For a Souji time in lieu of ‘Social Service’


The Japanese are known for their cleanliness. In the ongoing football World Cup matches that are being played in different cities of Brazil, littering by thousands of football fans inside the stadium is one of the major concerns of the organiser. Volunteers are specially assigned to manage the litters left scattered by spectators after every match. The volunteers were amazed when Japanese football fans joined them in clearing up the rubbish. It is very much a common practice in Japan to collectively clean a place. Most Japanese schools do not employ janitors. The point is not to cut cost by not employing a caretaker. It is said that the practice is rooted in Bhuddhist traditions that associate cleanliness with morality. Every day, in a Japanese school, there is a special time for the students to come together for cleaning time, known as Souji time. The students would pull out buckets, mini-brooms and other equipment to clean up their surroundings. It includes not only mopping up the floors, but also cleaning the toilets as well. Japanese scholars have maintained that the practice is also a kind of meditation, a chance to reflect on and purify not only their school surroundings, but their internal minds as well. Emphasising that education is not only classroom teaching but also cooperation with others, it is also very much about ethics, a sense of responsibility and above all public morality. The Japanese fans who joined the volunteers in cleaning up the litters in the World Cup stadiums, beyond doubt, have all grown up with the values that were instilled early from their school days.

In Manipur, unfortunately, cleanliness has been taken over by the term “social service”. The term is so deeply ingrained that its wrong use of the lexicon has been overlooked, and now it has become a socially accepted practice. This practice is very much common among the Meitei community. At a community level, a cleanliness drive in and around a leikai is called “social service”. The same is with the larger social group as well. We find press handouts from social organisations that a “social service” camp was carried out at a particular place. We also find news reports with the “social service” headlines. And if the reports are carried with pictures, we would certainly find people with brooms and spades. To put it straight, the wrong lexicon is a reflection of our collective failure to understand what actually a social service is. A broom and a spade can serve to clean an area or a surrounding. But it should not as a whole replace the idea of social service. For the record: the Encyclopedia Britannica defines social service as: ‘any of numerous publicly or privately provided services intended to aid disadvantaged, distressed, or vulnerable persons or groups. The term social service also denotes the profession engaged in rendering such services.’ There are also different concepts of ‘social service’ propounded by different social thinkers. Here, we would limit to its lexical aspect in the specific context of Manipur that is being used loosely as a popular vocabulary. It is also important to note that the wrong use of the lexicon has led us to a wrong sense of direction while rendering service of social import. A fresh example would be the ‘social services’ of cleaning the Kekrupat once a year during the month of June. Not to suggest that one should prescribe entirely to the definition given above, if we are to put in place the understanding and practice of social service, we can start from simple efforts. We should begin by avoiding littering in the public places; at the Shumang Leelas, at the cinemas, at the schools and colleges, at the offices. And more importantly on the roads, by doing so, we can emulate the Japanese Souji time at least at a different microscopic level, if not for the entire gamut of its value.


Leader Writer: Senate Kh



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