Google search the phrase ‘hygiene and sanitation in India’ and you get all those article with horrible estimated figures that prove India is nothing but a big breeding house of diseases and infections. A detailed record of how Lack of proper sanitation, waste disposal system and water supply combined with bad domestic hygiene practises are practically leading us to death.
I am not saying any of this is wrong but my question here is, do we really need these facts and figures? We are all well aware of how hygiene and proper sanitation play a vital role in our everyday lives and how the lack of it is exposing a great threat to our health. But apart from discussing about it and dropping our jaws on looking at the statistics, what have we really done to improve the condition?
Mahatma Gandhi had said once “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
And that’s what I try to do myself. Before I give a long speech on hygiene and sanitation or rather the lack of it in India, I practise it in myself first and advise others in the family the same.
To this day I follow her routine. This keeps the early morning air that my family breathes free from dirt.
Washing hands with soap before every meal, mopping the toilets and floors with a disinfectant, brushing twice a day are all other hygiene practises that keep me and my family free from any germs arnd infections.
Apart from following these basic domestic hygiene practises at my home I have also tried to come up with a simple solution to the problem of lack of proper sanitation and hygiene practises.
I don’t guarantee that it will eradicate the problem but it will definitely create public awareness, the lack of which I think is root cause of half of our problems.
And that is:
Let me start with an example from a scene in the movie: Lage rahi Munna Bhai.
Here cleaning the wall for once wouldn’t have resulted in a permanent solution. But by cleaning it in front the man repeatedly for days changed the man’s mindset that what he was doing was wrong. And he never once did this again.
So you see how important changing the mindset is, if we aim for a permanent solution to any problem?
Let’s first discuss about the mindset of our so called educated and modern people of urban India.
The urban Indian and the practises they follow:
Very receltly our Prime Minister Mr.Narendra Modi has started the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan.
We see many people from party members to celebrities to even opponent party members holding the broom and supporting the mission.
And this is not the first time cleanliness in India has been raised as an issue and is discussed upon. My question is, is it enough? Will it really lead to a Swacch India?
I don’t think so.
Hats off to Modiji who has stressed on this issue, but are we doing enough?
People undoubtedly are supporting the cause. We see small groups in societies cleaning their blocks and showing their support.
No matter how well you clean your roads, blocks or surroundings, they are going to be the same way tomorrow. Why?
Because there is a need to clean the mindsets of people first. We Indians are very particular about keeping our homes clean. There is infact a festival dedicated to cleaning our homes. Yes, you guessed it correctly. Diwali. The time of the year when cleaning each nook and corner of the house is as important as burning lamps in the evening.
Then why the moment we step out of our houses, we forget everything about it? Why we think it is okay to litter the roads because it is not our property!! Yes there are people who are appointed to sweep the roads but is it not your duty to keep them clean?
By littering the roads we are not just making them dirty but are creating reservoirs for many disease causing microbes. We are putting ours as well as others’s health at risk.
Let me give you an instance. Just yesterday I went to a pani puri stall and seeing all the garbage around it, I asked people to collect all the disposal and dump it in the dustbin. I explained how the waste can attract flies and mosquitoes and spread deadly diseases.
They finally agreed and in no time the place was clean. I asked the panipuri wala Bhaiya to keep two dustbin on either side and ask the people to use it next time.
And it is going to be this way until people change their mindsets. Unless they think that keeping their surroundings clean is as important as cleaning their homes, sadly it is difficult to make and maintain a Swacch India.
The problem is not just littering. Many a times while on a road trip I see men peeing on the road while their luxurious cars are parked on the side. I am sure they are aware of the hazards of passing urine in the open. But somehow it is okay if no one is watching them.
When these same people go to other countries, they take extra care of using public toilets and keeping that candy wrapper with them until they find a dustbin but somehow in India Sab chalta hai. It is this chalta hai wala attitude that needs to be changed.
If this is the condition of urban India one can imagine the sorry state of affairs in our rural area.
Thoughts of a rural Indian about hygiene and sanitation:
I would once again like to qote Mahatma Gandhi here: “One doesn’t have to be rich to be clean and dignified””
Some people in rural areas keep their homes much cleaner than their urban brothers and sisters. Clean , they are. Are they hygienic?
Early in the morning one can see the lady of the house dusting the house and sweeping away the dust in the surrounding area. She would put up a rangoli on the entrance and even the kutcha house would look well maintained, warm and welcoming. And then her children would get up and with a lota in one hand, head to to the fields to relive themselves. Is that hygienic?
Even if they do have toilets, they are so habituated to use the open fields that they do not want to confine themselves in the toilet. And these are the words of an elderly villager who works as a driver in my logistics company when I asked him where does he go for his daily ablutions:
**”Beta hamare liye to Khula maidan hai”
“Kyun apke gaon mein toilet nahin hai Kya kaka?”
Arey hai bitiya. Abhi kuch samay pehle hi to banvaya hai. Par Kya karein. Adapt pad gayi hai khule ki. Aur kyun hamare bathroom ko ganda karein?**
This made me realise people are not aware about the hazards of defecating in the open. And it got me thinking how can we spread the awareness to the villagers?
What can you do about the condition in rural areas:
If you are reading this, I am sure you have a well furnished home with a fully functional toilet in it. And all this has nothing to do with you. But you and me can do one thing about it. Educate them. No I am not telling to go to those villages and give speech on hygiene and sanitation. I mean its a plus if you do that but we can start with our own homes.
Let us ask our maids or servants who reside in a nearby village these three basic yet highly effective question
1: Do they have a toilet in their village?
If not let the local authority of the area know about it. Government is trying its best to provide toilets in such areas. Make them aware of the risk of bad hygiene and sanitation process.
If yes, do they use it properly and flush after excretion? Or do they still go out in open?
Tell them how it can lead to microbial infections and cause diarrhoea in children. Let them know about the chances of malnutrition and pneumonia in the children suffering from diarrhoea.
2: Do they wash their hands with soap?
Tell them how our hands are the major carrier of germs and washing them just with water may help get rid of the dirt but won’t kill the germs.
Tell them the importance of washing hands with soap after using the toilet. Also before cooking. Educate them about germs and infections. Show the the proper hand washing technique:
Let them know the importance of bathing daily. Even if they have a lack of water supply in their area, advise them to wash their mouth, face and private parts everyday. Keeping the body clean is as important as a clean surrounding.
They should know how just washing hands with soap can avoid diseases like typhoid, diarrhoea and other skin infections.
3: Do they boil water before drinking?
There may not be a water filter supplied in their village but boiling water before drinking can prevent the water borne disease which are now the main reason of diseases and deaths in villages.
Every citizen of India has the right to know how good hygiene practises and proper sanitation can literally change their lives.
Benefits of good hygiene and sanitation practises:
1: Lesser diseases and reduced child mortality rate.
Pneumonia and diarrhoea is the highest cause of death in children in India.
2: Increased Literacy rate with safe and private toilets provided in schools.
Did you know often girls have to opt out of school after certain age because of lack of private toilets in the school. With proper sanitation facilities and water supply more and more students will be encouraged to join and continue schooling.
If each one of us have this talk today with our household helpers and if 50% of them understand it and change their routines, half of our work is done.
Lets not just watch news and discuss about the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan. Lets not hold a debate on ‘Will Modiji succeed in this mission?’ It is not about one man. It is about the whole country.
Let us act upon it right now. Even small baby steps can make a huge difference.
Ndtv India in association with dettol has started the #swacchIndia campaign. Mr. Amitabh Bacchan is the face and voice of the campaign. Let us join him and collectively make our India clean and hygienic.
I am in. Are you?
By -Sweety Pateliya
*Goddess Lakhsmi resides in a clean and pure house
** Child, the whole field is open to us.
Why uncle? Don’t you have a toilet in your village?
We have child. But I am habituated to relieve myself in the open.
And why should I make my toilet dirty by using it when the field is there for it?**