Friday, 12 December 2014

Hygiene Should be in Our Genes

Charity begins at home. So do many other things. Good sanitary practices and hygiene are a couple of those. I don't want to sound like a school teacher giving her kids a long and boring lecture, so I will tell you a story instead. Are you ready?

This is the story of Shammi. Shammi is a college going boy who has his exams in a couple of weeks. He lives in a shanty with thirty other families, but they all have just one toilet in their locality. To avoid being late to his classes, Shammi usually decides to defecate and urinate at the nearby dumpyard. "This is a dumpyard and all of my waste will be treated or decomposed anyway!" he thinks to himself. Some flies buzz about Shammi as he does his business. But Shammi decides to ignore those as he imagines he is probably immune now that he is nineteen.

He leaves for his college on a local train. As he stands near the door to avoid the smelly armpits of the men inside the coach, he witnesses scores of people defecating out in the open along the railway tracks. Shammi can't help but wonder which smell is worse. He has no escape from his predicament until he reaches his station. When he walks towards his college, he sees again a string of kids squatting on the service road (which has now become an open toilet). Shammi's days are so tiring that the stench of poor sanitation magnifies it tenfolds. He sulks when he gets back home. His mother lovingly strokes his hair and shrieks in alarm, "Son, you are burning! Let me get the thermometer."

Now, we can only hope Shammi has not caught something terrible, such as malaria or dengue. What does this story tell us? And more importantly, how many of us can identify with the protagonist?  Don't we all see poor hygiene when we commute across the city? What do you do then? Do you only retch at the sight and click your tongue at the sorry state of affairs? Or do you actually put your foot forward and do something about this situation?

I, for one, cannot be a silent spectator or a fierce commentator who refuses to lift a finger otherwise. So, earlier this year, I joined hands with Milaap to fundraise for building toilets across rural Tamil Nadu. My first campaign ( received a good amount of support from my friends and colleagues, and we were able to cross the fundraising goal well before the deadline. I did not just create a page and forget about it. I would actively ping and persuade people to loosen their purse-strings a little to contribute to my cause. To raise awareness, I participated in the Mumbai Monsoon Marathon and ran in the 10.5k category.

The experience was so rewarding that I decided to fundraise for my birthday ( also! My birthday is over, but my spirit isn't. I continue to run and raise awareness of the need for safe sanitation, especially for women. And I am delighted to see so many leaders and brands take this issue seriously. Dettol's Banega Swachh India initiative makes me very happy for the way it is tackling the cause (of hygiene) across India. The campaign aims to build toilets in areas with poor sanitation, and it is taking on one town at a time. The publicity around handfies and washing hands is another interesting way to make cleanliness a "cool" thing!

Cool quotient apart, India is in dire need of proper sanitation. Not only for public health, but also for public "wealth"! Lack of safe sanitation can be economically disastrous for our country. The statistics below indicate that India risks losing upwards of $50 billion if it fails to improve the sanitary health and practices of its people.


Honestly, we shouldn't need a genie to tell us how important hygiene is. It should be in our genes! Come, let's wash our hands off health and economic troubles as we promote this cause across villages, towns and cities!

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