Swachh Bharat is connected to the Rangarajan report. The new poverty threshold for rural areas is Rs 32 per day. For urban areas as already stated it is fixed at Rs 47 per day
Shamsher Chandel, [email protected] HushPost: Poverty and Swachhta (cleanliness) are intrinsically conjoined twins. They share an umbilical cord. Taking note of one without really acknowledging the other will never take Swachh Bharat Abhiyan far. It is like solving a mathematical simultaneous equation by trying to solve the value of x without solving the value of y.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi started the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan four years ago. Since then a ‘Champions of the Earth Award’ by the UN has come his way recently conferred by UN secretary- general Antonio Guterres. This award in a way could be compared with the Nobel Peace Prize conferred on Friends Service Council, UK and American Friends Service Committee, US in the year 1947 when Mahatma Gandhi was nominated for the fourth time but wasn’t conferred with an award. Though, the Nobel Prize Committee regretted the decision to not award Peace Prize to Gandhi in 1989.
Coming back to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, PM Modi took the cue from the ice bucket challenge four years ago. He tagged nine globe-trotting celebrities and politicians to be part of the campaign including the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, industrialist Anil Ambani and others. He asked each of them to spread the message of a clean India to a hundred individuals in turn. It hasn’t reached every Facebook or Twitter account in four years. It shows that somewhere the seriousness of the challenge got lost or it died.
After all, those who are affected by Aswachhta first-hand, belong to a strata which does not have a Facebook account or do not have a smart phone to get access to the social media. So if Priyanka Chopra throws a challenge from New York it may reach the likes of Amitabh Bachchan. But her challenge may not be able to crack the six degrees of separation, a theory which propounds that we are separated by a maximum of six people from anybody on this planet.
India is home to 28 crore such people living below the poverty line. Most of them live under the bridges, flyovers, on the pavements. If one is fortunate they live in kuccha houses & ghettos on encroached piece of land
Let’s come back and define Swachhta through the prism of poverty. As per the Rangarajan report, the new poverty threshold for rural areas is Rs 32 per day. For urban areas as already stated it is fixed at Rs 47 per day. Anyone, who earns that much can just buy just a kg of milk. After that, he has Rs 2 left for himself. In that, he has to eat, buy clothing and pay rent for the shelter. In such a scenario, many consider even buying soap a luxury. Least of all the Dettol soap which was part of the Dettol-NDTV Banega Swachh India Cleanathon campaign. After all, one dettol 125 grams soap costs Rs 44, just Rs 3 less than the per capita income for anyone living Below the Poverty Line. Many can’t even afford the Nirol cloth washing soap. In its absence, lakhs still depend upon ash or soil to scrub their hands after eating food or even after defecation.
India is home to 28 crore such people living below the poverty line. Most of them live under the bridges, flyovers, on the pavements. If one is fortunate they live in kuccha houses and ghettos on encroached piece of land. Here a family of five to six sleep in one 10 X 10 square feet room. That is where a couple makes love while sleeping next to a grown-up son or daughter, probably awake. And this is why incest breeds so rampantly among them. The Swachh Bharat problem begins right there, including rape and molestation, if one considers that too is about Aswachh and Swachh.
In the morning, they cook just a yard away from where they urinate or defecate. They can’t build a toilet because they are already living temporarily on an encroached piece of land under a tent. Thus, the only option left for such people is to shame themselves in front of their own, meaning thereby, change, urinate, defecate and cook in front of family onlookers.
Why the nine globetrotting jewels tagged by PM Modi do not understand the Swachhta Abhiyan is because their realities are in such stark difference to the people they want to be Swach In fact, many who share stage with them like actor Ayushman Khurana too need a lesson in Swachhta. We will come to that later on.
For now, let us take the most influential member among the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan ambassadors – a certain Amitabh Bachchan. Bachchan was part of Dettol-NDTV-Banega Swachh India Cleanathon campaign. Bachchan along with his four family members live in a house named Jalsa which is built on an area of 10,125 square feet, probably the space which is enough for 1,000 slum dwellers to dwell in Mumbai’s Dharavi or in a slum in Kolkata.
The question in the Indian context should be can we have a mobile application to tell the poor, those who get Rs 47 in their share, where the next free meal would be available
During Dettol-NDTV Cleanathon campaign, Amitabh curiously asked a minister on why can’t there be a Google application which could tell the location of a toilet like it does of a traffic situation, since senior citizens like him are faced with such a problem often enough while travelling. And he often lands up at strangers’ houses requesting if he could use their toilets, maybe for a selfie or an autograph in return.
This looks like a brilliant question if one talks of a Sweden or a Switzerland. In the Indian circumstances, this question would at best win a consolation prize.
The question in the Indian context should be can we have a mobile application to tell the poor, those who get Rs 47 in their share, where the next free meal would be available in case they haven’t had food for 24 hours and a shelter with a toilet. Even for that to become a reality, they would need a free facility of one smartphone at their disposal. Amitabh’s toilet question in our context reminds of a joke about a poet who goes to a doctor who suffers from constipation? After repeated visits to a doctor and without relief, the doctor asks the poet, “What do you do for a living?” Upon learning that the person is a poet by occupation, the doctor hurls a Rs 50 note at him and says: “First go and eat something, if you want to be cured of constipation.”
Thus in India, toilet, of course, is a problem for people like Amitabh who cannot go in the open and urinate owing to the fear of being recognised and demonised or maybe he is being true to character and seriously wants change. But his problem is nothing compared to the problem of those who live on Rs 47 a day and defecate in the open or urinate against the wall not due to the pleasure they get but because they just live day and night under the sky. Of course, there are culprits in the higher strata who enjoy peeing in the open. The other day, another Bollywood actor Ayushman Khurana suggested to Salman Khan on his show Dus Ka Dum, that urinating on the Mumbai-Pune highway is an enjoyable experience and went on to advise Salman Khan: “Sir, You must try it.” Now the question arises why do we talk so much less about poverty than one of its bye-products: Swachhta?
Imagine the plight of a poor small-time trader who is booked for stocking or hoarding pulses or other essential commodities under ESMA while the big fish, the likes of the Amitabhs & Ambanis and others go scot-free as there is no law which regulates the number of properties
The answer is simple. To bring about Swachhta we need to bring people out of poverty. And to bring them out of it, we need our globetrotting celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra to share their material possessions than their mental suggestions. Amitabh is a hoarder of worldly possessions. And so are others like the Priyankas and Ambanis and other in that orbit. Amitabh owns four bungalows in Mumbai – Jalsa, Pratiksha, Janak and Vatsa. Apart from these properties, Amitabh owns two flats in Juhu worth Rs 40 crore and an apartment in Juhu worth Rs 1.75 crore. He also owns an apartment in France and a flat in Gururgram. His wife Jaya Bachchan owns two flats in Bhopal.
Imagine the plight of a poor small time trader who is booked for stocking or hoarding pulses or other essential commodities under ESMA. While the big fish, the likes of the Amitabhs and Ambanis and others go scot-free as there is no law which regulates the number of properties one can buy, something which immediately has a spiralling effect on increasing property prices, inflation and subsequently queues of thousands and lakhs who have the quintessential rukhi-sukhi roti and phata kapda to live within those Rs 47 a day but no makaan, no toilet and have no choice but to defecate in the open. I am reminded of a one-act play by Ravi Deep called Rang Nagari. There is a dialogue which says: “Jab tak kuch loh dabein ge nahi kuch log uppar nahi uthh sakte.” ( Unless and until some people don’t get oppressed, a few of will not be able to rise).
And that is why the who’s who of Bollywood, the Indian cricket and our politicians — the likes of Salmans, Priyankas, Amitabhs, Shashi Tharoors and Ambanis cannot change much with just the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. And it will not change as long as they do not share with the poor their material possessions along with their gyan. A point on the sidelines of it is that Amitabh Bachchan is a metaphor for the other of his ilk who hoard material possessions – the Bollywood actors, cricketers, politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists.
The other day, Amitabh Bachchan said that he does not reveal that he donates lavishly, because he doesn’t want to be boastful. But the fact remains, he and his ilk own so-so-much more that each of their secret donations should no more be secret. They should be in the public domain. They should donate a laudable chunk of their material belongings if they really mean each word of the national anthem or the national song they sing, if they really care about their lesser privileged brethren, if they really want that unknown Indian, who lives on a pavement on Rs 47 a day to graduate to living on at least Rs 147 a day in the near future. Once that is done Swachh Bharat Abhiyan too will begin.