GANDHI’S THOUGHTS ON SANITATION AND CLEANLINESS
- ‘SANITATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN POLITICAL INDEPENDENCE’
While leading a non-violent movement for India’s independence from the British in 1947, Gandhi spoke about the need to improve hygiene and cleanliness in the country. “Sanitation is more important than political independence,” he said. Last month, in an address on waste management and cleanliness, India’s President Pranab Mukherjee, reiterated Gandhi’s decadesold exhortation.
- RELIGION AND SANITATION
In 1915, Gandhi went to the Kumbh Mela, a triennial festival that rotates between four Indian cities. That year, it was held in the Hindu holy city of Haridwar in India’s north on the bank of the River Ganges. After seeing millions of devotees take a dip in the sacred river in attempt to wash away their sins, Gandhi later wrote in “Young India,” an English weekly he edited from 1919,”I had gone there full of hope and reverence. But while I realized the grandeur of the holy Ganga and the holier Himalayas, I saw little to inspire me in what man was doing in this holy place.” “To my great grief, I discovered insanitation, both moral and physical…There is defilement of the mighty stream [the River Ganges] even in the name of religion,” he wrote. “Thoughtless ignorant men and women use for natural functions the sacred banks of the river where they are supposed to sit in quiet contemplation and find God. They violate religion, science and the laws of sanitation.”
- A LAVATORY MUST BE AS CLEAN AS A DRAWING-ROOM
In May 1925, in an edition of “Navajivan,” a weekly newspaper that Gandhi edited from 1919, he wrote about the importance of keeping lavatories clean. “I learnt 35 years ago that a lavatory must be as clean as a drawing-room. I learnt this in the West,” he wrote. “The cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing ofexcreta 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.”
- PERFECT SANITATION MAKES AN ‘IDEAL VILLAGE’
In 1937, Gandhi received a letter from a villager living in Birbhum, a district in India’s eastern state of West Bengal. The letter writer asked Gandhi how he perceived an “ideal village” and what problems he thought plagued Indian villages. Here’s his response, as it appeared in a 1937 edition of “Harijan,” another weekly publication, which Gandhi began editing in the early 1930s. “An ideal village will be so constructed as to lend itself to perfect sanitation…The very first problem the village worker will solve is its sanitation,” he wrote. “If the worker became a voluntary scavenger, he would begin by collecting night soil and turning it into manure and sweeping village streets. He will tell people how and where they should perform daily functions and speak to them on the value of sanitation and the great injury caused by its neglect. The worker will continue to do the work whether the villagers listen to him or not.”
- SANITATION FOR MINISTERS AND MENIALS ALIKE
In a speech in New Delhi in September 1946, Gandhi stressed the need for equal levels of hygiene in bungalows that ministers lived in as well as the servants’ quarters tucked away in these massive houses. “What is so distressing is that the living quarters of the menials and sweepers employed in the viceroy’s house are extremely dirty…I shall be satisfied only when the lodgings of the ministers’ staff are as neat and tidy as their own,” he said.