Ho Chi Minh City The name of the deputy director of the Indian organizing committee is Lalit Bhanot. His aside to the Indian press corps as he tried to do damage control for the disaster has created a national controversy in India, and from the page of the New York Times should lead to uproar everywhere as it starkly reveals the huge gaping contradictions of government, class, and culture in society:
“These rooms are clean to both you and us,” Mr. Bhanot told Indian reporters this week. Foreigners “want certain standards in hygiene and cleanliness which may differ from our perception,” he said.
The story in today’s Times digs the hole even deeper. Today the sound biters try to distinguish what the refer to as the difference between “public” and “private” standards of hygiene.
Mr. Bhanot’s comments hit a raw nerve because many middle class Indians make a distinction between public and private standards. If public bathrooms in government buildings are usually dirty, private homes are usually immaculate. Most people pay close attention to their appearance and cleanliness, even as public roads are usually potholed and public buildings are often not well maintained.
“It’s not that somehow people don’t recognize the truth that there is a problem about public standards of hygiene in India,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “But usually we have dealt with it by confining it to the public space. We think private standards are very high. And he seemed to be questioning that.”
Hundreds of millions of Indians are living in the streets and making less than $1.50 per day, but there can actually be a debate about “public” versus “private” hygiene? Come on!
One fellow got it right, but the rest seem blinded by the obvious as they point fingers at callous bureaucrats, inept management, terrible infrastructure, and a total lack of accountability.
“It is unbelievable that a person holding such a responsible position can make such a statement,” said J. Anand, vice president of a New Delhi travel agency. “Hygiene is hygiene, whether it is in India or anywhere else. I feel embarrassed by that statement.”
Yes, India and the world: “hygiene is hygiene” and people are people. Until the country and the world learn to respect the dignity of all individuals and insist that such respect be part and parcel of all policy and programs everywhere, it’s all just tragic farce.