Thursday, October 2, 2014

Gandhi Peace Lecture: On being Clean

Mahatma Gandhi was a stern believer in cleanliness, often equating it to spiritual awakening. Indeed, a clean society is a healthy society and how is society to progress without clean air, water and spaces in which to live and grow? But the Gandhian perspective of cleanliness went far beyond the physical benefits, although they were given their due. It is not for small reason that he declared that he is more concerned about India's cleanliness than its independence!

Self and Society
Cleanliness in the Gandhian philosophy has a particular importance on the self. Gandhiji always stressed on self-reliance and self-discipline, his two tenets to make a great nation. A person who can clean their own mess is not reliant on servants or people of lower castes to clean it for them. Indeed, one of the central assumptions of the caste system was that cleaning your own dirt is below you and should therefore be left to the 'lower castes' to take care of - a practice that Gandhiji attacked with all his moral might.

Thus, cleanliness enriches society by making people equal - no matter how important or rich an individual, they will always clean their own dirt, just as the poor do. A society in which every individual takes pride not just in cleanliness but in the very act of cleaning after themselves is a society that has achieved a profound level of equality - and that is the dream of India that Gandhiji held. Indeed, it is an ideal for the world.

But it is not just society that gains from a respect for cleaning after itself. Individuals learn to respect themselves and their surroundings much more. The feeling of being self-sufficient, of having to depend on no one but yourself, is of great value to a human being, it imparts a sense of responsibility and self-discipline that permeate to other fields. Eventually, a person who can clean after themselves is also one who can change the world.

Socialist Decay
Since Independence, India has embarked on a socialist form of government. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly pointed out, the government had monopolized development and took it out of the hands of the very people it claimed to represent. Indeed, it did the same when it came to cleanliness. A great society that was once led by Gandhiji to clean up after itself, now leaves a trail of litter wherever it goes. Our cities are veritable garbage dumps, our people don't think twice before urinating in public, a majority of people don't have respectable toilets, manual scavenging is still rampant and an arm of the state (the Railways) is actually perpetuating it.

Socialism has made our society one that does not see any stake in itself - where people depend on the government to clean up after themselves. Our society is in clear decay, a natural process of socialism, in fact. But this challenge also bears an opportunity - to fundamentally shift the state back to the people and make them stakeholders in their own future. This Gandhi Jayanti, Opinions 24x7 hopes that you join the PM in the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan - Clean India Campaign, to make a better nation and live up to the high ideals of the Father of the Nation.

Jai Hind! 

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