Smell of Change…

Is cleanliness an upper class notion and filthiness an inalienable companion of ‘half-human’ poors?

Children play at a slum in Allahabad, India, Oct. 3, 2011. 

As Narendra Modi sets off his ambitious Clean India mission aimed at cleaning India completely by October 2019, the nation embarks upon one of its most radical nation-wide campaign after independence. It’s a social, economic, cultural and ethical campaign all rolled into one that’s aimed at taking the new-age India to the realm of a modern living. The campaign is aimed primarily at improving our sense of community living and at instilling the ethos of cleanliness and sanitation in our collective conscience. Maybe for the first time ever, a government sponsored mass campaign has been conceived and initiated in India that aims at jacking up our civic sense and making it a part of our cultural existence.

Symbolism is a great means of communicating ideas and Modi used this tool very effectively to galvanize people into action. He walked the talk by taking up the broom and directed his strong contingent of central government employees to do so. He roped in schools and other institutions as well and soon the nation was witness to a mass cleanliness drive happening all across that became the focus of attention for the whole gamut of national and international media. However, was there a sincerity of purpose in the act or was the whole exercise just a hollow tokenism that has come to be associated with all the government initiatives of this nature? With the level of commitment and determination that Modi displayed one can only hope that the exercise doesn’t end up being a nine day’s wonder and that it translates into changes on ground. With a formidable 30-lakh strong manpower in shape of government officials at his disposal and with a massive 2-lakh crore budget at his command, he’s got all the men and all the resources to execute his herculean mission.

Symbolism works well with a credulous population and Modi is using it to perfection through the dead-metaphor of a broom. His broom-wielding act and image will go a long way in shaping the imagination of the young-generation, still in schools, whose impressionable minds may take the mission cleanliness to greater dimensions in days to come. With elements of progressivism intertwined in the mission, even the cussed urban middle class would find the cleanliness appeal difficult to ignore, if sustained tenaciously for long, and would certainly hit it off with the mission soon. In urban areas where people have a certain level of education and development, this campaign would kick off well. But, will Modi’s efforts pay with the poor and deprived population who are the major sufferer of filthiness and squalor? Will his sensitization drive find favour with the poverty-stricken sea of humanity in rural and urban slums?

Cleanliness is a socio-cultural phenomenon; it is embedded in the life situations people inherit and live. The rich and upper class have their life situations themed around the essence of neatness and cleanliness where beauty, tidiness and aesthetics govern their world view; it is reflected in the ideas, institutions and physical structures created by the rich for their individual and social needs. Opulence, luxury and elegance can’t exist without cleanliness and sanitation. Thus, the utilities created for the rich and upper class are swanky, elegant, neat and hygienic – their houses are grand, their neighborhoods are shiny, their clubs are classy and their airports are swanky. Cleanliness and tidiness gets permeated into their ethics, value-systems and behavior patterns. They get used to it. As a result, the rich follow the rules of cleanliness and sanitation and demand its enforcement. Thus, cleanliness comes natural to the upper class and becomes their way of life. It’s a bourgeois necessity.

On the other hand, the poor inherit and live deplorable life situations where nothing matters more than plain survival. The eternal struggle for existence that they live through, shapes their world view and they remain fixated with the questions of their basic needs – food, clothing and humble shelter over their mean existence. They’ve no capacity or willingness to think beyond on questions that bothers the wider civilization – cleanliness and sanitization. The dirt, filth and squalor around them is something they get accustomed to live with – they don’t find it shocking; they don’t think it distasteful. All they need is their hunger pacified, their children clothed and their families sheltered. They feel blessed if they’re able to put up a shanty no matter whether it’s besides the city drains, they feel beatific if they’re able to sleep beneath a cover no matter if it’s next to the heap of municipal filth, they feel indebted if they’ve a place to defecate no matter whether it’s in the open. Filthiness and dirtiness have permeated into their consciousness and have become a part of their lives. Their children inherit this consciousness and live around merrily with their wretched existence.

Poverty robs all senses and sensibilities from humanity – it kills their sense of beauty, snuffs out feelings of shame, destroys self respect and saps out confidence; it tears down most of the humanness from the humanity and leaves at its place a pared down human-being toughing it out on crude animal instincts. A great many of Indian population is such ‘half-human’. Can such a half-human being care for a call to keep his surroundings in rural and urban abode clean? The proposition looks as far-fetched as is the possibility of catching a whale from the fishing rod.

In the given situation it’s obvious that cleanliness and sanitation is more a value-system which comes with the culture of growth and development. A poor man can’t be expected to imbibe the values of cleanliness unless he is given better opportunities in life. Cleanliness and sanitation goes hand-in-hand with the culture of prosperity. The sensitization drive must be accompanied with increased and sustained efforts towards providing better education, employment and opportunities for growth in each individual’s life.

Both the upper class and the poor have their sense of cleanliness guided by their life situations. Hence, the bottom-line is that ‘Mission Clean India’ needs to be taken up in an holistic manner; a segmented approach to deal with the issue of cleanliness and sanitation wouldn’t yield desired results.

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2014


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One thought on “Is cleanliness an upper class notion and filthiness an inalienable companion of ‘half-human’ poors?

  1. Good post. I agree. While on this please read my post on Swachh Bharat –
    Pls give your feedback and share it if you like it. Thanks

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