“Reclaiming a Clean India”   Leave a comment

“India was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously.”  – Jawahar Lal Nehru

We Indians are extremely fortunate since we can explore the many layers of thoughts and reverie which flowed through our country from times immemorial since they all have been recorded for eternity. Let’s explore two such layers of Indian Pasts: One Layer has already been written and stands tall with all its glory intact and another Layer which is yet to be engraved since we have still not made up our minds as to how to go about it.

The first Layer is as old as the mountains. “The curious case of Man” catapulted him to such an extent that he stopped wandering, settled down along with his ilk, domesticated animals, discovered minerals and ploughed the soil and produced crops for subsistence. The more he endeavored the more he innovated. The superior techniques in metallurgy and handicrafts came in tow transforming his hitherto rudimentary settlements into large urban civilization.

When the remnants of this culture were discovered along the Indus River, it was christened the Indus Valley Civilization. What is more impressive is that our ancestors were nonpareil for the design of an impressive “Drainage System”. The excavations prove that every house, big or small, in every city had its own courtyard and bathroom. The drains were covered with bricks and even with stone slabs some times. Water flowed from the house to the streets which had drains and the latter was equipped with manholes. Archaeologists are of one voice when they conclude that the domestic bathrooms and drains are of remarkable quality and no other Bronze Age contemporaries have been so “Attentive to Cleanliness and Health” like the inhabitants of Indus.

The Second Layer of thought to which you and I belong is in the 21st century and is largely unwritten. A light year separates the Indus Valley Civilization and the 21st century. The date is 15th August 2014 and the cynosure of all eyes is the Red Fort at Delhi from where our newly elected Prime Minister exhorts his fellow citizens to build toilets for the safety of our women and to ensure their dignity so that they don’t need to wait for darkness to defecate in the open!!  He goes on and admits with ignominy the need for separate toilet for every school, the need to keep every road, school, office, locality and neighbourhood in India clean. From the highs of being a civilization which had quality toilets for all its houses, we have fallen to the lows of having more mobile phones and fewer toilets.

Somewhere along the journey from the Indus Valley to the more modern 21st century, we have lost the moorings to which we tied the values of Cleanliness, Orderliness and the notion of Hygiene.  We have acknowledged the fact with shame that we are the world leader in open defecation. The government despite its efforts to eradicate open defecation and prohibit the practise of carrying night soil by safai karamcharis ends up promoting open defecation: INDIAN RAILWAYS is the world’s biggest open toilet.  The promise of introducing Bio toilets in trains still remain a pipe dream! It promotes open defecation and manual scavenging with not even an iota of concern!

PUBLIC TOILETS are few and far between and are nightmares since they remain unclean and neglected by the authorities concerned. The littered streets, unclean footpaths, broken drains, stagnant water and polluted rivers have become part of our Indian identity. Its startling how we have lost our sense of public hygiene because we began as a civilization which had the qualities of cleanliness and hygiene innately! The Prime Minister is exhorting us to change for good since it won’t feel great if Indians defecate adjacent to bullet train tracks and in Smart Cities of the future!!

Life is really hard being a girl child in India and it gets all the more harder if she is born in the countryside. After crossing numerous hurdles such as sex determination, female foeticide, son preference and female infanticide, let’s imagine that a girl child named Babli was born in an imaginary village in rural India.

If Babli survives the threats faced by almost all infants in India: diarrhea, worm infection and as a consequence stunted growth and malnutrition she can enrol in the primary school in her village.  Let’s suppose that Babli’s was a lucky girl since her school had a makeshift toilet. If Babli survives the ailments namely Typhoid fever, Japanese encephalitis etc.  associated with an unclean milieu such as using a dirty toilet, not washing hands, not using soap after using the toilet then she can proceed to the secondary school. But there is a greater change brewing inside Babli which could confine her permanently within the four walls of her house.

Upon attaining puberty, Babli can continue her schooling only if her new school has a separate toilet for girl children since she has the added burden of menstruation. Even if her school has a separate toilet for girls, while at home she needs to survive the perils of venturing out in the dark for defecating. She would live to see the next day if her bodily integrity is not violated by some sexual predators lurking under the cover of darkness. Even if Babli’s father finally decides to construct a toilet owing to the pressures from authorities, possibilities are high that Babli along with her family would still resort to open defecation owing to her inclination acquired from her family.

If Babli survives all these hurdles and gets married after completing her secondary schooling, possibilities are high that the house of her in laws having no toilet is heavy! Babli again falls back into the vicious circle. This vicious cycle continues when her children walk down her path!! The equation gets all the more complex when you add the caste dimension to it. The lower you are in the caste hierarchy, the higher is the possibility for discrimination. Community discriminates you from using the common toilet or the burden of carrying the night soil falls on you if you are from a lower caste. It would not be a surprise if anyone calls this milieu madness.

But the good news is that some public players like Hindustan Unilever can provide a method to this madness. The Unilever Foundation and Domex have joined forces with UNICEF to help improve access to basic sanitation for hundreds of thousands of people in areas that need it most i.e. in Maharashtra and Odisia.

Since Domex is the most preferred brands when it comes to toilet cleaning, it falls upon Domex to ensure that Indian villages are free of open defecation. The task may sound insurmountable but understanding the problem and shaping a workable solution will go a long way in the fight to eradicate open defecation. The launching of The Domex Toilet Academy by the Hindustan Unilever Limited with an aim to build 24,000 toilets in areas which face the problem of open defecation is praiseworthy. Apart from ensuring that India is free of open defecation, it will also ensure the growth of Domex as the numero uno toilet cleaner in India since even the villages will become familiar with the germ killing qualities of the brand. The Domex Toilet Academy initiative is novel and strikes the nail on its head. It is demand driven programme i.e. building toilets where it is desperately needed (Maharashtra and Orissa in this case) and the aim is not just to build toilets but to improve the health and well-being of the community concerned by raising awareness of good hygiene practices and creating demand for access to toilet.

As the name suggests the Domex Toilet Academy does not just aim at building toilets. It digs deeper and intends at educating people on the importance of hygiene and sanitation. It aims at creating a network of local entrepreneurs to sell and build toilets. This is a demand driven approach which makes the villagers not just the passive recipient of doles in the form of built toilets but makes them active partners in shaping their future by making them capable! It is sustainable and inclusive at the same time. The Domex Toilet Academy doesn’t aim at reinventing the wheel but intends to harness the already existing structures. Partnership with well-established social enterprises with strong execution capabilities aims at identifying and training micro entrepreneurs who would execute the project in their local communities by supplying and installing latrines after getting the seed capital.

Not just content with building toilets, The Domex Toilet Academy aims at spreading awareness to bring about a behavioural change among the villagers. The advantages of being hygienic, safe sanitation and the hazards of open defecation is spread by a strong network of women self-help groups targeting children, women and community groups. The “catch them young “approach would go a long way in enlightening children of the villages about the importance of health and hygiene in their daily lives. If the message is inherited by the women of the villages, it can go a long way in ensuring behavioural changes in the family as a whole. And if the community is enlightened there would not be littered streets, broken pipes and unused toilets. The pressure exerted by them would force the others to change their behaviour for good!

Domex has gone beyond the domains of the clichéd Corporate Social Responsibility and has embraced the mission with passion. They can usher in change slowly but steadily and the change is already visible. Over 80 toilets in the Junapani village in Maharashtra has kept open defecation at bay. This was launched as a pilot programme in 2013 but has shown terrific results which would boost all the stakeholders to embrace the cause further.

Domex: Ushering in Change through the Domex Toilet Academy

“Ushering in Change through the Domex Toilet Academy”

Even the consumers of Domex too are getting a chance to realize the magnitude of the problem of open defecation and show their obligation towards getting the country rid of open defecation. Domex launched an online campaign on www.domexforsanitaton.com for creating awareness among its consumers by creating a button “You Click, We contribute”.  For each click/support on this tab Domex contributed Rs. 5 to Domex Toilet Academy to help eradicate open defecation. This is praiseworthy since every citizen of India needs to be sensitized about the issue of open defecation.

In order to write the second layer of history in the 21st century we need all the stakeholders to come together. We, as a nation, need to clearly recover the qualities of cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene which we lost by the way side since we crossed the Indus valley civilization.

It would be really heartening to see a clean India which is sensitive towards the issues of hygiene and sanitation and which is open defecation free by the year 2019 as envisioned by our honourable Prime Minister. If Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a clean India is to be attained by the year 2019, all the Bablis hailing from all Indian villages should be able to grow up and lead a healthy and hygienic life devoid of the threat of open defecaton !! The Message is loud and clear: It is possible to attain an open defecation free India. !! The journey has just begun !!

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This post is my entry for the Indiblogger Happy Hours Campaign #Toilet for Babli in association with Domex. For More details please visit the website: http://http://www.domex.in/

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Posted November 19, 2014 by Aneesh in INDIA, The Motley Crew

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