Swachh Dharma

Every body bears God’s image: pure and holy

A youth fell into a sewer and began shouting, “Fire! Fire!” as he sank into the mess. Several passersby hurriedly pulled him out.

When asked why he cried “Fire!” when there was no fire, he said: “Would you have come to help if I’d shouted ‘Shit! Shit!’?” November 19 is United Nations’ World Toilet Day. With Bharat agog with Swachh solutions, let’s reflect upon dharmic swachhata.

We label many things and persons as “unclean”. Garbage and excreta are obviously “material” filth. Socially, certain communities are labeled “unclean” since they do manual scavenging.

Politically, many netas play “dirty politics” and are morally corrupt. Consciously or unconsciously, our conception of who/what is clean and pure, and who/what is not, is often bolstered by religious beliefs.

At the heart of biblical conceptions of cleanliness are ideas of “ritual purity” and “ritual impurity”. The Books of Leviticus (chapters 11 to 16) and Numbers (chapters 8 and 19) deem certain places and people clean or unclean.

The sanctum sanctorum and those associated with rites and rituals are usually “pure”, and those who come in contact with dead corpses or “ritually impure” menstruating women are considered “impure”.

As a result of archaic religious rules and regulations regarding purity and impurity, we have legalistic lists of do’s and don’ts resulting in divisions and dehumanisation of persons and communities.

Most of these declarations of clean-unclean were done by male religionists and are grossly unfair to women as well as the weaker sections of society.

Going against the currents of his time, Jesus challenged oppressive ideas of ritual impurity of hypocritical Pharisees who despised publicans and those who didn’t ritually wash as per their dictates.

While upholding the need for cleanliness in one’s environs, and for cleansing one’s body, mind, morals and spirit, Jesus stressed that everyone is innately clean since God is the source of us all. Indeed, every “body” bears God’s image: pure and holy.

Jesus defied socio-religious divides of his day touching untouchable lepers, reaching out to so-called “sinners” and publicans, healing a woman with a discharge of blood and touching dead corpses to resuscitate them. Sadly, many Christians forget his options and actions.

Religious purity/impurity calls for critique and change. Why, even a basic necessity like water is unavailable to 2.5 billion people worldwide. Worse, dearth of toilets affects women the most. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says:“We have a moral imperative to end open defecation and a duty to ensure women and girls are not at risk of assault and rape simply because they lack a sanitation facility.”

We could shout “Fire!” and expect others to pull us out of the mess we’ve made. But it would be better to clean up our beliefs and purify our hearts. Swachh dharma will ensure a Swachh Bharat.

Francis Gonsalves is a professor of theology. He can be contacted at

( Source : dc )
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