Importance of Gandhian thoughts about Cleanliness

On 2nd October, 2014, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, launched a nation-wide cleanliness campaign on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary. The concept of Swachh Bharat is to provide sanitation facilities to every family, including toilets, solid and liquid waste disposal systems, village cleanliness, and safe and adequate drinking water supply. We have to achieve this by 2019 as a befitting tribute to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, on his 150th birth anniversary. Modi said that the Swachh Bharat mission is beyond politics, inspired by patriotism and not politics. He also asked people to pledge 'na main gandagi karoonga, na main gandagi karne doonga' (I shall not litter and won't allow anyone to do so). He further flagged off a walkathon as part of the Swachh Bharat Campaign, which is not just a slogan, but our responsibility. This turned the people's thoughts to Gandhi's idea of cleanliness. What is the need of it? How did Gandhiji influence and communicate this idea to the nation? To answer these questions it is necessary to know Mahatma Gandhi's views about cleanliness.

Indians gained freedom under the leadership of Gandhiji, but his dream of a clean India is still unfulfilled. Mahatma Gandhi said "Sanitation is more important than independence". He made cleanliness and sanitation an integral part of the Gandhian way of living. His dream was total sanitation for all. Cleanliness is most important for physical well-being and a healthy environment. It has bearing on public and personal hygiene. It is essential for everyone to learn about cleanliness, hygiene, sanitation and the various diseases that are caused due to poor hygienic conditions. The habits learnt at a young age get embedded into one's personality. Even if we inculcate certain habits like washing hands before meals, regular brushing of teeth, and bathing from a young age, we are not bothered about cleanliness of public places. Mahatma Gandhi said, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” Gandhiji dwelt on cleanliness and good habits and pointed out its close relationship to good health. No one should spit or clean his nose on the streets. In some cases the sputum is so harmful that the germs infect others. In some countries spitting on the road is a criminal offence. Those who spit after chewing betel leaves and tobacco have no consideration for the feelings of others. Spittle, mucus from the nose, etc, should also be covered with earth. (Navajivan dated 2 November, 1919).

The Gandhi family was well known in Rajkot. His father and grandfather served as dewans (Prime Minister) in Rajkot and other neighbouring states. Being a Prime Minister's son and a barrister to boot, he must have needed guts to go round the town for a house to house inspection of the drains. Gandhi seldom failed to show moral courage when necessary. In his town, a mehtar (sweeper) called Uka did the scavenging. If Gandhi ever touched Uka, his mother, Putlibai, made him take a bath. Gandhi, otherwise a docile obedient son, did not like it. The 12 years old son would argue with his mother; "Uka serves us by cleaning dirt and filth, how can his touch pollute me? I shall not disobey you, but the Ramayana says that Rama embraced Guhaka, a chandal (a caste considered untouchable). The Ramayana cannot mislead us." Putlibai could find no answer for his argument. He criticized many western customs but repeatedly admitted that he learnt sanitation from the west. He wanted to introduce that type of cleanliness in India. Pointing to our unhygienic habits, Gandhiji strongly emphasized observing cleanliness in lavatories, and wrote "I shall have to defend myself on one point, namely, sanitary conveniences. I learnt 35 years ago that a lavatory must be as clean as a drawing-room. I learnt this in the West. I believe that many rules about cleanliness in lavatories are observed more scrupulously in the West than in the East. The cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing of excreta anywhere and everywhere. I, therefore, believe in the absolute necessity of a clean place for answering the call of nature and clean articles for use at the time. I have accustomed myself to them and wish that all others should do the same. The habit has become so firm in me that even if I wished to change it I would not be able to do so. Nor do I wish to change it"

Gandhism is a body of ideas that describes the inspiration, vision and the life work of Mohandas Gandhi. It is particularly associated with his contributions to the idea of nonviolent resistance, sometimes also called civil resistance. The two pillars of Gandhism are truth and non-violence.