longformliz

Welcome to my stream of consciousness…

Turd-green remains my valley!

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An open invitation to not just Carmelites to get a ringside view of turd-valley…

I spent five of my formative years at Mount Carmel College (MCC) in Bangalore. Right after school, MCC became my alma mater, growing up. That was 25 years back. Rahul Gandhi, the Vice President of the Congress Party who is only a few years older than me, was likely entering his 20’s at the time, and was hardly headline news material. But yesterday, as he spoke at the MCC auditorium, addressing an all-girl audience, the man once considered a sought-after bachelor with his dimpled cheeks, seemed to make quite another impression. If most media reports are to be believed, his supposed outreach to Bangalore’s youth, was not only a non-starter, they called it quite a disaster. In videos widely circulated, he is heard entering a direct Q and A with his audience, with the purpose of hitting out at the ruling Modi government. Targeting the BJP’s flagship Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign, he asks if the girls think, the project is working. Although what one hears is a mixed response, with voices saying both “Yes” and “No” simultaneously, the headline that aired was that “Rahul was stumped”. Caught somewhat unaware by the response, RaGa seems a bit slow with a comeback, posing a counter question, “You think Make in India is good”? Again the response is quite mixed. But given RaGa’s own awkwardness, and inability to think on his feet to turn things around, the story that went out was that he was out of tune with the “people’s pulse”; that the Modi government’s programs were successful, and appreciated and it was RaGa, who seemed to not know. The story had barely broken when those on either side of the camp began to post their versions on social media. For all those who cracked “Pappu” jokes about RaGa, there were spirited defences from the opposite side that called the reporting biased.

With my Facebook timeline already riven over the Aamir Khan episode, the misreporting, and selective reporting involved, this was the next one to evoke sharp responses. There was euphoria from RaGa’s haters and sympathy from those willing to give him the benefit of doubt. Meanwhile, I, sitting at home, watching the drama unfold was wondering what I’d have said and done, had I been right there in my college auditorium. MCC is quite well known in the city. In the past, it was more famous for the boys that hung around outside the high walls of the campus, just waiting to get lucky with the pretty girls inside. Mount Carmel was where the ‘hot’ crowd was supposed to be. If there was a wannabe beauty queen or one in the making, you’d be sure to find her on campus. But it wasn’t a beauty vs. brains thing. I, for instance was the typical plain Jane. I was there to study, get good grades, become someone. If you came from my kind of background, you’d be like that too. I came from the most regular family and had nobody to look out for me. So I was hardworking, driven and determined to be someone. I cycled to college, 8km one-way daily, for the lack of better options and never missed a single class. I couldn’t care less about the boys outside the gates. I worked so hard, to gain entry into the coveted Journalism/ Psychology/ English Literature course, that I became an overachiever by dint of necessity. I shocked myself by landing the third rank in the state of Karnataka. That was the first time that my mug shot appeared in the local newspapers! So, my guess is, had I been in that auditorium yesterday, I’d have been quite vocal and honest about the whole affair.

Now, here’s the thing. My blog post from five months ago about the problem of open defecation in my neighbourhood, still stands. You see, the crappers, have been making a beeline all along. I’ll admit, I just don’t have it in me to go embarrass them myself. Nobody else has done anything about it either, so they just keep coming, and going and doing their business. And yes, some of them are still fancy enough to drive-in, in their car, park it, take a walk to take a dump, and walk back as if everything was hunky dory, checking their smart phones as they return, newspapers tucked under their arms. This just happens to be the reality. So, all those young ladies at MCC, who think Swachh Bharat is a roaring success, here’s an open invitation to visit turd valley. Come, see, then opine. Here’s the other thing. They’re running a poster-making contest for children at my son’s school, for all grades, asking them to come up with innovative slogans and art work for the Swachh Bharat campaign. Those who participate, get short-listed and finally win the contest are promised commendation certificates and credits from the  Central Board of Secondary Education. This happens to be a programme coordinated by the Union Human Resource Ministry all over India. Trouble is, I don’t get the point of an exercise that names people like me as it’s target audience. Without me trying to make this about “Us and them”, the problem is already that. I’m not the one walking around ‘lota’ in hand. The program is targeting the wrong demographic.

Turns out, more than one crore toilets have been built in a year under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Then why is the government’s well intentioned scheme, despite massive infrastructural investments still a pipe dream? Why is this clean revolution still outside our grasp? The Economic Times reports, an all-India survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) found that “Not even half the toilets built under the cleanliness mission are being used…While just 46% of 95 lakh toilets built in rural India are being used, the figure is barely 50% even in urban areas”, as per the survey.

So, what’s with the people? Why won’t they just use the new toilets? According to the ET report, “surveyors found households using toilets for storing grains or as general storage space and still going to the fields early in the morning to relieve themselves.” Why is this happening? Because most toilets are apparently dysfunctional. Adequate and proper supply of water might’ve provided an incentive, but, the toilets as of now are only brick and mortar structures.

And here’s the gem- The report says, “The ministry of statistics and programme implementation, the nodal ministry for NSSO, had planned to release the report on October 2, the anniversary of the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. However, the ministry withheld the report after a review by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO thought the survey report would be used by the Opposition to slam Prime Minister Modi’s cleanliness initiative”.

ET published this on 23 Nov, just a couple of days before RaGa landed at MCC. Could he have used this info as ammunition in his speech? Yes, perhaps. But we all now know he didn’t. Hope his team does better research next time.   

So, is the Swachh Bharat program working, then? Quick reality check for the ‘Yes club’ at MCC, not really.

I’m happy to extend an open invitation to fellow Carmelites to come explore that facts on the ground in my neighbourhood. The sights and smells should take care of things. And while we’re at it, we can also check out the frothing Bellandur lake, just a hop and skip from my place. The news of this toxic lake has made headlines world over, but we manage to remain blissful in our ignorance!

It would’ve been great to quiz RaGa on the pathetic state of civic amenities in Karnataka while he was here, especially since his party is in power in the State. The potholes, the apathy, the garbage and stench, not all of it is a by-product of the Centre’s cleanliness drive, after all. Meanwhile, I don’t know what draws the car-borne crappers to the open greens. Do they have unusable toilets too, or haven’t they bothered with it at all? Whichever it is, it is indeed sick and if driving up to empty one’s bowels is an indication of things to come in India’s silicon valley, then I dread to think what else might be in store…

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Author: Elizabeth Jane

I am an India-based freelance journalist. When I'm not busy being a mum, I sometimes pick up the camera, cook up a little something in my head or the kitchen, potter around the plants, roll around with the dogs, ponder about things, pick on many others or stretch out on the yoga mat. At other times I like to document things in no particular order of significance...

2 thoughts on “Turd-green remains my valley!

  1. Good word play in english but thoroughly immature in content.

    There’s an open ground in my locality, where, till a few months back, a particular corner (the most secluded one) was also being used by people as open toilet. Then, around 6 months back, the same corner was cleaned up and 2 toilets were constructed right there under the Swacch Bharat initiative. From then on I don’t get the obnoxious stench I earlier used to experience when passing around that corner for obvious reasons – So, has Swacch Bharat worked in this case – certainly Yes !! So the success or failure of this initiative has come to be your word against mine – or is it?

    What this campaign has certainly done is to bring some focus back to this very important but totally neglected need of our society. But for that, we wouldn’t be discussing this topic here. For that matter RaGa too wouldn’t have thought of picking up this particular topic with Carmelites ! And going by the very statistics that you published, if 40% of 95 lakh toilets built under this initiative are being used, it still means 43 lakh 70 thousand new toilets are getting used – is that not some success in the first year of it’s implementation? Or is your definition of success – 100% success only and any less is a failure ?

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    • Hi Verybzee! Thanks for taking the time to read my post and then leave a comment, despite what your web ID name suggests. No, an issue as serious as hygiene and open defecation should not become a matter of “your word against mine”. Data on the status of work accomplished should be out in the public domain for everyone to see. It should rightly be a top national priority and consistently so. I wish it remained a subject of public discourse, with a dedicated follow-up in national dailies/ TV news, rather than most of what dominates both print and air time in India currently. In as much as health, hygiene and cleanliness seems important to you, we appear to be on the same page, and hence on the same side of the debate. I’m glad your experience with regard to the construction and subsequent use of public toilets has been different from mine. I wish I could reverse my story soon enough, but as you may have noticed I blogged about this five months ago (https://longformliz.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/turd-green-is-my-valley-dealing-with-a-crisis-called-open-defecation/) and nothing has changed since, on my side of the fence. I wish you wouldn’t try to shame me for that by calling me “immature” for writing about what I see with my own eyes in my neighbourhood. We both know that Swachh Bharat is only a new name for a series of previous initiatives- Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, Total Sanitation Campaign, Comprehensive Rural Sanitation Programme etc. None of these have delivered the intended results in the past. Where did you get the idea that I was opposing the initiative? Clearly, if the government feels the need to sweep its own data under the carpet a year after it has been underway, it is an admission that all is not well. Numbers, and data in India are always staggering. After all, India is the second most populous nation on the planet. Any initiative would have to be a mega project by default. Surely, the successes if any are to be lauded. But if toilets built this time around are being turned into granaries because they have no water supply, then that’s a fundamental flaw! Effecting behavioural change in people who’ve become comfortable with going in the open, is another battle altogether. Look, I quit a lucrative job in television because I got sick of the priorities of channel owners. While I’d be working on a story about malnutrition, I’d be asked to focus on getting an interview with Maria Susairaj. I don’t know, if you get how that feels. There’s actually very little or no space in popular media for substance and the issues that actually effect us. That’s mostly why many of us are looking at alternative sources of information. And I didn’t pick up this topic today because RaGa is my hero, or I needed to add my two bits on a current event anyway. It’s because I felt we were missing the woods for the trees. And ironically,
      it turns out, what happened at MCC was quite different from how it got reported initially. Have you read this? http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/mount-caramel-student-says-cong-leader-not-snubbed/story-f6J6Y4KBBd049Hc3uvr4pL.html

      I’d appreciate if you could simply introduce yourself and tell me where you come from. It doesn’t seem fair that you remain anonymous and come at me from the dark, while knowing quite a lot more about me. Your hostility is also a bit strange. I don’t see how I may have offended you. But you seem quite offended anyway. I know its the current trend to simply cut others up, if they say things you don’t agree with. But a little more politeness wouldn’t hurt. After all I don’t know you. Getting a conversation started with a stranger can surely use a better approach. Cheers!

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