Cleanliness as a Western Concept

I was at the cinema hall ready to witness the grandeur musical — The Beauty and the Beast. Before that, I had to sit through a series of advertisements, and then a photo still of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan campaign appeared on the screen. There was a small passage about Hollywood actress Cameron Diaz’s OCD with cleanliness. I chuckled at what I saw. The message read — “Did you know that Cameron Diaz is a compulsive celeb? She opens doors with her elbows to avoid touching germ-infested door knobs.” My first thought was, “Why on earth would they choose this particular factoid to promote cleanliness in India?”

This is something that Diaz follows in her personal life. This act of hers is not helping to clean the grime ridden streets of New York and other densely populated cities of the United States. It is nothing more than gossip for the tabloids about a clean freak Hollywood celebrity.

Did they think that all Indians will be inspired and motivated to clean up their country if shown a westerner’s way of doing things? This is a classic example of always looking at the West for betterment of Asian countries. Cleanliness is considered a western concept. In the Hindu religious scriptures, cleanliness is emphasised and places of religious worship are kept clean. The extent to which this is applied to the streets or an individual’s life is debatable. Nonetheless, it is safe to conclude that cleanliness is a matter that is entangled in the web of colonialism, East V West debates, and Orientalism; and very much a product of Western sensibilities, that countries non-Western are trying to ape.