Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet initiative 'Swachh Bharat Mission' has found an unexpected supporter in the principal of a girls' madrasa in Assam's Darrang district, whose zeal to convince people about proper sanitation and hygiene earned him the sobriquet 'Swachhata Maulana'.
Mufti Nasihur Rahman, Principal of Al Jamiatul Islamia Mangaldai Banat Madrasa in Mangaldai, has taken an initiative to convey the importance of sanitation and hygiene in public places to ensure a disease-free society.
"For the last three years, I have been regularly visiting the villages around Mangaldai to impart the importance of cleanliness among people but we still have a long way to go," he said.
Prime Minister Modi may not be very acceptable among the Muslim community but "we appreciate this particular mission of his and thank him for initiating it."
"Islam is not against hygiene and cleanliness and, infact, Koran points out that cleanliness is 'iman' (purity). We had forgotten it and now want to create a movement that can revolutionise the mindset of the community towards health, hygiene and sanitation," he said.
The Mufti, however, points out that his efforts are not confined to any specific community but the areas near his school are mostly inhabited by the Muslim community along with tea garden labourers in some villages.
"Initially, we found that people are not very interested in following the basic rules of hygiene and sanitation. They are so steeped in poverty that they do not even have proper dwelling places and as such they hardly give attention to toilets and sanitation facilities," he added.
Last month, Mufti went to the nearby No 4 Nangli Char, a habitat on one of the islands on the Brahmaputra, where he had to stay overnight and when in the morning he asked the residents to show him a lavatory, the villagers informed that they had always defecated in the open.
The Mufti asked them to bring a spade, a few bamboo poles, and some thatch. In a while he had constructed a toilet and that changed the history of sanitation in the village.
"The next time when I visited the village, most of the houses had a toilet and open defecation had considerably reduced," he added.
The priority is to create awareness about cleanliness in the surroundings, stop open defecation by constructing toilets and ensure clean drinking water facilities through earthenware filters.
The Mufti pointed out that on several occasions he had tried to help them financially but it is not always possible to do so and as such. "We want to involve more people, particularly the youths, and extend the campaign in all areas."
The annual day function of his madrasa was held recently and true to his mission, the day's proceedings started with a cleanliness drive.
He is often invited by different institutions and NGOs to visit their areas and share the story of his sanitation mission which has earned him the title of 'Swachhata Maulana'.
He was also invited by the UNICEF to a sanitation conference as a part of faith leaders who can initiate change in the field of sanitation and hygiene.
"We had invited him to the Assam Conference on Sanitation held in February at Guwahati as a part of Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) with the aim that they go back to the community to create sanitation awareness among them and we are pleased about his efforts in this direction," UNICEF'S Communication Officer Tahseen Alam said.
Social and PR activist Nurul Islam Laskar pointed out that it is, indeed, heartening that the Mufti has brought a madrasa to limelight for a good and socially relevant issue when madrasas have been in the news for wrong reasons.
"It is all the more praiseworthy as all the students of his madrasas are girls. We hope this initiative succeeds and spreads to every nook and corner of the state," he said.
A Professor of Information Technology in North East Hill University (NEHU) Dr Md Iftekhar Hussian, who belongs to the Mufti's village, pointed out 'Swachhata' is very much a part of Islam and the Swachh Bharat Mission must be accepted and promoted for the betterment of both society and the nation at large.