Child rights activists in the state feel that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's mission Bal Swachhta Abhiyan may or may not contribute towards success of his cleanliness drive, but it has the potential to reinforce the caste system in rural areas.
They say in the absence of proper planning in rural area, it would be the students of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes who would end up carrying out most of the cleanliness work, which would hamper their development.
"Instead of providing clean environment to children, government is asking them to work for clean environment. Firstly, government should make it clear what type of work they are demanding from children. The mission would definitely make the gap between children from upper castes and lower castes more glaring and children from underprivileged families and affluent families. Especially in areas beset by feudal mindset and traditions, children from lower caste and poor family would be forced to pick up broom in their hands," said Prashant Dubey, a child rights activist.
Echoing similar sentiments, Madhya Pradesh Lok Sangarsh Sajha Manch (MPLSSM) secretary Javed said, "The mission has been launched with good intention, but in rural areas it would divide children. There is a possibility that children could be forced to keep the schools, play grounds and especially toilets clean on the basis of their family background."
"The mission could emerge as a major problem in future. We have visited many villages where students from upper caste and lower caste don't sit together. How is it possible then to assume that they together would keep the school clean," he added.
"In the absence of monitoring, the mission would hit equality among children," said Rajeev Bhargava, branch secretary, Bachpan-National Institute of Women and Child Development (NIWCD).
He said, "The success rate of this mission is more in urban areas than rural areas. In rural area, there is a possibility that it reinforces the problem of untouchability. It can also divide children into two groups; one from affluent class and other from underprivileged families."
"Government should launch the mission with proper guidelines and monitoring system. In place of making panchayat responsible, school management committee (SMC), which includes parents and persons from all strata of the society, should be made liable for implementation of the drive, only then the problem of children coming from lower castes and poor background having to keep schools, playground and toilet clean could be tackled to some extent," said Bhargava.
However, women and child development minister Maya Singh does not agree. "It's a programme aimed at teaching children to maintain hygiene, remain clean themselves and keep their surroundings clean. We would like children to remain clean and make it a way of life. There is no question of thrusting any job on them."