Some straight questions. What are we going to clean, who is going to clean and what is our concept of cleanliness? Will this campaign address the most important, most basic and most neglected question of modernisation of our sanitation system? Whose India are we aiming at cleaning up? In India, cleanliness can't be just about Bollywood actor Aamir Khan preaching that we do not throw banana peels by the street or piss on walls nor about PMs, CMs, all manner of ministers and bureaucrats and politicians picking up brooms to clean streets and public toilets and public places that have already been thoroughly cleaned up for them to perform their sham. Lest we forget, India is divided into different classes and castes and communities. What is our target group? This campaign is not the first and won't be the last. From Gandhi's 'Clean India' to Modi's 'Swachh Bharat', the country has seen many a gimmick, but that has not prevented India from being the global capital of open defecation. And we never felt ashamed of it. Why?
If India is unclean, it is because we will not let our cleaners live with dignity, equality.
We are still not ready to accept that cleanliness and sanitation are caste-based. Because of our casteist mindsets, we are not willing to break this shackle. None of our earlier campaigns addressed the issue of cleaners. What an irony! India is not clean because we don't want cleaners to live with dignity and equality. We want the 'cleaners' to experience 'the spiritual experience' of cleaning shit!
Even in the melodrama we are witnessing now, the focus is not on the localities which are full of garbage, with drains overflowing, septic tanks and sewers choked. This is because these places are home to the poor and the marginalised. These are the dwellings without toilets. The inhabitants may differ in caste and religion but their distinct class is both an identifier and equaliser. These places are devoid of basic infrastructure. Among those who live here are sanitation workers, whose working hours are spent in removing the garbage from the streets and dumps and landfills. Does this campaign address their well-being? No. Sanitation has been linked to caste and class. The need is to radically change that mindset. The present system is not ready to do that. As in Nirmal Bharat, the focus is on toilet construction and preaching cleanliness. This can give some people some spiritual solace of washing their guilt and enhance the business of building toilets. But the ground reality will remain. Whatever pomp and show accompanies prime minister Modi's campaign for a clean India, 'Swachh Bharat' appears headed towards the fate of all earlier attempts. The writer, a chief of bureau at Outlook Hindi, is author of Unseen: The Truth About India's Manual Scavengers. E-mail your columnist: bhasha [AT] outlookindia [DOT] om