Prime minister Narendra Modi's pet project--the Swachh Bharat campaign--has managed to do the unthinkable and that is to direct the gaze of the affluent and middle (AM) class to the filth, not just in their homes, but outside too--on pavements lining their homes, corridors outside their apartments and at bus stops at the end of their streets.
Or has it?
Look around and take a sniff: you'll find that there is one kind of filth that has escaped our collective gaze--our pet's poop. Try taking a morning walk on pavements lining big bungalows with sprawling lawns or fancy societies. You'll find them bombed with the poop of pets who belong to the owners of these very homes.
Over the last four decades, members of the AM class, along with the other privileged sections of the society, have raged and rallied against open defecation, unfortunately the monopoly and prerogative of slum dwellers and the poor in general. They made a brouhaha about the practice (and rightly so) calling it demeaning (to the defecators), unhygienic and disease spreading. In recent years, the WHO and UNICEF even came out with papers which linked diarrhoea, cholera, malnutrition and stunting in children of developing countries to open defecation. It appears that open defecation is not just a barrier to a Swachh Bharat but also to a 'tandurust' Bharat. This has been reason enough for the educated, privileged and socially conscious sections of our society to help clean the open defecators act.
Why don't we then adopt a similar approach when it comes to our pet's poop? Why do we walk our dogs and let them bomb pavements, street corners, roots of trees and everything else outside our homes?
- Do we think it's not our duty to pick up our pet's poop?
- Do we think animal poop is more bio-friendly than human poop and should therefore be left to the care of nature?
- Or is it just a simple case of 'a rich man's pet poop is not as filthy as slum dweller's kid's poop'?
Let us sit back and think for a moment about what we would do if people from the nearby slum complained of the rancid sights and smells left behind by our pets? What would happen if they rallied to have a law barring pet bombing? Or at least made it compulsory for owners to scoop out poop once their pets had done their business?
For starters, we would have cleaner pavements.
Secondly, though gradually, the act of scooping poop would become mundane and mandatory in our lives, not something disgusting and demeaning.
And wait there is more... my mommy friends believe that it might even make better fathers out of our husbands! How so?
Traditionally, our society has lacked dignity of labour. Certain tasks have always been considered menial and the lot of the poorest and weakest in our society.
Take, for instance, potty scooping itself.
- How many of our fathers, fathers-in-law or husbands help clean a child's potty? If my mommy circle is to be believed... not many.
- How many wait for the mother to finish her shower/phone call/meal, to come and clean her child's soiled nappy? Very many.
- How many public toilets are manned by male 'scavengers'? Not many.
- How many female scavengers hurry to clean and sweep before the next man comes to take a leak? Very many.
Of course the fact that we still have scavengers despite the government banning manual scavenging is bad enough. However, we have a deep-rooted problem here, cleaning dirt, especially poop, is considered a menial job, whether it is of a child, a man or a pet. It is a job that the privileged in the society can't be bothered doing themselves but something that the socially and economically weak can be paid or forced into.
Can we hope for a 'real' change (with respect to our men and footpaths) with the Swachh Bharat campaign? Can compulsory potty scooping make our men better fathers? Can compulsory potty scooping ensure a 'tandurust' Bharat?
The year 2015 may just tell us how many of us have truly signed-up for Modi's pet project.