Friday, 12 December 2014

Cleanliness - Why isn't it Godliness anymore??

                    A few days back,I had just reached my workplace,  when one of my friends called me up excitedly, " you won't believe what I just saw, Titas!  This Swachh Bharat campaign has transcended human beings and reached other creatures too !" I couldn't make anything of his statement, and I also had a few patients waiting already,  so,  I needed to hurry him on.  He went on, " just now, I was having my breakfast,  and was staring outside at the lane below our flat,  when I saw a woman carrying a packet full of waste come out from one of the neighbourhood houses. Then, to my utter dismay,  she looked left & right to make sure nobody's looking, before dumping the packet right on the footpath and heading back briskly.  Two pieces of stale bread also fell out of the packets.  At this precise moment,  one of the street dogs of our area came running towards the packet,  and I feared the worst...... That it will tear apart the packet and spread the garbage all over the lane. I had to rub my eyes to believe what happened next........... The dog picked up the relatively heavy packet in its mouth, carried it to a nearby vat & dropped it there !  Not only that, it came back to retrieve the two pieces of bread too!!  "
      I was stunned.  There was no way in the world that my miser friend would spend his phone's balance to tell me some made-up story early morning , just for the sake of telling it!  Even as I attended to my patients,  I pondered over it.  How did an animal inferior to us, realise the value of cleanliness,  when we as human beings have failed to educate ourselves!?  Is it a collective failure,  or just an aberrant individual,  who simply refused to abide by the basic rules that make a human being?
                 That evening,  after coming back home ,  I made it a point to mention this same event in our Whatsapp schoolmates Chat Group, where there are about 54 members,  spread across the country and abroad.  Since it was quite a large sample pool of educated individuals,  I wanted to see what the response was to my question regarding cleanliness and sanitation.... Have we indeed degraded as individuals to levels below that of animals,  or was it a one-off incident?!
     Most of my mates doffed their hats to the dog, but surprisingly,  a few said that this was a made up story,  to gain some undue attention!  I tried to reason with them, that this was not...... And a healthy debate was raised on the issue of Swachh Bharat!        Interestingly, this section of friends,who didn't believe my story, turned out to be the ones who declared they would eat a packet of chips and throw the empty packet by the roadside. They argued that there was nothing wrong with it,  and they even asked me,  if I carried all my empty packets with me in my pockets,  after finishing the food!!  In their opinion,  it was the duty of the municipal corporation to maintain proper bins at the roadside,  and if one was not visible on the roadside, then there was nothing wrong in throwing the packets wherever they wish!!  Fortunately enough,  the number of these blokes was less,  and the other group of friends maintained, that they indeed carried wrappers in pockets or bags until they found a proper bin to dispose them off!
       So, it appears that being raised in urban households haven't imparted the civic sense in many of us!!  We won't cringe at somebody urinating out in the open,  stating that he was only responding to nature's call, and also defending him by saying,  it is better off than ruining one's pants!  But, we've been given something called a urinary bladder,  that has a capacity to withstand urge for a fairly long time, and we can indeed train ourselves to hold our urge!  But since we've grown up believing that relieving ourselves out in the open, is a birthright, we don't think twice before pulling down our zippers to commit a public nuisance!  The problem isn't with our bladders,  it's with the brain,  that simply refuses to accept the need for sanitation!

       The same brain forgets to tell us to flush public toilets after use,  or to press the sprinklers,  because,  it's always like, 'why will I spare an extra second for the next person's convenience' ??  We,  as a nation,  won't look after the next person's is almost as if thinking about aiding the next person is a sacrilege!!

          I go back to the days of my third year in medical college,  where we had a much hated subject: Preventive and Social Medicine ( PSM). Among the myriad of things it required us to learn,  there were dimensions of septic tanks,  as well as hygienic latrines and toilets.  Naturally,  all of us young would-be  doctors despised the subject. Especially,  the field visits to villages were considered to be terrible ordeals,  as it required us to measure the distances of drinking water sources from that of community latrines.  However,  it was during one of these field visits that I came to realise that the dimensions mentioned in our textbooks were meant only for the printed pages,  and was a far cry from what we saw in reality. At places where getting a little bit of space to accommodate families was the main motive, nobody cared for hygiene .  So,  the only tubewell,  the source of drinking water was at a distance of only 12 feet from where the latrine water ran off!!  It was no longer unclear to me as to why diseases like Typhoid were endemic in our country. Values at which other countries consider a Widal Test ( test for Typhoid detection) as positive,  we let go of them as something called 'local titre',  ie, our cutoff is a little bit raised,  because some amount of Typhoid infection is prevalent in most of us due to the local prevalence of the disease!!
     The rooms in the village had a single window,  with only a single ray of light managing to make its way into the middle,  and so,  all provisions of natural  illumination in a room, that were there in our textbooks, were farcical!! Along with overcrowding, there was this surge of diseases like scabies,  ringworm, and certain viral disorders.
          Handwashing,  considered to be one of the best prophylactic measures to prevent enteric diseases,  was nearly a foreign concept at these places. So far were the villagers from reality,  that many of them didn't even have the knowledge that Handwashing with soap and water is a must , after defecation!!!! And to top it all, there was open defecation,that is a huge problem across most of rural India, even today.
         So,standing at this point of time, the Swachh Bharat campaign is a step in the correct direction, towards resurrection .  It's a pity that something that should be within us by default by virtue of our human birth,  is now something we need to all  learn over again!  The proverb " Cleanliness is next To Godliness"  needs to make its way into our minds once again  ,  from the textbooks of our childhood days.  It's not a huge thing that we are asking of ourselves, it's just that we,  as individuals,  have got to stay adamant,  that we won't litter our surroundings. Each of us needs to correct the other when someone is doing wrong...... Not take other's mistakes as the excuse for committing errors ourselves. Chewable Tobacco products, that people spit around, staining all our edifices and roads, need to be banned forever.  The priority should be on building sanitary latrines in all of rural India,  so that open defecation ceases to exist.
       These would surely ensure that Cleanliness and Godliness are put in the same bracket once again..... And it will surely ensure that India as a nation,  moves ahead!!

Written as part of the Banega Swachh Bharat campaign by Dettol India and NDTV in association with Indiblogger. You can find out more about it here

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