The Indian government’s recent announcement of a nationwide cleanliness campaign on 1 October has ignited a clash of values and beliefs in the state of Nagaland, where a predominantly Christian population observes Sunday as a sacred day of worship.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) recently announced the nationwide cleanliness campaign, dubbed “one hour of shramdaan for swachhata,” which aims to promote cleanliness and sanitation across India.
However, several prominent Christian organizations, including the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), the Joint Christian Forum (JCF), and various tribal churches, have raised concerns over the timing of the drive.
While these groups are not opposed to the principles of cleanliness and hygiene espoused by the campaign, they adamantly assert that designating a day that is sacred to them for such activities goes against their deeply-held religious beliefs.
This dispute has underscored the delicate balance between promoting national initiatives and respecting the diverse cultural and religious fabric of India. The clash of values in Nagaland serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges that can arise when government policies intersect with deeply ingrained religious practices.
What is the 1 October cleanliness drive about?
In response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for “one hour of shramdaan for swachhata,” the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs announced on Sunday that a nationwide cleanliness campaign is scheduled for October 1. The ministry also stated that, in preparation for Gandhi Jayanti, the prime minister has issued a distinctive appeal to fellow citizens.
A nationwide cleanliness drive will be conducted on October 1 responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal for “one hour of shramdaan for swachhata”, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs said on Sunday. In a statement, the ministry said that in the run up to Gandhi Jayanti, a unique call has been given by the prime minister to fellow citizens.
In the 105th episode of ‘Mann Ki Baat’, the prime minister appealed for “one hour of shramdaan for swachhata” at 10 am on October 1 by all citizens collectively, and it will be a ‘swachhanjali’ to Mahatma Gandhi on the eve of his jayanti, it said.
“This mega cleanliness drive calls upon citizens from all walks of life to join in actual cleaning activities of public places like market spaces, railway tracks, water bodies, tourist locations, religious places etc,” the statement said.
“Every town, gram panchayat, all sectors of the government like civil aviation, railways, information and technology etc, public institutions will be facilitating cleanliness events led by citizens,” it added.
The ministry said that this mega cleanliness drive is part of the “Swachhata Pakhwada- Swachhata Hi Seva-2023,” being observed from September 15 till October 2.
Yes to sanitation drive, no to 1 October: NBCC
The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) has expressed support for the nationwide cleanliness drive called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but has requested that it be rescheduled for a day other than Sunday, 1 October, as it is a day of worship for Christians.
In a statement, NBCC General Secretary Rev Dr Zelhou Keyho said that the church is not against the sanitation drive, but it is just that 1 October falls on Sunday. He added that Christians in Nagaland will cooperate with the drive, but will choose to go to church on 1 October.
The NBCC also said that India is not just a culturally diverse nation, “but more importantly diverse in our faith and beliefs.” It said, “Our sacred days, our worship and our festivals are different. Respecting the sentiments of each other and knowing how to deal with the diversities which exist is ‘wisdom’.”
“This is important in a country like India because we are not just a culturally diverse nation but more importantly diverse in our faith and beliefs. Our sacred days, our worship and our festivals are different. Respecting the sentiments of each other and knowing how to deal with the diversities which exist is ‘wisdom’,” NBCC said.
The NBCC also said that it has asked its constituent churches to observe the sanitation drive on either Saturday or Monday. “We will sacrifice another day at our convenience to show our cooperation and solidarity to the nation,” it added.
Reschedule nationwide cleanliness drive: NJCF
The Nagaland Joint Christian Forum (NJCF) has requested Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio to reschedule the nationwide cleanliness drive scheduled for 1 October 2023 (Sunday) to 30 September 2023 (Saturday).
In a letter to the Chief Minister, the NJCF stated that Sunday is a day of worship for Christians and the church cannot allow her members to make that day a working day. However, the NJCF assured that the church is aware that cleanliness is part of the civic duty and therefore, it will do so joyfully except on Sunday.
The NJCF has also requested the Chief Minister to disseminate the information to the concerned departments and authorities to declare Saturday as a day dedicated to the nationwide cleanliness drive in Nagaland.
NSCN-IM says Nagas cannot abide by PM’s call for cleanliness drive on Sunday
The Nagas as Christians will not be able to participate in the nationwide cleanliness drive called for by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1 October 2023, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) said in a statement on Tuesday.
The NSCN-IM said that the call for cleanliness drive falls on Sunday, which is a day of worship for Christians, and added that the cleanliness drive is a violation of the secular character of India.
“Nagas as Christians cannot simply abide by the call of the Prime Minister no matter how noble the cleanliness drive,” the NSCN-IM said, adding that it cannot remain as mere spectator to “any policy or initiative that obstructs and undermines Christian faith.”
“For any such nationwide drive for cleanliness, the sentiment attached with the spirit of secularism must be rightfully respected. Naga people will stand as one Christian family to resist such a cleanliness initiative that defies the mutual respect for different faiths that reflects the secular character of India,” the NSCN-IM held.
The group’s statement comes after the Chakhesang Baptist Church Council (CBCC), a Chakhesang Naga Christian organization, issued a statement saying that Christians must obey God rather than human beings.
The NSCN-IM also said that the “bold step” taken by CBCC was “something highly valued and appreciated.”
“All said done, the Nagas cannot deny God by obeying the call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” the NSCN-IM maintained.
NSF calls for resolution that respects religious convictions of all citizens in the Indian subcontinent
The Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) has expressed its concerns about the recent call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a nationwide cleanliness drive on 1 October, which is a Sunday. In a press release issued on Tuesday, the NSF said that it “vehemently condemns” the recent call by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi for a nationwide cleanliness drive on 1 October, “a day that holds deep religious significance and is traditionally recognized as a day of rest and worship in the Christian faith.”
The NSF said that Prime Minister Modi’s call for a collective cleanliness drive, under the banner “Ek Tareekh Ek Ghanta Ek Saath,” on Sunday, 1 October, has raised concerns among Christians in India and beyond.
“This call for a nationwide event on a Sunday is deeply insensitive to the religious sentiments of the Christian community and outrightly detrimental to the very essence of Secularism,” NSF maintained.
The NSF acknowledged and appreciated the Government of India’s initiatives for the betterment of society, including cleanliness drives.
Saying that it believes in the importance of unity and mutual respect among citizens of all faiths and maintaining the fabric of secularism “in the Indian subcontinent,” the NSF said it acknowledges cleanliness as an ideal that everyone should advocate, regardless of one’s religious beliefs.
However, the federation expressed dismay over what it perceived as a “communal attitude of the Centre, which appears to target Christian faith and other minority communities intentionally.”
Further, in light of the recent call for a cleanliness drive on 1 October, the NSF called upon all Church associations and local churches across the Naga homeland to boycott the proposed social work. NSF also urged the churches to instruct their members to abstain from participating in the drive as a sign of resentment against the “repeated attempts by the Government of India to disrupt Christian faith and practices in the country.”
The NSF also appealed to the frontal organizations and Christian leaders in general to stand together in defense of their Christian faith. The federation emphasized that adherence to religious beliefs should not be compromised, and called for a resolution that respects the religious convictions of all citizens and fosters peace in the Indian subcontinent.
The NSF maintained that it remains committed to protecting the rights and religious freedoms of all communities in the Naga homeland and in the wider Indian society.