On 2 October 2014, just a few months into his job as prime minister, Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission—the most ambitious cleanliness campaign in Indian history. Since the launch, Modi has put enormous effort into making the Swachh Bharat Mission a flagship programme of his rule. He spoke of it in his annual Independence Day speeches, televised live from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort, and at campaign rallies in election-bound states. The currency notes introduced after demonetisation bear the Swachh Bharat logo—Gandhi’s signature round glasses. It was a move indicative of the government’s incredible zeal for drawing attention to the campaign.
In the cover story of the May 2017 issue of The Caravan, Sagar examined the implementation of the flagship initiative, concluding that it is likely headed for failure. In particular, Sagar noted how the prevalence of the oppressive caste hierarchies in India is affecting the mission’s implementation, and reported on its failure to address caste. In the following excerpt from the story, Sagar describes his visits to two villages on the outskirts of Varanasi—Nageypur and Jayapur, both of which were “adopted” by Modi under the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana—a rural development project that he had launched in October 2014. Sagar discusses the progress of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin—the mission’s rural component—in these villages, and across India in general. The statistics on the construction of latrines, Sagar writes, “mask numerous vital issues facing the campaign—including, as I saw in Nageypur, the social exclusion of marginalised groups, and the lack of behavioural change.”
It took 40 minutes by bus from Varanasi’s main railway station to cover the 25 kilometres or so due west to Nageypur. The village, which falls within the district of Varanasi, is small and agrarian. When I visited, in early February, the villagers I spoke to put its population at a few thousand at most, and were quick to break this down by caste. They said Rajbhars make up about half the village, and Patels and Mauryas—both, like the Rajbhars, categorised under the Other Backward Classes—perhaps another quarter. The rest of the village, they said, is Dalit.
Each community lived in an enclave of its own, making the village an archipelago of clustered homes amid a sea of green fields. As I roamed, the villagers identified each cluster: the Rajbhar basti, the Patel basti, the Maurya basti. The Dalit enclave stood some distance apart from all of the rest. The OBC villagers called it the Harijan basti. (“Harijan” was Gandhi’s preferred term for those at the bottom of the caste ladder, and he translated it as “children of god.” Most people from the oppressed castes find the term condescending.)
In the OBC enclaves, I spotted latrines outside almost every house, many of them clearly new. It was common to see more than one latrine for a single house. In the Maurya basti, I found five latrines lined up along a 20-foot stretch. Some local men told me that the nearby house was home to five brothers, all of them married, and each one had gotten a subsidised latrine. This was in violation of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin guidelines, which allow for only one subsidised toilet for each household.