By Rajiv Tewari, Founder, MediaNetwork.net.in for CharityWorld.com. This article is based on a conversation with Pavan Choudary, Managing Director of Vygon India; a leading French Multinational in the field of Critical Care. Detailed introduction of Pavan has been shared at the end of this article.
Attach dignity with the job of cleaning by leveraging technology
If a job is considered undignified and lowly then it can never be an aspirational job. For the Clean India Campaign to succeed, India needs social thinkers & entrepreneurs who can bring about fundamental changes in the attitudes & behaviour of people.
Attaching dignity with the job of cleaning can do wonders. Cleaning has to be associated with dignity and respect. Technology can play a major role in bringing about this change. Imagine the impact on others if the cleaners come to work in proper uniforms with smart equipment. A small change like providing our sweepers with cleaning kit boxes complete with user friendly mops, scrubbers, dust cleaners, sprayers and broom can make a big difference. Imagine the cleaners being treated as professionals who turn up smartly and do their work like other trained professionals in so many other areas. Once the profession of cleaning is considered to be a job like any other respected profession then there will be a lot of takers who will carry out the task of cleaning with pride.
‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), is a laudable initiative by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however to succeed, awareness, infrastructure as well as the support of law would all be required” says Pavan Choudary, who received keen insights in this area while interacting with experts on his TV show, ‘Hum Aisey Kyun Hain’ as well as through his knowledge on this subject.
Magnitude of the challenge
According to a UNICEF report, globally, about 564 million people defecate in the open. India accounts for almost 59% of this population which is the cause of several serious health problems. Every year, diarrhoea alone kills 1, 88,000 children under five years of age in India. It is also a prime source of several other diseases. The practice is so deeply ingrained that building and owning a toilet is not even perceived as a need. People in the rural areas and urban slums are willing to invest in cars, television sets and smart phones but building a toilet is not aspirational. The real challenge will be in increasing the awareness levels and motivating people to build toilets. In India the problem is not limited to rural areas as the urban slums are also facing the same problem. Government of India has launched a powerful campaign for changing the social attitudes which is a step in the right direction.
Developed world too had the same problem once upon a time
From the point of view of human hygiene, the period 500 AD to 1500 AD has been described as a dark age. Cities around the world faced the problem of open defecation. Even the houses, forts and castles disposed the human excreta on the roads and into the rivers. There were no toilet facilities so people had to defecate and urinate wherever they found space. During this period, a delegation in France protested in front of the French Municipal Building and their leader said “Our fathers have defecated at the place where you prevent us to do. We have defecated here and now our children will defecate there”. This describes the mind-set of the people who at that time were not willing to respond to the awareness campaign launched by the French authorities. Today France is one of the cleanest nations in the world. If it could be done in France then it can certainly be done in India too though the magnitude of the problem is many times more than what the French authorities had to face several hundred years back.
Making laws alone will not help
Several countries have tried legal provisions and so has India. Laws were passed in 1878 and again in 1993 by the name of Sanitation Act which states that construction of dry latrine and its manual cleaning will be considered an offence, yet open defecation is as rampant even now as it was in 1878. Law will help only if there is mass support. What India needs is a combination of awareness, technology led innovation and support from the masses along with strict implementation of legal provisions. India can not blindly copy the western model due to scarcity of water in several parts of the country so it requires technology that will suit India’s need. Investment in technology would be needed to ensure that India is able to use water less latrines or otherwise latrines where waste can be recycled.
Social Entrepreneurs will play a major role
Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak’s Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement is a great example of what India can do through the social entrepreneurs. Sulabh International has constructed over 1 million toilets cum bath complexes based on a technology that recycles human excreta for bio gas plants. They are successfully producing fertiliser, electricity and gas through their projects which are commercially viable to a great extent. Their claim is that over 15 million people are using these toilets daily. Sulabh has given India a low cost eco-friendly alternative for compost latrines which cost only about Rs 2000 to construct. Their toilet services are either on pay per usage basis or otherwise based on commissions for each toilet system sold. Dr Bindeshwar Pathak has won international acclaim for his nation-building work, including the Stockholm Water Prize in 2009. Such efforts need to be scaled up as the population covered by even a large organization like Sulabh is not able to cover the entire country.
Similar is the example of Smaat India Pvt. Ltd. which has created Water ATMs. These ATMs take only a few minutes to clean water and make it drinkable. It is the brainchild of Karunakara Reddy for providing clean water at a low cost through social enterprise. All it requires is a 300 sq. ft. space to install a high quality and certified water purification unit. This plant requires only 2 units of electricity to produce 1000 litres of water. There are many such examples which go to prove that Indian entrepreneurs have the capability to do it.
What is needed is a nationwide movement that will respect and support the social entrepreneurs in through public recognition, financing, infrastructural and technology support. If India could surprise the world by becoming the world’s largest producer of milk from a milk deficient country through operation flood; if India could create a three years buffer stock through green revolution and if it could become a IT Super Power when half the world had written us off then we can certainly surprise every one through the Clean India Mission too. Pavan Choudary beautifully echoed this sentiment by sharing two lines from his book, Broom & Groom:
“मिल जुल के ऐसा सजायेंगे इस वतन को, हैरत से मुँह ताकेगा सारा जहाँ हमारा “
(We will decorate our country so well that the whole world will look at us with surprise).
About Pavan Choudary
Pavan Choudary is the Managing Director of Vygon India; a leading French Multinational in the field of Critical Care. Additionally Pavan holds the position of Chairman of the Medical Technology Association of India (MTAI, Pronounced EM-TAI) an association of research based medical technology companies who have a large manufacturing foot print in India.
A critically acclaimed author, his best-selling book, How a Good Person can Really Win has won the Eric Hoffer Award and Readers’ Choice Award in 2015. He is also the author of Broom & Groom which connects beautifully with the Clean India Mission. He hosts the nation building TV show ‘Hum Aisey Kyun Hain’ (Why are we the way we are). He is a columnist with newspapers like the TOI, and sits on some highly respected advisory boards in India.