Prof. Sadan Jha
Centre for Social Studies, Surat, Gujrat


Dr. Sadan Jha|


The body is like a letter writ on water, (Mahatma Gandhi, 1940)

The discourse on sanitation has primarily been west centric with little or no space for the particularities of the experiences of the non-west. With the rise of modern state and technologies of governance that aspired to convert people into units needed to be governed, the subject of sanitation is reduced to the concerns for the health of the human body. The question of filth, night soil and dirt remained a problem for the management of public space, largely confined to city spaces. This history is oblivious about the emphasis on the cleanliness of mind alongwith the body, a key feature in the case of India. The west centric discourse also suffers from the amnesia of its non-west where differentiation along caste and gender lines shape the cosmology of sanitation and hygiene. On the other hand, in the vocabulary of Mahatma Gandhi (in his ‘swaraj’), the unit of governance is simultaneously ‘swa’ (self) as well as the collective (social as well as the state). Gandhi in this way abolished the division between public and private and for him, cleanliness was equally a matter for the social as well as for the physical body. This is also one of the reasons for him to emphasize that each ashram volunteer must shoulder scavenging responsibilities. However, as a social scientist, this experiment has to be distinguished from the experience of scavengers. Dalit writings as well as recent writings on experience have highlighted this distinction by anchoring on the absence of choice in the case of dalit humiliation. This difference between experiment (having choice to step out) and experience (social and historical without having the choice to shed caste identity at will), between public and private and between social and the individual complicate the relation between knowledge of sanitation and the historically embedded social experiences of cleanliness and dirt in specific context of India. An attempt has been made to understand the complex linkages between the social experiences, the knowledge and the history of sanitation by highlighting this distinction between the experience and the knowledge about the aspiration of the sanitized social.


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