The 21st Century is called the Knowledge Society. The history of human race is witness to varying degrees of knowledge society. Without knowledge there would have been no progress in human society. Some societies were dominated by rulers who controlled knowledge and its spread; made selective access to knowledge and means of knowledge a privilege of the few and deprived large populations of knowledge. They had only opportunities for acquisition of skills for their livelihood and providing goods and services to the society. This inequality created a few islands of prosperity and large swathes of poverty. The difference made by the current century has made acquisition of knowledge an ordinary right of everybody. Access to means of acquisition of knowledge is universally available to all. It means the 21st century is going to be the “mass knowledge society”. Thanks to technology, today’s world is just one global family where instant communication has brought people face to face with each other. There is no need to “book” a long distance trunk call to talk to family or friends in some foreign country and wait for days for the call to materialize. Today nations are unable to protect their national boundaries because of the internet. What happens in the northern hemisphere is instantly witnessed in the southern hemisphere. Service providers say that billions of people are yet to be connected to the internet. When the whole world is connected, there will be unimaginable amount of explosion of knowledge, ideas and skills. Depending on use to which such power of knowledge is put, the survival or extinction of the human race will be determined. It the moment, while the knowledge society is engaged in expanding the horizons of knowledge as has never before been done, elements like the ISIS are doggedly pursuing with single minded devotion the barbarity of the times gone by when libraries were burnt and human beings butchered. Time alone will prove whether knowledge prevails over the forces of darkness or apocalypse occurs.
Whatever happens in the future, the present is the golden period in human history. There is no difficulty in accessing any information one needs on the net. Learning, reading, writing or speaking has become so encouraging that illiteracy is going to disappear in the near future. Application of knowledge to solve problems will yield results that will make life happier. What looks like a big problem in ignorance, suddenly looks so simple to solve. Whether it is mass education or skill training or health care, it makes implementation of government programmes easier. Let me give an example. The government of India has launched a sanitation programme called “Swachh Bharat Andolan”. The Prime Minister of India, his cabinet colleagues, dignitaries, Chief Ministers, Members of Parliament, Members of State Legislatures and cine artists- all were seen cleaning some unclean area with a broom (called a jhadoo) in hand trying to remove some dirt or garbage. Photographs and their efforts are okay, but is the broom the only one point solution to the problem? That is the traditional way as brooms have discharged their duties faithfully in all human societies through ages until knowledge reduced their drudgery greatly after the industrial revolution. In the modern industrial society, the broom alone can not shoulder the responsibility of doing all the cleaning because the trash, garbage, waste, effluents etc. demand deployment of knowledge and tools of knowledge to handle these problems. Today it is not only the dirt or dust which can be cleaned easily with the help of the humble broom, it is industrial waste of hazardous kind also- broken glass, tin cans, medical waste, urban waste and all industrial products that turn into waste after use and when thrown away. There is millions of tonnes of electronic waste, chemical waste and construction waste. In fact, the trash generated on a daily basis in cities across the globe can’t be removed with the help of the broom. No agency can do it alone unless every citizen actively participates in the waste management. A broom in the hands of the dignitary once in a blue moon is mere symbolism. Indian culture suggests that the younger generation volunteer to take up such public service once the highest in the family or nation initiate the programme. That is what my generation did in the 1950s & 60s, inspired by Gandhian thinkers, who launched programmes like the Shramdaan, Bhoodaan etc when we boys would do voluntary labour to mend roads, schools etc. As life became complex in the years later, such finer human sentiments ceased ti inspire the youth and growing urbanization brought the problems of waste management to such a pass in less than 50 years that now the prime minister himself stood with a broom in hand to clean the public spots. Had knowledge been used to manage these undesired developments in urban conglomerates, India would have looked cleaner than it is today. Laws have been there but their implementation lacked as in other spheres of living.
Traditionally it has been cast upon a particular section of the society to do all the cleaning. This was changed by Mahatma Gandhi, who encouraged people to clean their dwellings, including the toilet, themselves and not engage someone else to do it for them. But old habits die hard and bad habits linger even after de-addiction. Now people throw the garbage on the road, into the river or canal or open spaces, even parks. Mostly it is open dumping. People’s awareness of the requirement to put all the waste in disposal bags is missing, not to mention separate bags for bio-degradable garbage and glass, iron, tin and chemicals etc. Isn’t it the duty of every citizen to sort out the garbage according to the municipal laws in different bags and properly dispose them of in the bins kept by the authorities at the designated spots? Because there are poor children to separate such garbage for recyclable material for some earning, citizens think it is beyond their realm of duty to sort it out. They are not only wrong but offenders in the eyes of the law. They can be fined or jailed but none has been booked so far, which encourages them to continue the practice. Lack of knowledge or ignoring it? It is so repulsive to see children as young as 7 to 12 years of age engaged on such an inhuman vocation called “ragpicking”. There are National Commissions to improve the living of children from poor, disadvantaged sections of society, whom I had tried to wake up in my public comments in newspapers and other websites popular with the government whose officers note these comments and pass them on to the concerned office, but this eyesore continues unabated. The day newspapers carried the news of the Nobel prize for child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, the dozens of ragpickers, all children of delicate age 5-12 were engaged on garbage separation in the morning at local garbage open dumps in the locality where I live in Delhi. Had knowledge been used to end this inhuman practice of hand picking of garbage or its separation, we would not have witnessed the sight! Unfortunately for us, Nobel Award is venerable not knowledge to improve day to day living. I have not witnessed such sight in any country I have visted so far. I have not seen a single city in India where I could miss this sight. Our answer to the problem is a jhadoo in the hands of the highest dignitary. Sachin Tendulkar, cricket hero and an MP now,as also Anil Ambani and several others were seen in right uniforms of a sanitary worker with hand gloves and nose mask cleaning some spot. At least children- ragpickers- could be provided such uniforms, shoes, gloves and mask to begin with if it is necessary at all to continue this ugly business, if can’t be discontinued straightaway.
The fact is that the problem of sanitation is connected to poverty. What is useless for one is useful for another. One may discard goods but someone else can use it. This leads to some business. In England I saw a suitcase and a pair of shoes by the roadside with a placard which read : Please Take Away. But in India everything sells. The buyer is known as the Kabaadi or the dealer in trash. One need not go to him to sell all the junk collected at home. He can be called at convenience. He removes all the junk and also pays for it ! Does that sound exciting? Honestly speaking he deserves to be paid for removing the junk from the premises and making them clean. But here poverty makes people pay for even exploitation ! How can India imagine to achieve 100% cleanliness in a year or 5 years? We generate trash and pile it up in the backyard. We have to learn to detach ourselves from old possessions which are of no use. That attitude and habit alone can help us keep our surroundings clean and healthy. Once we succeed in doing that, we will not suffer the indignity of becoming the junkyard of the world. Ships have been coming to Alang in Gujarat for several decades for breaking. They have been transporting all kinds of hazardous material, including radio active waste and thus are harmful to the local labour. Steel waste from war afflicted countries brings live bombs that take away innocent lives in dozens. All this waste adds to unhygienic surroundings creating health problems for the nearby residents. Millions of tons of electronic waste gets imported. All this happens because we are not conscious of damage to the public health by these unethical and unhealthy trade. If we learn to care for cleanliness at home or office and stop throwing waste wherever we like rather than at designated spots and in the prescribed manner, we will never develop the right attitude to cleanliness and will never understand its value. We will never know the contribution of cleanliness in our happy living in urban metros. It is time to participate in the modern day knowledge society by maintaining cleanliness and contributing to it. Let us keep it in mind while responding to the call of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a Swachh Bharat, instead of just holding a broom with a long handle in hand and posing for a photo or two. Add knowledge and employ tools given by knowledge to us to ensure a clean India by the time the nation celebrates the next birth anniversary of the greatest Indian leader of the 20th Century, Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi or the Mahatma.