BHOPAL: Like past ten years, this Navratri too, Ashok Kumar Tiwari ‘Hindustani', a former commando of the Indian Army, is on a nine-day cycle expedition to promote cleanliness and hygiene. The 51-year-old Tiwari had left the city on the night of October 19. He has already reached Katni (on Wednesday noon) via Hoshangabad, Itarsi and Pachmarhi. From Katni, he will travel to Maihar, then Satna and return to Bhopal via Panna, Chhattarpur and Sagar, covering a distance of around 1,500 km.
Tiwari is an ardent devotee of Goddess Durga and survives only on fruits and water for the nine days. When asked from where does he gets the energy for the tiring journey? “We commandoes are given extremely tough training. We are trained to live without water and food for five days. That helps me. And the blessing of the Goddess is also with me,” he says.
He has been spreading the message of cleanliness and hygienic practices. About how he does it, Tiwari says that while riding the bicycle, he simply stops at any place, say a paan shop or a roadside eatery, wherever he finds people gathered and suggests simple ways of promoting cleanliness. “For instance, I ask the owners of paan shops and hotels to keep a dustbin. I tell them not to spit in the public,” he says. Now, of course, he has added promotion of COVID-related precautions to his campaign. “I tell the people that this disease does not afflict those who have a strong immunity. And immunity is directly related to cleanliness and hygiene,” he says.
When asked what changes he has witnessed over the past 10 years, he says that people are definitely more aware and the public places are cleaner now. Has the state really become ODF? Tiwari says that he starts his journey at around 4 am every day and he does see people defecating in the open. “But the practice is down by at least 95 per cent in the urban areas and by around 70 per cent in the rural. And most of those who are still doing it are the elderly who say that ‘they are not used to relieving themselves in closed toilets,” he said.
He also encourages people to send their daughters to schools and plant trees for a clean and green environment. Tiwari says that festivals invariably generate more garbage. “I do not appreciate the idea of installing Durga idols at every nook and corner. Why not to just have one or two Durga Pandals in a village or a small town?” he asks.
"Whenever I suggest this to people, I am often ridiculed and sometimes even labelled as ‘anti-religious’. I tell them that instead of wasting money on grand pandals they should help the needy as that would make the Goddess happier,” he says.
Tiwari says that ‘Gandagi Bharat Chhodo’ is his slogan and he would continue to generate awareness on the issue till he is alive. “When I was in the army, I used to hold a gun in my hand. Now the gun has been replaced with a Jhadu,” he says.