Published on Oct 03, 2014, MYPAPER, SINGAPORE
Modi evokes Gandhi's 'Clean India' dream
YOU could say it's a case of a new broom sweeps clean.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wielded a broom in a New Delhi slum yesterday as he pledged to sweep away the country's reputation for poor public hygiene and rudimentary sanitation.
Hours after flying home from Washington, the energetic Premier rolled up his sleeves and picked up the broom to launch a "Clean India" campaign on a public holiday celebrating independence icon Mahatma Gandhi's life.
"Gandhi gave us the slogan 'Quit India' and people came together to win our country's freedom (from British colonial rule)... but his other dream of 'Clean India' is still incomplete," Mr Modi said in a televised address.
The 64-year-old, who came to power in May, has made public health one of the main priorities of his new administration.
In his independence-day address to the nation on Aug 15, Mr Modi spoke of how he was bothered by the pervasive filth around him.
"After so many years of independence, do we still want to live in filthiness? Can't we resolve this much?" he asked.
So far, he has promised to ensure all schools have separate toilets for boys and girls, and provide every home with a toilet over the next five years.
A new report by the United Nation's children's fund, Unicef, estimates that almost 594 million - or nearly 50 per cent of India's population - defecate in the open, massively increasing the risk of disease in densely populated areas.
Some 300 million women and girls are forced to squat outside, normally under the cover of darkness, exposed not only to the risks of disease and bacterial infection, but also harassment and assault by men.
The issue was thrown into the spotlight in late May when two girls, aged 12 and 14, were allegedly attacked as they went into the fields to relieve themselves. Police are investigating if they were gang-raped before being lynched.
Mr Modi said that the responsibility for public cleanliness did not rest solely with sanitation workers, but also required a mindset change in a country which recently celebrated a successful space mission to Mars.
"It ('Clean India') can be achieved, it can happen. If we can reach Mars, then why can't we clean our neighbourhoods?" he added.
As part of the campaign's launch, ministers and an estimated four million civil servants and schoolchildren took part in a mass clean-up of government buildings, many of which stank of stale urine and were littered with rubbish.