Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji and our Global Interfaith WASH Alliance team participated in the Mahatma Gandhi India Sanitation Conclave (MGISC) by the Government of India, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation with the United Nations and more than 100 ministers, senior delegates and representatives from 50 countries. The Convention shared the massive strides India has taken towards achieving universal safe sanitation, celebrating Mahatma Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary. The Conclave was inaugurated by the Hon’ble President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovindji on the 29th September.
The Conclave shared that the number of people practicing open defecation in rural India has gone down form 550 million in 2014, to less than 150 million today, through an intensive behaviour change campaign. The Swachh Bharat Mission has become a people’s movement and India is on track to achieve open defecation free (ODF) status by 2019, significantly contributing to the global achievement of SDG 6, , which aims “to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Global Interfaith WASH Alliance participated in a special session in the main, largest plenary hall on the theme of “Sanitation is Everyone’s Business.” The panel was presided over by Director General of Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation Shri Akshay Routji and included on the panel Global Interfaith WASH Alliance’s Founder/Chairman, Pujya Swamiji and Secretary-General Sadhvi Bhagawatiji, Ms Therese Dooley, Senior WASH Advisor for UNICEF, the Chairman of the Indian Railway Board, Mr Ashwini Lohani, Mr Dinesh Suna, Coordinator, Ecumenical Water Network (EWN), World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland and Mufti Nasihur Rahmanji, Principal Al Jamiatul Islamia Banat, Madrassa, Mangaldai, Darrang, Assam.
Said Pujya Swamiji, “Sanitation is an ice-breaker and an eye-opener. For me sanitation and meditation go hand in hand. Over the course of the last four years, thanks to the dedication and commitment of our Hon’ble Prime Minister of India we have seen great strides in Swachh Bharat. I think in addition to the 4I’s that Sadhvi Bhagawatiji mentioned there is a 5th I of Integration and Inclusiveness that we are seeing together when representatives from 50 countries gathered here to share in India’s learnings and to take this back to their countries, striving to do their part in a Swachh World (Clean World). This is the true spirit of India.”
Said Sadhvi Bhagawatiji, “We started working for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene when we realized that WASH underscores all of the other areas in which we were already working — education, women’s empowerment, health care, environmental protection, etc. Our Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji has made sanitation truly everyone’s business because while we have been working for Swachh Bharat for more than a decade, suddenly after Modiji’s call to action for Swachh Bharat cleaning our communities has become cool and toilets are now trendy. Through GIWA’s ground and grand level approach, with a foundation in the 4I’s of Information, Inspiration, Innovation and Implementation, we have seen a great shift in people’s perception and have seen many success stories that illustrate that everyone is engaged, excited and enthusiastic to bring about a Swachh Bharat.”
Said Mufti Nasihur Rahmanji, “When the Swachh Bharat reached Assam it was evident that Sanitation is everyone’s business. As a Principal of an all girls school when I have actively been involved and engaged in being the change and showing by example the role of cleaniness I have seen great change. Today not only toilets have been built in Assam but a majority of the population knows the importance of actually using them and keeping them clean.”
Said Dinesh Sunaji, “As an Indian, even though I am based in Geneva, it brings me great pride to see my country on track to becoming completely ODF. The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India’s leadership has catalysed an incredible revolution and I am so excited to support as a faith leader through the World Council of Churches and our network to continue this momentum.”
Many wonderful meetings and interactions took place on the sidelines of the main sessions with high level actors in the field of improved Sanitation included meetings with Ministry of Drinking Water Sanitation Secretary Mr Param Iyerji, Sulabh International’s Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, senior representatives of UNICEF, World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WSSCC and many others.