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Learn this lesson from Bapu

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-10-2017 PTI

Today is Gandhi Jayanti. On this occasion, all of us remember Bapu in our own ways. Some of us idolize him even as others think he committed many errors. That is the power of Mahatma Gandhi. Every discussion about him further consolidates his eternal legacy.

Let me tell the uninitiated that Gandhi had an important role to play in the setting up of Hindustan Times. On 26 September 1924, while presenting this newspaper as a daily to the people of the country, he had expressed a wish that it play a role in the struggle for independence and the quest for social reforms. At that time, his son Devdas Gandhi was on the editorial board of Hindustan Times. He went on to successfully assume the position of the editor of the newspaper. Even today the objective of the Hindustan Times group is the nation’s service and social reform. Therefore, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while dedicating the fortnight preceding Gandhi Jayanti to cleanliness, gave the slogan: Swachhta Hi Seva (cleanliness is the real service), our sister publication Hindustan took it up as a mission.

Swami Vivekananda used to say that a healthy mind can only reside in a healthy body. You may be astonished to know that lakhs of people lose their lives every year owing to lack of hygiene. A report by the World Health Organization says that for a population of 100,000, more than 133 deaths take place because of indoor air pollution. Every year, 1.7 million children below the age of five in the country meet an untimely death because of pollution and lack of hygiene. Half of them don’t even complete the first month of their lives.

Lack of hygiene causes 15 serious ailments including malaria, diarrhoea, cholera, dengue and Hepatitis B that are wreaking havoc on India’s citizens. This can be tackled only with a people’s movement.

Before embarking on this movement, we first decided to have a conversation with the people themselves. In the first phase, simultaneous dialogues were held in every district of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Jharkhand.

We were happy to discover that the people, who turned out in numbers greater than we expected, had their hearts in the right place when it came to playing a part in our mission for cleanliness. As I write this, lakhs of citizens in more than 3,500 awareness programmes have taken the pledge to maintain cleanliness. I am not quoting exact statistics because our mission will continue till the evening of 2 October and the numbers are growing every day. People have already begun implementing it.

Here’s one example. On 23 September, even as it was raining in Dehradun, my colleagues in Hindustan discovered that a number of people had ventured out to clean the streets clad in raincoats and holding umbrellas as they had pledged.

This is the kind of self-sufficiency that Gandhiji wanted us to display. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that instead of relying on government machinery, the people had taken an initiative on their own to clean up their neighbourhoods. Every colleague from Hindustan had similar stories to narrate. It isn’t possible to share all of them in this column, but it is clear that if this tradition of volunteerism goes on, a number of health-related problems in the country will be resolved on their own.

Next year the nation celebrates the 150th birth anniversary year of Mahatma Gandhi. If in this year—thanks to the cooperation between the government and the common man—India emerges a little cleaner, then it will be a real tribute from the entire country to the father of the nation.

Here, we would like to make a special mention of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma, Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das. Not only did they cooperate in making our campaign successful, but they also individually participated in the programmes organized by us. Apart from these, many other state and central ministers and people’s representatives took part in the campaign. Cleanliness is a subject of social reform. It is a matter of great satisfaction that our politicians have risen above their ideological differences and considered Hindustan’s mission as their own.

We would also like to thank the people of the Hindi belt from the bottom of the heart who have adopted the motto of Swachhta Hi Seva and taken the pledge: “Maa kasam, Hindustan swachh rakhenge hum.”

One hopes this campaign will be a continuing endeavour that will lay the foundation for the clean and healthy India that all of us deserve.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.

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