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Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is Cleansing society of its Poor

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By Sidharth Mishra

Today we celebrate the 149th Birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. The Father of the Nation for the past few years has been getting unprecedented attention. The Narendra Modi Government in its four-and-half-years-long tenure has given a Gandhian name, if not character, to most of its policies and schemes.

Mahatma’s name and quotes have been variously used in the nation he helped create, to perpetuate ideas, thoughts, schemes and scams, which would have never passed his scrutiny. The UPA government launched a most ambitious village rejuvenation programme and managed to win a second term on the basis of this scheme. When the programme came under cloud for financial irregularities, it was named after Mahatma lest a successor government decide to scrap it.

The latest case in point is that of the NDA Government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Gandhi did believe in Cleanliness being next to Godliness. However, it’s not to be forgotten that Gandhi’s belief was more spiritual than material in nature. He certainly did not propose for a cleanliness campaign which would cleanse the society of its poor.

The government during the past fortnight started the celebration of ‘Swachhta Pakhwada’. It was meant to be a special cleanliness drive during the fortnight. While the cleanliness of the drains, sewers and garbage mounts across the BJP ruled states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and union territories of Chandigarh and Delhi, where it controls the municipal government, has remained a far cry, it’s the hawkers and street vendors who have faced the wrath of the administration.

The question is, would Mahatma ever have approved such a crackdown, depriving people of their livelihood. While Gandhi indeed preached Cleanliness being next to Godliness, but its not be forgotten that he also equally pleaded for the ‘Daridra Narayana’, an axiom enunciated in the late-19th century by Swami Vivekananda.

The wandering monk, as Vivekananda was referred to as, espoused that service to the poor was equivalent in importance and piety to service to God. This exposition was a result of Vivekananda's wanderings in the country for two years, when he personally experienced the privation of the poor classes in the country. Vivekananda then referred to feeding the poor as ‘Narayana Seva’ and preached for ‘Daridra Narayana Seva’, meaning service to the poor as service to Narayana, the Vedic Supreme God, venerated as the Supreme Being in Vaishnavism.

Mahatma himself was greatly influenced by the Vaishnavite philosophy. Gandhi learnt about Vivekananda’s exposition on the poor from famous freedom fighter Desh Bandhu Chittaranjan Das. Throughout his political career Gandhi worked for the betterment of poor and distressed people. He mainly preached about Satyagraha and Ahimsa but also pleaded for these poor people, the ‘Daridra Narayanas’.

Soon at the end of this Swachta fortnight we would have the government releasing statistics of which city has beaten the other in the cleanliness drive. But nobody would question how many sources of livelihood were destroyed in this exercise. While the municipal bodies insist of garbage being handed over to their vehicles, what do we do with the poor ‘kudawala’ (garbage collector), who has the pain of loss of employment writ large on his face?

Before I am charged of dismissing a good idea that’s Swachh Bharat Mission is believed to be, I would come forward to say that India does need to clean itself of all garbage which lies strewn on streets, nook and crannies especially in the urban areas. However, those who have planned the Swacch Bharat Mission have failed to take into account that urban filth is largely because of unplanned industrialisation and outward migration from the villages.

Prime facie such plans can be applauded. But there is need to ask questions too, to save it a few years down the line from being labelled another case of squander of public money. If garbage and sewage is to be mobilised, what plans the government has for its disposal? Let’s forget of the whole nation, what plans the government has to overcome the challenge in the national Capital.

The two landfill sites of Delhi at Gazipur in East Delhi and Mukarba Chowk in North-West along with the one in Okhla are long overdue for closure but as no option is available with civic bodies to dump the garbage they are still being used and they have reached a height of 40-50 metres beyond their sanctioned limit. Worse to get the garbage cleaned in parts of Delhi, the High Court has to intervene to ensure that the ‘safai karamcharis’ are paid their salary.

Unfortunately even that doesn’t work. There have been reports that the residents, feeling nauseated by the smell of the rotting garbage, have started to burn it causing environmental damage and further polluting air which is any way unhealthy for breathing.

As mentioned earlier, anything in the name of Gandhi passes scrutiny; so would this cleanliness drive too. However, what’s worrisome is that it’s ending up in being another tool of adding to the ever bulging body of unemployment in this country.

The intent of the Prime Minister certainly would never have been to get the street vendors moan of what kind of ‘ache din’ have arrived. They at least did not vote for this genre of ‘ache din’ which would deprive them of their livelihood. Their cry is that nobody is listening or caring about their misery all blaming it on ‘Modi’s desire’.


(First published in The Daily Post, Chandigarh)



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