Shisht Bharat campaign: The demand for a shisht Bharat (civility culture in citizenry/society) has to be created nationally through sustained talk and dialogue

The moral fiber of societies worldwide is deteriorating and is manifesting in the form of rude behaviors, more greed and shortcuts for materialistic happiness, crimes against humanity, rapes and general devaluation of human value system from empathy to honesty, patience and tolerance. In India, in addition to these items, cases of road rage, vandalism, cheating and disrespect for elderly are being widely reported.
Dr. Angeli Qwatra – Director General and Founder of Philanthrope, an NGO in the field of safety preparedness training against emergencies and disasters based in Delhi, talks about the Shist Bharat campaign launched (on Feb 21) by her organization to reverse the idiom about mental hygiene and to bring about a transformation for a culture of civic sense with human and ethical values nationally to Autar Nehru. Some Excerpts:

Great initiative. Congratulations! How did this thought came to your mind in the first place?

I am an anthropologist and have been working in the area of disaster mitigation through safety for life training. So, when I saw the Japanese culture of disciplined queues even in the face of grave deprivation in big earthquake disasters where they would wait for their turn to receive food and other supplies fully knowing that everybody is not going to get it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In our case, we have internalized low behavior. Stampedes and bad crowds here create more tragedy than the disaster or event itself. There is a spiral of aggression, road rage, intolerance towards fellow human being, sexual abuse. And all of us have started to feel its pinch as the epidemic grows. So, unless you create a campaign to reverse the trend, things will get uglier. There after we thought through the challenges, then it became apparent that if Swachh Bharat can become a reality and a mass campaing, a shisth Bharat can also be because in case of cleanliness too, we had almost surrendered our hopes to the thought that nothing can be done. 

Launch event in New Delhi on Feb 21 was attended by union minister Dr Jitendra Singh

While Shisth bharat campaign is about bringing about a change in attitude and reinforcing human and good behavior among people, there aren’t structures or systems unlike swachh bharat which you can really target?

The fact is a majority of people want this positive change to happen, but these voices are still scattered in despair for want of actionable platform. Civility and good human behavior has to be the agenda of all endeavors that society does be it the work and programs of government, businesses, institutions or groups. The challenge is to target grassroots for creating the right kind of dialogue from bottom up. When people start talking about it, a demand will be created and I am sure, the action plans and interventions will then follow.

You have mentioned that children, schools and parents are important stakeholders in this dialogue. So can you tell us what exactly you have in mind?

Of late we have a peculiar problem arising from breaking up of the tradition joint family system to nuclear families. Even the nuclear families aren’t able to bring up their children in an environment where values are imbibed at home through shared spaces, work and time. Working or careerist parents have no time and they think providing basic necessities and enrolling children in all kid of regimental after school activities is the best they do as parents. They don’t have time to spend with children. And children on their part are self-preoccupied in either figuring out how to get more marks or in supplementary activities like guitar learning etc to make it big. In this scenario schools have a big responsibility for bringing in the values in lives of their students.

The present education system needs transformation and realignment. With the degeneration of ethical values and the tragic deterioration of standards of our social, economic and political lives, a new model of inculcation of values at an early stage for our children, will provide a basis for a firm foundation

Okay. That’s right. But don’t you think schools are already doing it?

If every school would be doing it in a manner it should be, there wouldn’t be a need for you and me to talk about it. The fact is our schools have started giving it a secondary importance. A number of schools are increasingly replacing daily morning assemblies with just once a week assemblies. The moral science subject is not gradated, not assessed and therefore nobody is taking it seriously. Schools identify their success with marks and more marks. And as I said, today’s parents want to see their children successful at any cost, nobody is paying heed.

street play performance by students on launch event

You have touched an important issue of morning assemblies. What is their importance in imparting values and why do you think even the best schools have started doing away with these?

School going age is an important phase of life. What values you learn here stay for long. The morning assembly as it were used to set the standards of behavior, rewards and recognition and a means of setting examples and sharing important developments. In my case we had card system for good and bad. That means you got rewarded or punished in the morning itself. The good guys used to get praise and with this the rest knew who is good and there was an innate feeling of respect towards them. The rude behavior was signaled out. We stood in sun, leant discipline, personal hygiene and importance of teamwork. These things reinforced values of civility, respect towards fellow mates and societal responsibility. Now why schools aren’t enthused about it is simply because of the importance scores are getting and therefore they see it as waste of ‘precious time’ little realizing how much they are harming the child in the long run along with the country.

Well taken. You are not also satisfied the way moral science subject is handled in schools?

See a child is like a young tree. You can bend the branch till a certain age and same is true for children in schools. Moral science as a subject and that too without evaluation much as maths or science doesn’t mean anything. We need to pitch for a curricular and practical moral science teaching/ learning in schools. The environment that is the school itself must offer a model role. The teachers, management and staff must present themselves as role models of empathetic behavior towards lower grade staffers. They must reflect and display honesty, teamwork and other values. The children should have a project work of visiting people from marginalized backgrounds or poor and interview them how they live, how they cope, how they feed their families etc to make a case study. Then only can they realize how important and critical values are to sustain our society. And those leanings can later reflect in empathetic behavior and civility besides other core social values and integrity.

Do you feel, it is only schools that should do this or higher education should also take it up?

I strongly feel it should continue throughout the academic ladder of a child. It will help in individual mental hygiene with moralistic behavior all the time. Importantly it will make youth more responsible and what we see in the spate of divorces or rapes after making idiot of girls in the name of relationship etc coming down. As a young nation, we have to more concern about social harmony and gender order.    

Shisth Bharat as you said must succeed because our rich civilizational past always put a premium on sanskars being aspirational and we had the famed gurkul system to teach life skills, values along with knowledge. But in today’s PUBG age, do you think, it is going to be easy to mould minds especially those of young?

That is certainly a challenge. I agree, much of the aggression that comes to our children is because of the content on Internet and violent games are a major source. In fact, today’s children shoot and kill people in these games and it plays on their minds when they disrespect others or break norms.

There is another aspect to it. Children are fed on success stories like that of Microsoft, facebook and other technological disruptions and riches. This has developed in a kind of thought process in them that success through short cuts is possible. You would come across many children who will be obsessed in thinking that I will make this or that app. 

All this has to be channelized into a positive energy and I am confident when the system starts demanding, our young generation will see value in it.

Now this is not a task which you alone can accomplish. You need collaborations and a roadmap?

You are right and we are working with a number of organizations right from resident welfare associations to ladies club and schools in Delhi. We will expand and get people from all walks of life to take this forward. We are looking at producing media products like short films, street plays, walks and other events to spread the message. We have to make it a household campaign by convincing people and we are already working on various fronts. We will like to engage and involve icons from various fields to talk about it. We will have to glorify good examples. I am very hopeful that we will succeed in creating a demand and then framework, laws if necessary will come from government and other agencies. We want to see a shisth bharat taking shape at the earliest. That’s why we have launched this campaign.