It is pretty much the chicken and the egg situation. The more we dig our heads into the sands of theories trying to excavate the right story about who came first – the individual or the society, in order to pin point, weigh and measure their respective, collective and collaborative role in a subject as vast as social change, the cuckoo flies over the nest! We might end up losing the track. We shall rather not risk our poor little brains on such scholarly adventure. Let us simply focus on one of the trending topics around us right at this moment and hope to be well-versed with the issue.
Swachh Bharat or Swachhta Abhiyan – very close to many of our hearts, but far away from reality, beautifully mirrors this enigma – Individual or society, who plays what role and who has how much reach and impact capacity to make this social change movement a success.
PM Modi starting off Swacch Bharat Abhiyan in New Delhi
Swachchta or Cleanliness and hygiene begins as a very private and intimate activity in humans. However, it transcends these mundane physical boundaries and encompasses the abstract higher faculties of one’s intelligence – one’s sensual, aesthetic and spiritual seeking – in solitude and in company, leading it to be a cultural and social phenomenon. For God’s sake, we have placed cleanliness “next to Godliness”!
Hence personal habits and preferences of individual and community hygiene have brought into existence plethora of washing and bathing fantasies and luxuries, beauty and grooming products, rituals and services over civilizations. That indicates a huge amount of enterprise – at all verticals in community as well as commercial levels on this single issue of cleanliness.
But in a country like India, where poverty and ignorance resulting in 1.2 billion population has toppled over this very basic yet ethereal aspect of human existence, our 14th Prime Minister needed to announce Swachchta Abhiyan as his top priority and his most ambitious project on the 68th Independence Day celebration at Lal Quila. At this juncture we find ourselves in a bizarre situation. A minuscule number of people in urban India have graduated to washing and sanitizing hands with an array of liquid hand wash and hand sanitize brands, whereas the vast majority are still at the kindergarten step of learning the need and importance of washing hands even after defecating! Non availability of tapped water and other sanitary facilities compel the urban poor to compromise on personal hygiene whereas this has become ‘culture’ with die-hard mind sets in rural sectors of the country. Examples of such inconsistent behavior regarding cleanliness are abound around us. We have westernized ourselves in cooking out of and munching on packaged food and eating out at international food joints, but we do not follow the westerners’ habits of cleaning up the table ourselves before leaving or mind fully disposing the garbage and wastes.
The country’s economic reform has opened doors to FDIs and MNCs. Ever increasing Per Capita Consumption in Indian market is being aggressively chased and scaled by a barrage of international commercial entities. But the public waste management system is yet to catch up with it from what the British or some Mughal and Indian indigenous dynasties left back.
In such a scenario where majority of Indian individuals living across the length and breadth of the country at complex demographic weaves need to evolve in their awareness, knowledge and practice in pursuit of cleanliness, the public system involving government and its agencies on one hand and, Nonprofits, social entrepreneurs and general citizenry on the other, need revolutionary strategies and implementation of ideas and procedures at war footing. The efforts at both the levels go parallel as well as hand in hand to ensure the success of Swachhta Abhiyan – a social change movement. None, without the cooperation of the other can achieve desired results in this mission. We find it explicitly true in situations where most of us are doing nothing ourselves or still mindlessly littering and yet criticizing, blaming and mocking the government for its Swachh Bharat tax, but some individuals, corporate houses, NGOs are taking the onus on themselves for the cause which we should emulate.
A Sangeeta Narayan Awahale in rural Maharashtra or a Phulkumari Devi in remote village of Bihar have sold or mortgaged their wedding jewelry to build toilets in their homes. A Kantilal Roat, a daily wage laborer from Rajasthan has sold one of his goats and his wife’s jewelry to do the same. The honor and dignity of the women in their families along with the awakened awareness of hygiene motivated them to take the bold steps.
Sangeeta Awahale with Maharashtra’s rural development minister, Pankaja Munde.
On the other hand the Corporate Affairs Ministry under its new Company Law has made contributions to Swatch Bharat Kosh and Clean Ganga Fund mandatory under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
The task is herculean – making India “open defecation free by 2019 by constructing over 11 crore rural toilets at a earmarked cost of INR 1,96,600 crore.” Besides that to make the entire mission of “raising awareness and changing behaviour around sanitation and public health, 100% collection and scientific processing disposal/reuse/recycling of municipal solid waste, ….sanitation finance, sewage management, job creation, ” sustainable, it has to be “ viable and profitable to everyone involved in product and service delivery across the value chain. This is where an unprecedented opportunity opens up for social entrepreneurship.” Realizing this potential, the government has initiated Swachhta Udyami Yojana to provide concessional loan to build community toilets and garbage pickup vehicles etc.
Sahas Zero Waste is one such Bangalore based social enterprise providing solutions in the waste management industry.
Biome Environmental Solutions, again a Bangalore based social enterprise providing eco-friendly architectural designs with optimum and judicious engagement of land, energy, waste water management. They also address social responsibilities such as sociocultural and socio-economic needs and problems of clients as well as the workers.
In a First Post article, dated 14th November, 2015, a designated organisation named Clean India Authority (CIA) has been proposed to leverage fund generation and its administration, maneuvering center vs state issues to ensure successful commissioning of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) programs.
The ‘#MyCleanIndia’ was also launched simultaneously as a part of the Swachh Bharat drive to highlight the cleanliness work carried out by citizens across the nation.
Nonprofit Trusts like Gramalaya is working relentlessly to promote sanitation, water, hygiene and overall improvement and empowerment of marginalized communities in rural, coastal and tribal areas.
This proves the futility of all the macro level endeavors as mentioned in this article if the individual remains aloof and do not participate at micro level.
No wonder why Dalai Lama believes individuals can make a difference in the society.
Famous American footballer Vince Lombardi said “individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
Keeping aside scholarly debates over who first and who the most – individual or society, we individuals can perhaps consider ourselves as the key factor in any social change. At least that makes us feel important! Hence, might motivate us too to be the change makers.