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Clean India: Building a healthy nation through education

The Swachh Aadat curriculum has been instrumental in teaching children the importance of hygiene.

brand stories Updated: Mar 23, 2018 11:07 IST
The 21-day Swachh Aadat campaign by HUL aims to teach children in the age group of 5 to 10 the importance of hygiene.
The 21-day Swachh Aadat campaign by HUL aims to teach children in the age group of 5 to 10 the importance of hygiene.(HUL)

In July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising sanitation—“access to, and use of, excreta and wastewater facilities and services”—as a human right. In India, however, a lot of low-income homes don’t have access to toilets, thus denying them of the right. People resort to open defecation, and have no sound personal hygiene habits. Deeply-ingrained cultural practices are squarely to be blamed for this.

In a lot of homes in rural India, a toilet in the front yard—an area earmarked for the holy Tulsi plant— is considered “impure”. Diane Coffey and Dean Sears, authors of ‘Where India Goes’, attribute this aversion to the fact that manual scavenging was traditionally the job of the oppressed castes. Even with people in positions of power showing the way by emptying toilet pits themselves, this hostility towards toilets remains.

Ill-informed ideas about hygiene are not limited to just toilets. Many people believe that water that looks clean is fit enough to drink; boiling or filtering it is not considered to be a necessity. However, what they don’t realise is groundwater as well as other sources of drinking water are polluted due to rapid industrialisation and population explosion. A lot of people also don’t consider it essential to wash their hands with soap.

Mission cleanliness

To change such age-old systems, we need to first educate people. The Swachh Aadat curriculum has been instrumental in showing us how to go about it.

Launched as part of HUL’s Swachh Aadat, Swachh Bharat campaign, this 21-day project aims to teach children in the age group of 5 to 10 the importance of hygiene. It has highlighted three important habits that every child should adopt— washing hands at five critical occasions of the day, drinking purified water, and using clean toilets.

To make the project interesting, a wide range of activities, games, and characters such as Chamatkari Sonu (a superhero) and Kitabyutor (kitab + computer) are employed. Students are taught either through books or e-textbooks for approximately 20 minutes a day. They are encouraged not just to learn for themselves, but to also bring about a sanitation revolution in their communities.

One can learn from the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which has made tremendous progress in increasing access to hygiene. Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 2, 2014, it has increased sanitation coverage in India from 42 % in October 2013 to 60% in 2018. As of February 2018, more than 6.25 crore toilets had been constructed in rural India, thereby completing nearly 80% of the target. No other country has ever built so many toilets at a stretch; it is an achievement that every Indian should be proud of.

For the demographic dividend to be an asset, India needs healthier young people. We can’t afford to lose out as a nation because of unscientific beliefs.

Leading by example

Shweta Rangari (10) is a student of class IV in Zilla Parishad Primary School in Indrathana, a village in Maharashtra. Until recently, she didn’t have a toilet in her house, but attending the Swachh Aadat curriculum made her convince her father to build one. All it took was a little bit of determination- Shweta deliberately missed school for 3-4 days, and told her father that if he wanted her to continue pursuing her education, he would have to construct a toilet at home. Her teachers, villagers, and the district administration have lauded her for her efforts.

Shweta says she is proud to claim that she uses a toilet day. Earlier, it filled her with embarrassment to be unable to fill one of the columns of the behaviour tracker that is part of the Swachh Aadat curriculum.