Prime Minister Modi first brought the issue of open defecation into the open. As a result, he got millions and millions of toilets constructed mostly in the rural areas of India. This move was appreciated by International institutions like the UN. Now India is moving towards other measures to cleanse the country. It is easy to be cynical, but nevertheless this is laudable progress.
Until PM Modi brought this issue to light, I was not aware of the seriousness. The health issue it causes mostly to women who have to hold on till the wee hours to ease themselves. It spawned a Bollywood movie called “Toilet ek prem katha” (Toilet a love story). The plot of the movie revolves around the heroine coming from a city to a village and finding that there is no toilet in the home. The hero eventually gets a toilet built in face of stiff opposition from the village elders.
Having a toilet at home is not considered hygienic. One important line from the movie “jis aangan mein tulsi, us aangan mein sandaas ?” (A lavatory in the same courtyard as the revered tulsi plant ?). Sounds very much like the American resistance to covid vaccine ! Since millions and millions of toilets are constructed, probably the issue is mostly solved. I am also hearing stories that at least some toilets are not being used fully. But I have not been able to verify these hearsays.
In cities too, the paid public toilets like Sulabh are good facilities which came into being in the last few years. I remember from my childhood that it used to be a problem for me personally to hold on until I found a toilet, a dirty one but nevertheless a toilet. I used to memorize the locations of all such dirty toilets so that I can run to one of them whenever the need arose.
Earlier when Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he constructed toilets for girls in schools. This drastically increased their school attendance. Our school toilet used to be bad too, at least for boys. I never saw how the girls’ toilet looked like. Once he became a PM, he scaled the solution to the national level. It is one move which has an impact on the majority of the population. On the daily lives of people and their health.
Bringing tap water to every household is the next laudable goal which Modi is working on. Along with these steps, cities are now moving towards processing waste water rather than just dumping it into rivers. These kinds of initiatives are part of developmental politics which I like. I abhor identity and entitlement politics In comparison.
Ganga was the most polluted river. Modi made it part of his electoral agenda to cleanse it. During his term so far, he has done more than any other leader in the country to cleanse the river. Treating all the industrial pollutants and wastewater before being dumped into the river. Along with that the city of Varanasi is also undergoing a transformation. The dirty holy city is getting a massive facelift. It does not matter that the inspiration is from religion.
The cleanliness awareness seems to be growing. Indore has been awarded the cleanest city in India for the last five years. If Indore can do it, other cities can do it too. It becomes a matter of pride to keep one’s city clean. Better sanitation also increases the health of the population. After all, this is how the western countries eliminated infectious diseases. John Snow in the 1800s traced the outbreak of cholera to a water pump on a London street. Shutting down that pump reduced the spread of the disease.
India is not known for its neatness. People practice neatness in their homes, but beyond the confines of their homes, it is all a giant garbage dump. Things are changing. A country of such great heritage would have lots to gain with cleaner surroundings. I am optimistic about the future.
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