On october 2nd 2019, when the nation celebrates Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan(SBA) will be turning five. Five years ago on this day, Narendra Modi launched this ambitious programme, SBA to fulfill Gandhi’s dream of clean india. Furthermore Gandhi’s 150th anniversary was decided as a deadline to make India open defecation free(ODF).
Going by the track record no one should be surprised to see BJP making it a grand celebration. Gates foundation award is going to be pitched in as an acknowledgment, of all the good work that Modi goverment has done, but with no mention of the murder of two Dalit kids for defecating in open in Shivpuri, Madhyapradesh on the very same day Modi was conferred with the award.
After the launch, nation witnessed a spree of toilet construction. It was assumed that having a toilet in the house will automatically solve the problem of open defecation. But trusting toilet construction as a panacea for SBA is based on a faulty brahminical understanding of Indian society. The SQUAT survey conducted in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, M.P and Rajasthan reveals striking fact that, at least one person in every 40% of rural households with latrines, defecates in the open. Survey also suggest, that most Indians hate to use latrines. For most of them having toilets at home is impure and, this is the reason why they can not stand to use latrines. So constructing toilet is not enough in a country where every aspect of life is tied to the Hindu notions of caste and purity.
The problem of manual scavenging is like an elephant in the room, that indian politicians are ignoring and SBA has done nothing but reinforced it. Manual scavenging stands on two evil pillars of our society which are caste system and patriarchy with nearly 90% of them being female and from lower castes. Problem of manual scavenging results is sustained because of inefficient and nonexistent underground drainage system. According to Bezwada Wilson, National convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan, out of 9.16 crores toilets built under SBA, 80-90% are single pit, having no automatic supply of water and with no underground sewage system in place. This fact is also substantiated by Vikas kumar of Water Aid, 65% toilets built under SBA are single pit. All these collective measures in the name of single pit toilet without looking into the problems of underground sewerage system is done to make sure dalits can be coerced and manipulated into manual scavenging for ever
Removal of bin installed in the common area to replace it with the door to door collection by blowing whistle on reaching designated area is also symbolic of pre 1993 era ,when latrines were emptied through door to door service.The whistle announced the presence of a lower caste body from whom all contact has to be avoided.
“Where India Goes: Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development and the Costs of Caste”, coauthored by Dean spears and Diane coffee, argues that India ODF is second to none for it can not be explained by regular determinants like poverty,illiteracy alone. It underlines that 46 of 55 countries with lower GDP than India is better in terms of open defecation and conclude that open defecation in India is deeply associated with its social structures and norms.Because of the caste ridden mentality and hindu notions of purity which does not allow the masses to use latrines here in india ,it is going to be a daunting task for the government to shape the behaviour of the citizens accordingly in line with SBA where in they start to use latrines.
In a country where toilets are built behind house so that scavenger is unseeable while walking down exclusive lane. It is the very same reasoning of purity why toilets are not built in temple premises.
Where people can not even bear to see toilets built near their premises because of hindu notion of purity,it will be ridiculous if we expect them to clean their toilets. The question remains what if everybody starts to use toilets then who is going to clean the toilets and go down into manholes ,and we know that only dalits are assigned with this job. The report published by RICE (Research Institute for Compassionate Economics) corroborate the same argument that in rural areas cleaning toilets is the job reserved exclusively for dalits.So, the success of SBA in the existing set up will aggravate the number of manual scavengers.
But now because of dalit asseration of thier rights and work done by SKA among manual scavenger, its harder than ever before to coerce them to accept these menial jobs which they are trying hard to come out.
So now it is safe to say that all these developments in the name of sba has helped consolidate the caste by coercing people from lower rungs of society into manual scavenging
On one hand ,Shrinking public sector by embarking on privatisation frenzy ,jobless growth resulting in unemployment are collective measures at policy making level,pushed dalits into menial job, on the other hand ,To meet the targets of SBA ,Many states like Delhi ,Uttar Pradesh ,M.P and Uttrakhand coerced people into manual scavenging ,violating the law against manual scavenging .Apart from coercion dalits are also being cajoled into accepting these meagre jobs with the SEWA BHAAW by launching SWACHATA HI SEVA mission.Modi’s visual politics of washing feet of manual scavengers in Varanasi ,frequent praise of the workers related to SBA is a manipulative trick to beguile them into inhumane profession of manual scavenging. In the veil of SBA it was ensured that dalit stick to their assigned work of manual scavenging.If this move of governmnt is scrutinised in light of recent NRC move then this is perfecly in line with making India a hindu rashtra by ensuring that muslims remains double standard citizens and dalit remainin the clutches of Manusmriti.
SBA was launched hastily without paying heed to the ground reality of a country which is so entrenched in the idea of caste and purity, therefore without altering the brahmanical understanding of country,SBA movement is bound to fail. And in order to make India truly a clean country there is no way other than eradicating the caste system first.
Atul Jatav is a student of Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi.