Health Officer of Johannesburg highlighting this matter. ‘I am writing to you to bring your notice towards awful condition of Indian residential colonies. It is difficult to tell how so many people are stuffed in one small room. Cleaning in these areas is irregular and many people have complained in my office that the condition is even worse now.’
In his biography, he wrote, ‘the carelessness of municipality and unawareness of Indians towards sanitation led to the conspiracy of keeping some localities filthy. He asked people to take lesson from the discrimination happening in South Africa. It is written in Gandhi Vangmaya regarding this matter, ‘we should know the value of sanitation…we will have to remove it completely…Isn’t cleanliness a reward itself? Recent incidents are big lesson for the people of this country.’
Gandhi Vangmay, Part 25 elaborates Gandhi’s point of view regarding urban sanitation citing a welcome speech by him, in which he had said that, ‘we should take inspiration from the way western countries’ municipal corporations do their work of cleaning. We should also learn how they have developed corporate culture of sanitation and cleanliness. We should stop taking water resources for granted.’
Clean village happy village
It has been mentioned in Gandhi Vangmay, Part 13 that Gandhi ji gave his first public speech about sanitation on 14th February 1916 during a missionary summit. More than a hundred years ago, Mahatma had asserted that the issue of sanitation in villages should be resolved on top priority. But even today, lots of villages are grappling with this issue.
Fortunately, the work is in progress in this direction. To motivate this spirit of clean villages, Nirmal Gram Puraskar (2005), Clean India Movement (2012) and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (2014) have been initiated. It seems that Gandhi ji’s dream of clean villages will soon turn into reality.
Education and sanitation
Mahatma Gandhi put a great emphasis on including sanitation and cleanliness education as mandatory in school curriculum and higher studies. During one of his visit to a school he said to a teacher that if he taught the students cooking and cleanliness along with studies then only his school would be an ideal school.
Part 13 of Gandhi Vangmaya also consists of some excerpts of his speech that he delivered in Gurukul Kangdi on 20th March 1916. He said in his speech that ‘it is equally important to execute ideas of sanitation instead of just imparting theoretical knowledge to the children… It should be part and parcel of teaching process… The sanitation invigilators have informed that all is not well on the sanitation front… I think we have lost a golden opportunity of annual felicitation of the guests.’
Gandhi ji, who saw education and sanitation as inseparable, established Gujarat Vidyapeeth in 1920. This school followed the lifestyle of Ashram system. In the Vidyapeeth, everyone including teachers, students and other volunteers were assigned cleaning work from beginning. Cleaning streets, offices, premises and work place was an integral part of their day to day life. Gandhi ji used to sensitise and guide every person who was new to that place and instill these values. This tradition continues even today.
Gandhi ji interpreted sanitation as arogya (health). He had always put forth the importance of awareness and education pertaining to sanitation in our lives. He used to say that good health is possible only through the practice of sanitation.
say yes to hygiene
Many people used to think of living with him. They used to express their wish through their letters to him. He received many letters regarding this but there was only condition to live in his Ashram. He used to explain in a strong and strict voice that sanitation was most important for him, ‘people, who want to live in the Ashram, will have to clean it including the toilets.’
Gandhi ji travelled extensively throughout the county in third class rail compartment. He was horrified and astounded to see the mucky condition of third class railway coaches. His letters published in newspapers aimed to bring everyone’s attention towards that issue.
He wrote one such letter on 25th September 1917 and mentioned about railway that ‘the third class coaches must be discontinued if people travel in such horrific conditions because it affects the health and morality of people travelling in it. They certainly have a right to receive basic necessities and by treating them as third grade people we are depriving them of their fundamental rights of sanitation, good management and dignified life of simple living and high thinking.’ Until a few years ago Indian railways were in similar
condition. Recent initiatives by the Indian Railways has changed a lot and one can be hopeful that Indian railway will see cleaner days.
Comparing sanitation with worshiping God, Gandhi ji tried to draw people’s attention towards unhygienic conditions of temples and pilgrimages. Gandhi Vangmay Part 14 mentions that on 3rd November 1917 in Gujarat, he said in a political meeting, ‘Holy shrine of Dakor is not very far from this place. I went there. The place is absolutely sacred but looking at the huge amount of garbage and filth I can say that a person, who is habitual of cleanliness, cannot stay there even for 24 hour. I consider myself as Vaishno devotee that’s why I can criticize the condition of Dakor Ji. The pilgrims, who visit there, have polluted tanks and streets.
Similarly he wrote in Young India about Gaya, a sacred place in Bihar on 3rd February 1927. He wrote that ‘My Hindu soul revolts against the ample amount of litter on streets and the foul smell of dirty drains in Gaya.’ In his speech on 25 august 1925 in Calcutta (now Kolkata) he said that ‘they (volunteers) should not come as spiritual Gurus and leaders in the village but bring brooms in their hand to send the message of sanitation. We have to fight poverty, filth and indolence with the help of broom, Quinine pills and castor oil.’
attention to sanitation
Gandhi ji raised matters pertaining to sanitation throughout his life. During Congress sessions, many of his speeches revolved around this issue. He felicitated Congress members for keeping Dahod city clean in April 1924 and suggested them to spread awareness amongst scavenger community on sanitation. Similarly, in 1925 he appreciated efforts made by the members of congress in Kanpur in keeping the city clean. He suggested congress workers to focus on sanitation work after becoming councilors.
He said that it was the responsibility of Panchayats to take elementary education, charkha and sanitation to every single household in the village. His views on Panchayat and sanitation were published in Young India on 19th November 1925 and later in Gandhi Vangmay Part 28. ‘I have been hurt utterly, seeing the insanitary condition during my tour in the country…I am compelled to tolerate this filthiness.’
A battle against Untouchability
Gandhi ji hated the term ‘untouchable’. He always criticized the age-old tradition of untouchability and caste system of the Indian society. He was against that system since his childhood and even opposed his mother on this issue despite having great amount of affection and respect for her. She had asked him to stay away from sweepers but he never listened to her. In fact he said that keeping places clean was the duty of every individual.
He wanted to eliminate the tradition of manual scavenging, which was done by only one particular community. Sweepers and scavengers used to live separately outside the village in awful condition during that time. They were living there deprived of basic necessities of life, health, education and money, in terrible circumstances and were looked down by the society.
He went to their community and embraced such people. Not only this, he suggested others also to do the same. He wanted upliftment and inclusion of these people in the mainstream society. He urged everyone in the country to help such people who were living in slums. He criticized the inhuman behavior of others towards scavengers and sweepers in Indian society.
It is written in 54th part of Gandhi Vangmay. He wrote that ‘Scavengers and sweepers are standing in the last row of the social strata however they are the most important ones. They are indispensable and subject to respect in the society. We should respect such people like we respect our mothers. Should everyone do the work of sanitation similar to them, this bad tradition would have ended long time back.’
for body, soul and environment
Gandhi’s famous slogans were ‘Quit India’ and ‘Clean India’. PM Modi wants to make his dream of clean India come true. He called for Swachch Bharat mission in his very first speech of Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort.
He wants to accomplish Gandhi’s dream of clean India by 2019 i.e. Bapu’s 150th birth anniversary under ‘Swachch Bharat Abhiyan’. There is a plan to build 12 crores toilets by 2019 all over the country in order to make it absolutely free of open defecation. The government is investing a lot of money, 1.96 lakh crores on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and providing financial help to the people for building toilets in their houses.
PM Modi initiated this movement by taking up the broom in his own hand. Not only this, he keeps reminding everyone about the pledge of cleanliness in all his programmes and keep appreciating people and organizations that are working towards achieving this goal in his popular programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’ and on social media. The process of granting money under this policy has been made smooth and easy so that people do not hesitate and feel motivated for building toilets. He
is walking straight on the foot prints of Gandhi for making India clean
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