Dr Bindeshwar Pathak and his Sulabh family participated in the cleanliness drive, with a unique insight that cleanliness is a service beyond castes
September 15, 2018, marked the beginning of a movement unlike any other where Indian masses took to the streets of the nation to sweep it clean. A movement which was not a mere symbolism but denotes a culture that was observed even during the ancient Indus Valley civilisation. A culture of cleanliness, health, hygiene, sanitation, equality and happiness.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the citizens of India to adopt cleanliness as a service to the people and the nation. He marked September 15, 2018, as the beginning of the ‘Swachhata Hi Seva’ (cleanliness is service) campaign. He himself actively lead the campaign by performing Shramdaan at a school in Delhi.
The PM first launched the Swachhata Hi Seva movement through a video conference interaction with a cross-section of people from 17 locations across the country. He then, leaving behind the customary protocol of special traffic movement, travelled to the Babasaheb Ambedkar Higher Secondary School (whose campus had been bought by Dr Ambedkar himself in 1946 with an aim to advance the educational, social and economic well-being of Scheduled Castes) at Rani Jhansi Road in central Delhi. He offered floral tributes to a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar, and participated in the cleanliness drive. He also interacted with young students at the school, and exhorted them towards the cause of Swachhata.
In the launch address to the nation, the PM said, “Cleanliness and hygiene of our homes and ourselves, keeping our surroundings clean, keeping the environment clean have all been a very important aspect of our culture and teaching for thousands of years. We just need to remind ourselves of our rich culture and valuable teachings and put it to practice in our lives. In fact, service for cleanliness is similar to service to God. Rather, our traditional and cultural message has been the same.”
He added, “The contribution of India’s Nari Shakti (women) in the Swachh Bharat Mission is immense… Youngsters are ambassadors of social change. The way they have furthered the message of cleanliness is commendable. The youth are at the forefront of a positive change in India.”
Who would have thought four years ago that nine crore toilets would be built and 4.5 lakh villages will be declared open defecation free in such a short span. Boosted by this, all sections of the society and every part of the country joined the cleanliness drive. Among the prominent participants of the Swachhata Hi Seva movement was the silent crusader of cleanliness and sanitation Dr Bindeshwar Pathak and his entire Sulabh International Social Service Organisation family who took to the streets of Delhi, sweeping it clean whilst enthusiastic children voiced slogans such as “Swachh Bharat Ka Jan-Abhiyaan, Jaag Raha Hai Hindustan” and “Sulabh Swachh Deep Jalana Hai, Bharat Ko Swachh Banana Hai”.
Among the energetic participants was a unique sight of Brahmins in orange attires sweeping the streets with brooms, proving that cleanliness – a task which was limited to ‘untouchables’ once – has spread beyond castes. “Swachh Bharat is a symbol of mass participation and purity. Humans form society and in this society, the priority is to create an environment which is clean. Brahmins have been participants of cleanliness for ages. Be it Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas or Shudras, when it comes to cleanliness there is no divide between them. This will be a turning point and a message of unity for the generations to come,” said Santosh Kumar Dwivedi, a Brahmin priest who participated in Sulabh’s Swachhata Hi Seva drive.
Attached To Culture
Everything has its link attached to cultures. Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, highlighted that similarly sanitation, too, has its links attached to culture.
“Our nation has had a culture of cleanliness since the ancient civilisations of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. Where it went wrong was during the Vedic period when the job of cleanliness was burdened over only one minor section of the society. It was obvious that while the entire population will dirty the nation and only one small section of ‘untouchables’ will clean it, dirtiness is bound to spread,” said Dr Pathak.
He said that this division of castes cost India heavily. So the prime minister has taken up the issue of sanitation and cleanliness as seriously as Mahatma Gandhi had. Wherever he goes be it America, Australia, China, South Africa, the PM talks of sanitation. Just as we fix dates for Diwali, Eid and other festivals in our culture, the prime minister has urged the nation to celebrate September 15 as ‘Swachhata Divas’.
Exit Is More Important
Dr Pathak has been active in the field of sanitation for 50 years. He firmly believes in the popular saying: I will die with my boots on, i.e. he will work till the very last breath of his life.
Speaking after the cleanliness drive, Dr Pathak said, “Adding liveliness to life is an art. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the first PM to give importance to cleanliness and sanitation. Mahatma Gandhi had once said that ‘exit of the food is as important as in-take.’ But I believe that the exit of the food is more important than in-take.”
Learning From Lee
Kuan & Singapore
Dr Pathak narrated an incident which marks the importance of cleanliness and sanitation. In 1965 when Lee Kuan Yew became the prime minister of Singapore, he asked his advisor Albert Winsemius that how to develop Singapore? He told him five things, three of which were – firstly, English should be the national language; secondly, since Singapore is a small nation and cannot do industrialisation so it should do marketing; thirdly, the citizens have a bad habit of spitting wherever they want and so cleanliness is the most important aspect if we want to develop Singapore.
Lee Kuan held on to the third advice and Singapore went on to become one of the cleanest nations, where now you will have to pay a fine of $500 if you dirty it in any manner. The average yearly income of Singaporeans which was $400 in 1965 took a stupendous hike on the back of development through cleanliness to $12000 per capita income in 1990. Within a span of 25 years only, Singapore became a developed nation.
Dr Pathak said, “Sanitation has linkages with health and development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also held onto the same basic mantra of cleanliness and sanitation. He envisions an India which is clean, healthy and as developed as Singapore.”
The Symbol Of Cleanliness
Speaking on the occasion, Sulabh foundation chairman SP Singh said, “Symbolism is a big thing. The man who has worked for 50 years without resting, is our symbol of inspiration, our symbol of sanitation. Sulabh flag flies high. Dr Bindeshwar Pathak has brought everyone together. He is the symbol of cleanliness and sanitation – be it bodily cleanliness or the purification of soul and mind.”
He added that there was a time when people were hesitant in telling that they work for sanitation and its philosophy, afraid that others will make fun of them. But today, even the prime minister is giving voice to sanitation and its importance. People now sing the song of sanitation.
Not Only Own But Cleaning Others’ Stools
Remembering an incidence which once took place in his life, Sulabh official Awadhesh Sharma said, “I remember, once I was hearing someone say that we know of three people who cleaned their stools on their own – Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi. I then and there told him that you took the names of those who cleaned their own stools, but you should also mention the name of the great personality who not only cleaned his stool but also others’. And that person is none other than Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, who was sitting right next to that person.”
He added that dreaming is easy but turning it into a reality needs putting in painful efforts with patience. Everything may seem dark and your destination may be unknown to you but you need to keep walking. The journey has to itself become the destination. And when that happens, you become Dr Bindeshwar Pathak.
Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness
According to another Sulabh official, Arjun Prasad Singh, it is Dr Pathak’s integrity and continuous perseverance that sanitation is now a movement not only in India but across the globe. His works go down the pages of history – from his innovative sanitation techniques, open-defecation-free campaign, to bringing the once-untouchables into the mainstream of society or leasing a new life to widows.”
People are now well-versed that cleanliness is next to godliness. Mahatma Gandhi dreamt of a clean India, to which Dr Pathak gave shape of a movement and now has the voice and support of the prime minister himself. It is not just an individual’s but the entire nation’s duty now to ensure that the Clean India mission becomes everybody’s vision.
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