December 1, 2014


Over 600 million Indians defecate in the open. Lakhs of tonnes of garbage are generated each day in Indian cities, which are dumped into ever-shrinking landfills. River Ganga is revered as ‘Mother’, yet remains the most polluted river of India. Lakhs die due to toxic air and smoky chulhas each year out of respiratory ailments and suffocation. Over forty percent of Indian children under five are stunted.

So, what connects all the above gruesome facts? That Indian people as a whole, care little about the filth and degraded sanitary conditions outside of their homes. As long as the garbage is outside their homes, they do not bother. Sadly, they do not realise that all that filth will ultimately enter their own well-maintained, clean homes in the form of disease-causing germs, vectors, poor quality water and air, cutting many productive years of their own and their children’s lives.

‘Charity begins at home’. So should sanitation and hygiene habits be ingrained since childhood at home, and homes be kept clean. Yet there is a need to consider the locality, city, state, country and indeed the planet as our home. “Vasudheiva Kutumbakam”– the whole world is a family. By extension, as this family lives on Planet Earth and this is our only home, it is every human being’s responsibility to keep our living spaces clean and hygienic. Once this feeling and responsibility is heartily felt and acted upon by people, then Earth will indeed be Heaven – what with all the beneficial spill-over effects like a spiritual mind, unpolluted food and air, generation of pure thoughts and living in Harmony with Nature !

This post will first clearly demarcate reasons why sanitation and hygiene are so important for India : what are the real spin-offs in fields like health, education, productivity, innovation due to good hygiene and what are the consequences of poor hygiene. Next, it will
consider the steps to tackle poor hygiene in India- starting from home, to neighbourhood, to state and the nation, with special regard to "Swachh Bharat Abhiyan". Finally, a conclusion on how maintaining sanitation can lift the lives of all, and build a far healthier planet when all nations become more conscious about sanitation, will follow.

First, a focus on the concepts of sanitation and hygiene and their advantages for a developing country like India.


“Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. Indian culture and religions are full of anecdotes and stories behind rituals, focusing upon cleanliness. For example, on Diwali eve, all old things are cleared from the house, and all rooms are washed clean to welcome Goddess Lakshmi, who would not enter unclean homes. Similarly, almost before every festival, houses are cleaned. Before events like marriages, homes are white washed. Before starting the day of business, most shopkeepers sweep their shops, may light incense sticks and then start. Most housewives keep homes very clean in India on a daily basis themselves, or by help of maids. All this points that India’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-regional fabric has cleanliness as an ingrained part of its culture.

Then why is India so dirty- bins overflowing, people defecating or spitting everywhere, dirty river, and mountains of landfills? This is due to an inherent psychological issue with most Indians – that they will personally keep themselves and their houses clean, but will not care what happens outside it. However, when these same people stay in foreign countries like Switzerland or Singapore or other places, they will not spit or pile garbage, partly in fear of strict fines and partly due to over-conscious mindset which automatically directs them to keep those countries clean. Yet when they return to India, same bad habits may continue, in the name of “freedom” and “don’t-care-attitude”.

So, the first thing is that people need to be made consciously and sub-consciously aware of the harm that their uncaring attitude brings about on image of India, as a country and Indians, as forming a thousands-of-years old civilisation. Various benefits of sanitation and hygiene such as : bringing down deaths of infants due to consuming food infested with disease-causing germs from poor quality water and exposed food, increase in productivity of all as infectious diseases reduce due to better maintenance of water sources and land, better retention of children in school due to toilets and proper quality of food and water in mid-day meals, healthier environment and health spurring innovation and desire to work creatively and efficiently for progress of nation, will galvanise people to work for, and promote hygiene among all.

Once people become aware of the ill consequences of poor sanitation, they will themselves build required social capital to promote good practices. For example, a young country like Bangladesh has done miraculously well in reducing open defecation, so much unlike India, only due to proper awareness among even the poorest people to use toilets and demand for these from the administration where they are not there – only because especially, women know that their children’s health will be in jeopardy if people defecate in the open. This has led to deep community participation, and has brought several related benefits – good health for all, better livelihood as person-days are not lost in disease, better growth of children and surprising reduction in maternal mortality and infant mortality rates.

There is no reason why the same cannot be implemented in India, especially when great leaders like Gandhiji themselves kept toilets and surroundings clean – leading by example. Non-Government organisations like Sulabh Souchalaya are doing yeoman service, building common toilets and spreading ideas of sanitation. Still, until a people’s movement starts, to make India open defecation free, and to clean India as a whole, no amount of Government schemes or non-governmental organisations’ efforts can really bring great changes in status quo.

So, next, a discussion on what exact steps are needed in this direction for India, follows.


Since October 2, 2014, Government of India has launched “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”, which extends previous schemes like Total Sanitation Campaign, renamed to Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan since late 2000s. By giving a deadline of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday on October 2, 2019 for making India clean, “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” infuses the right sense of urgency in tackling the shameful problem of poor sanitation and hygiene in India.

Indeed, by running continuous advertisements covering both rural (such as Sarpanch defecating outside the bus, woman drowning garbage into ponds etc.) and urban (such as woman from apartment throwing garbage on the street, man from car throwing waste from car window etc.) issues of uncaring nature towards spreading filth in surroundings, these campaign advertisements strike a chord in people’s sub-conscious state that they must not dirty or pollute their living spaces. Inculcating a sense of shame and appealing to patriotic sense of Indians, to stop dirtying our own country, are slowly spreading awareness.

Similarly, by showing a popular Bollywood actress lauding poor rural woman who refuse to marry in houses where toilets are not there, or by spreading message of how a bright girl will fall sick soon due to flies bringing germs from the open excreta onto her food, much education is being spread through audio-visual medium, leading to some changes at grassroots.

Apart from Government giving subsidy to build toilets (over a crore to be built in coming years) and running tv and print campaigns to spread awareness, a lot more needs to be done to tackle poor hygiene- by civil society, active leadership by MLAs/MPs/local ward members/councilors/district administrations/political party leaders/famous and influential people in every locality from diverse fields and companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) events. Encouraging the simple habit of washing hands before and after every meal with soap can bring about tremendous changes. Public-private-partnerships to install biotoilets or biodigesters, solid-waste-composting systems and sewage treatment plants in every city will greatly improve community hygiene. Simultaneously, encouraging recycled and upcycled products, and promoting eco-friendly practices like herbal paints for idols, lead-free or biodiesel mixed petrol, building proper drainage systems so that water stagnates nowhere especially during rains leading to diseases like dengue, malaria etc., will inculcate responsible behaviour among all.

Garbage segregation at source, using innovative methods like pot-composting; solving problems of adoption of biotoilets by people by making these wider, ventilated and with continuous water supply; enforcing “no plastic-zones” especially around tourist sites and monuments; using CSR for desilting and keeping water bodies clean on regular basis; encouraging water harvesting in urban and rural areas to check excess run-off and prevent floods as well as to have sufficient water to serve homes, farms and industries; encouraging more tree plantation to check air pollution and keep cities clean and green, with a higher water table as well; all such steps are very doable by the community and must be taken up on a large scale.

Simultaneously, changes in attitudes of people by campaigns to use dustbins, toilets, making ‘no spitting’ compulsory and so on will definitely bring India closer to Gandhiji’s dream of seeing a clean, green, healthy India, where people lose no days of work due to illness, where women’s dignity especially is upheld, where no manual scavenger has to ever work and where even every child will himself/herself drop the chocolate wrapper in the dustbin.



In conclusion, India’s dream of “Swachh Bharat” embodies several aspects: overcoming disease, poverty, malnutrition, better livelihoods, dignity for women and children, respect for India as a nation due to cleanliness, higher incomes to all due to foreign tourists and higher investments in a more productive, happy India.

Therefore, sanitation and hygiene is intrinsically linked to a more economically prosperous, healthy India with higher community linkages and resulting lower social strifes due to better problem-solving among people themselves by greater bonds at village, locality, city, state and country level.

Let the light of sanitation and hygiene spread, starting from every Indian home, to the nearest 5 kilometers, and as this is done across the country, India will become a clean, healthy, prosperous nation and embellish its participative democracy model, as one to be emulated across the world, by every nation, so that we can ensure a sustainable, inclusive development for the entire humanity on Planet Earth.

This is my entry for #SwachhIndia

1 comment:

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