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…