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Mainstream, VOL LV No 43 New Delhi October 14, 2017

Role of Spiritual Capital in Ensuring Cleanliness in India

Saturday 14 October 2017

by Mahi Pal


On the occasion of the third anniversary of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Government of India has launched a ‘Swachhta Hi Seva’ nationwide campaign on September 15, 2017 to accelerate a people’s movement for sanitation. It would have been better if love was also added with service because these are two important ingredients of Divinity. Cleanliness has been a way of life in India. There are numerous examples in this regard. For example, people offer puja (worship) after taking bath. Persons take bath and wear fresh clothes before visiting their relations. A person does not like to visit a particular area which is dirty and filthy. How can one expect that goddess Laxmi will visit the area and help the area to prosper? That is why on the occasion of Deepawali (the festival of lights), all people before worshipping Goddess Laxmi clean their houses and its surroundings because she loves cleanliness. Goddess Laxmi would not stay there permanently because when the festival is over, again the houses and surroundings become dirty with filth. So, if the people want to get the blessings of Goddess Laxmi, they have to adopt cleanliness as a way of life. But these occasions have been turned into rituals only. These have not become the way of life of the people. Or cleanliness has not been internalised by the people..

Unfortunately, over a period of time love and service, which are the divine attributes, have not been put into practice. The outcome of such a development is seen in terms of diseases and and the fact that on an average three lakh children die from diarrhoea which is caused due to insanitation and unhygienic conditions in the country. Though sanitation is a wide term and contains many components, if we take one component, that is, access to toilet, we find that, as per the 2011 Census, as many as 69.23 per cent of households were without toilets whereas in 2001 their percentage was 70.09. It indicates that the intensity of the problem has not been reduced even after a decade. Then, the other moot question is: whether those who have constructed toilets are using those or not. Yes, all are not using them, particularly in the rural areas, where the focus has been on construction of toilets by pressurising the officials and getting subsidy rather than their use. In other words, the focus is on hardware (change in outer resources) and not on software (change in inner resources).

The present method of solving the problem of insanitation is not going to be effective and sustainable as a number of Gram Panchayats, which were declared as ODF, have not remained as ODF subsequently because the issue of sanitation has not been internalised by the human beings. In other words, the human beings have not given importance to it while Mahatma Gandhi said sanitation is second to God. Hence, sanitation could happen only when people give it priority in their life. Those who have given it priority in their life are quite a few. Here we are speaking of internalising sanitation as a way of life by the people and for that spiritual capital has to be created and where it exists, it should be activated for better outcomes.

I. Concept of Sanitation

Sanitation may be termed as a package of health- related measures. It contains seven components, namely, (i) safe disposal of human excreta, (ii) disposal of liquid waste, (iii) disposal of solid waste, (iv) collection, storage and use of drinking water, (v) home sanitation and food hygiene, (vi) personal hygiene, (vii) environmental hygiene. Experiences revealed that the sanitation problem is not only due to lack of adequate infrastructure, but involves changing the mindset of the population with regard to the sustainable use of toilets.

II. Conceptulisation of Spiritual Capital

The concept of spiritual capital has been evolving as there does not appear any definition on which academicians and researchers have reached a consensus. From the author’s point of view, there are two words. One is spiritual which relates to intrinsic values of all human beings. Another is capital which means production used for reproduction. Putting both the words together, it may be said that there are divine attributes like love, affection, brotherhood, compassion, inclusiveness, sharing and caring, service which may be termed as intrinsic values of every human being. These values are considered as spiritual resources which may be used for enhancement of the individual as well as group capacity to pursue the intrinsic goal of life like love, affection, brotherhood, compassion, inclusiveness and service. Love and service are two very important attributes in this regard. Let us throw some light on the concept of the spiritual capital before discussing its relevance in effective implementation of the sanitation programme in the country.

One may say that the term is oxymoron as the word spiritual relates to pious and noble activities or aspirations whereas the word capital relates to economic activities which are also linked with wickedness. But here, the author differs in the sense that it is not the fault of the capital, it is the fault of the system which uses the capital for production of goods and services. In the same way spiritual capital relates to the generation of divine qualities like love which would again be used for furthering it in the society. It, in turn, promotes dedicated citizen-ship which would see beyond his or her household or family requirements.

The concept of the spiritual capital has occasionally been in use in the last two decades. But it has been widely used since the early 2000s. Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall define spiritual capital as “....wealth that we can live by, wealth that enriches the deeper aspects of our lives. It is wealth we gain through drawing upon our deepest meanings, deepest values, most fundamental purposes and highest motivations, and by finding a way to embed these in our lives and work”. Spiritual capital is not connected with any religion or any organised belief system. The author considers spiritual capital as a divine quality put into practice for the masses. Swami Agnivesh, in his book Applied Spirituality, says: “Spirituality is a continual endeavour to bring out the best potential latent in every person or society... Applied Spirituality or the spirituality of engagement cannot develop unless this shift from the self to the other—on account of being founded in God—is welcomed and internalised.”

It is clear from the above that spiritual capital has intrinsic values, intangibles, foundational transformational resources such as love, compassion, brotherhood, sharing and caring, inclusiveness, service in each and every human being.

III. Spiritual Capital and Effective Implementation of Cleanliness Drive 

Now let us discuss as to how the spiritual capital could be instrumental in effective implementation of cleanliness. Saxena (2016) has reported that, as per Monitor Deloitte, the sanitation market in India is estimated at US $ 2500 crores out of which US $ 600 to 900 crores is related to toilets alone. The World Bank’s 2012 report estimated a much bigger size at US $ 15,200 crores for infrastructure. If scarce resources are invested in construction of toilets and the related infrastructure is not used, then it indicates resources wasted. As a rural develop-ment practitioner, the author has noted that the village society has been suffering mainly from two problems. These are (i) negativity and (ii) lack/absence of sense of ownership of assets/articles etc. beyond the household. These two problems are mainly responsible for the ills of insanitation in the countryside. These problems could be solved by way of building a spiritual capital among the rural people. Here, the basic thrust should be on changing the role of the individual from a householder to a citizen. In this way the householder would become the nation-builder and his and her concern would be happiness and welfare of people besides giving a sense of responsibility. This would change the outlook, as stated by Swami Ranganathananda (2010), “each man unto himself and the devil take the hindmost’”. To further illustrate this point, let us cite a story told by Swami Vivekananda in this regard.

“A certain King had great faith in his courtiers. the Prime Minister of the King told him not to put so much trust in his courtiers, for they were, after all, courtiers, self-seeking and given to flattery. The King was not convinced. The Prime Minister promised to prove his point. With the permission of the King, he announced a festival in the royal palace which required every courtier to bring a jug of milk early morning before sunrise and pour it into a container kept behind a curtain. The morning came and the courtiers came one by one and poured their quota into the container and left. The Prime Minister then took the King to the enclosure to inspect the container. And both were surprised, the King more than the Prime Minister, to find the container was filled with water with not a drop of milk in it. When questioned by the King, each courtier said that since all the other courtiers would be pouring their quota of milk, he thought his own jug of water would be too insignificant to be detected.” The outcome of such an approach to life is that everybody thinks that since all people are engaged in nation-development patriotically, a bit of self-aggrandisement on his or her part would not matter.

Now, let us illustrates this in the context of sanitation. The people to a great extent playing their role as householders means they clean their houses and courtyards properly but throw dust and dirt on the street or at common places. They do not defecate in their courtyard but defecate outside the courtyard. It means that they are playing their role as householders as should be the case but not playing their role as citizens because stepping out of the household’s threshold entitles a householder to act as a citizen. This transformation in the life of people is only possible by inculcating the divine qualities among them so that they consider each and every patch of village their own and therefore as they clean their houses, they also clean their streets and outside places where they are living. Because spiritual capital tends to transform the body consciousness (here as householder) to God consciousness (here as a citizen) leading to better and faster implementation of the sanitation programme.

Application of the concept in real situation

 Gupta and Mahi Pal (2008) found that the District Rural Development Agency, Bhivani, Haryana faced a number of problems such as no demand for sanitation, no organisational support, indifferent attitudes of villagers, Sar-panches and Panches, humiliation of motivators by villagers, arrogance on the part of educated villagers. These issues, among others, were addressed by way of the mix of social and spiritual capitals in the field. The social mobi-lisers have taken into confidence the entire village community, taking recourse to cleaning the spots in the household courtyards where flies were teeming, inculcating transparency and honesty in the implementation mechanism, convincing the villagers in favour of the TSC and constructing soak-pits for solving the waterlogging problem. These efforts were towards changing the approach of villagers from householders to citizens. And it gave dividends to the campaign as evident from the fact that this approach had succeeded in motivating the households to construct toilets without any subsidy from the government and as a result of this all the households have constructed their toilets as per their requirements. The transformatory role played by the spiritual capital enabled the success of the campaign for sanitation because when the villagers’ approach changed from householders to citizens, they took recourse to borrowing or arranging funds from different sources to construct toilets and use them.

IV. Way Forward

People have become a bunch of persons with negative traits and this type of character has depleted the spiritual capital in the country. The issues of sanitation have to be tackled spiritually by invoking spiritual traits like love and service among the people in rural areas. For this, the following suggestions have been offered.

1. There is an urgent need to internalise cleanliness—means no dirt inside (negativity) human beings by way of imbibing divine qualities in his/her life. Gandhiji had put it beautifully in New Delhi on April 21, 1946 in the following words: “A man who repeated Ramanama and thereby cleansed his inner being could not tolerate the filth outside.” In the same way Gandhiji said on July 6, 1946 that “If the object of their attending prayer was idle curiosity, they had committed a sin by coming. If they had come to join in the prayer, they must pray for inner and outer cleanliness.”

2. A holistic approach is needed to make the programme more effective. In this regard Nirmala Deshpande (1992) said: “With a movement to bring a psychological change in rural India, it is also necessary to approach the problem in a holistic manner by linking sanitation with religion, culture, health, agriculture, environment and production of energy. The basic attitude that needs to be formed is to link it with Bhakti. It has to be stressed that cleanliness is godliness and unless cleanliness becomes a part of our lives, we cannot be true devotees of God.”

3. Transgression from the role of householder to citizen. Household or family is a group of members in a sense of genetic relationship. Although the members of the household in a greater sense enjoy spiritual values like love and services, these values are restricted to the genetic boundary. Hence, it is more a genetic value rather than a spiritual value. When these expressions transcend family boundaries they reflect a truly spiritual character. Then only essential attributes of the citizen, like freedom and responsibility, would be imbibed in each and every family. If this becomes part of each and every human being, there would be no problem of insanitation in the country.

4. The role of the places of worship is merely a one-way traffic which is required to be transformed into a two-way traffic. One way may be said as existing where devotees come to the place of worship, pay respect and disperse. The places of worship have also to go to the households (in terms of promoting divine qualities and not physically going to the household) where devotees are residing. In other words, there must be an organic link between the two. The author has seen that devotees clean the place of worship as well as the place where satsang takes place—even outside the boundary of the place of worship. But these devotees do not play the same role where they are living. The spiritual persons, who conduct such satsangs, must tell categorically to the participants that if they want to please God, they should focus on sanitation in Ashrams.


To conclude, the problem of sanitation is serious in the country. The author visited more than 300 villages in the States of Rajathan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh where it was observed that the serious problem is solid and liquid waste management besides open defecation. The problem is even more serious in those parts of the villages where temples are located. In these temples lakhs of people come for pilgrimage. But there is no action to clean the place due to lack of understanding about the divine qualities like love and service. Had they imbibed these qualities, they would have cleaned the place because in such a situation a person crossed the household boundary as argued in the paper. The policy implication of the paper is that the spiritual capital must be an integral part of the components of the strategy to tackle the menace of insanitation.


Gupta, Vikas and Mahi Pal (2008): ‘Community Sanitation Campaign : A study in Haryana’, Economic and Political Weekly, August 16.

Swami Ranganathananda (2010): The Philosophy of Democratic Administration, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata.

Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall (2010): An Excerpt from Spiritual Capital: Wealth We Can Live By, Berret-Koehler.

Saxena, Rishabh Krishna (2016): ‘Rural Sanitation: Way Forward’, Kurukshetra, October.

Nirmala Deshpande (1992): ‘Needing holistic approach on rural sanitation’, Kurukshetra, October.

Dr Mahi Pal, who belonged to the Indian Economic Services and has now retired, is a former Director, Ministry of Rural Development.

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