On Swachh Bharat Mission, Sachin Tendulkar batting to end open defecation
Getting to the top in cricket takes years of training, natural skill, hours of daily practice and lots of good wishes from the audience. Every cricketer knows that it is hard work that can make a game as it can mean batting a century.
And in addition to all the perseverance, there is also a lucky charm that most players always keep with them. It could be a favourite bat, a particular way they put on their pads, or a special number on a jersey.
Over the years, I have been asked many times what my good luck charm is. I’ve been thinking recently about my answers and I’ve realised something very important. My good luck has been my wonderful childhood.
I was fortunate to be born into a family that could afford to send me to school and buy me my first bat. I could play in the evenings and weekends because I was not needed to look after my siblings or clean the house. People saw my talent and had time to support me and nurture it. I was taught to wash my hands and use a proper toilet so I would stay healthy. I had clean water to drink, good food to eat and parents who gave me a hug and took me to a doctor when I was sick.
Yes, I had talent, and yes, I worked hard, but I have to admit that it is my wonderful childhood that enabled me to grow up to achieve my dream of being a cricketer.
Many children do not have the opportunities I had. Hundreds of thousands of children die every year from preventable diseases and diarrhoea is one of the biggest killers. According to Unicef, one child in India dies from diarrhoea every five minutes. Those who survive are often marked for life.
Children’s bodies and brains grow and develop faster when they are young than at any other time in their lives. If they cannot keep the nutrients and vitamins from their food in their bodies, because of repeated bouts of diarrhoea, their brains and bodies don’t develop as they should. They end up smaller, weaker and are likely to do less well in school than other children. Those children are this country’s future, they dream of being our doctors, teachers, architects, pilots, parents, health workers and yes – our cricketers.
The spread of diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases can be stopped and ending open defecation would go a very long way towards doing that. There is excellent work being led by the government to fight the impact that a lack of hygiene and sanitation is having on our children, and India’s future.
That is why I am asking each and every one of you to come together and support the Swachh Bharat Mission. When Prime Minister Modi launched the Mission in 2014, its goal was an incredibly ambitious one.
Ending the practice of open defecation by October 2019 is a target that required not only political will, but a nationwide ‘jan andolan’ movement to unite India’s enormous population of a billion people, of all ages, religions and languages behind a single mission.
At the start of the Mission, I made a video challenging the nation to come together and help clean up their communities. It would not be an easy task, I warned. It would take years of work, not just a few days, and years of work is what I have seen happen.
We are now more than halfway through the Mission’s timeline, and I am glad to see that the momentum from the beginning of the Mission has continued and even increased, thanks to everyone’s efforts. Together, we have helped 314 districts and 11 states of India become open defecation free — by encouraging and supporting each of the households to construct and use a toilet. Many more states are on their way.
It is a huge achievement but we cannot yet afford to sit back and become complacent. We have to help the remaining states, but more importantly, we must make sure that the successes we have already seen do not fade away.
It is not enough as a cricketer to hit one century, and then spent the rest of the season sitting back and basking in your glory.
You have to keep going, keep putting in the hard work, the training and the effort and that is what we have to do as a nation. We have to make sure that the toilets that have been built are used. That the good practices we have learned are followed.
To be able to play, to dream, to be healthy, to drink clean water, to be well enough to go to school and to have a clean place to live. Every child should have these things by right, not by luck.
Achieving the goal of the Swachh Bharat Mission will take us closer to a world where boys and girls who have these things are not considered fortunate children any more, but just children..
(The writer is a cricket legend and Unicef Regional Goodwill Ambassador)