Vandana Sethhi, founder and director of Water Communications, and founder of ‘Gaali Free India’, talks to G20 about her social initiative aiming to make the society free of abuse.
Q. A Gaali-free India, Bollywood especially. How did this unique concept unfold?
A. The idea was to raise awareness so at least people would start talking about it, and hopefully, from there more people would be conscious when using such language—something that had become subconscious or even unconscious thing! In the process, as more and more people get conscientized, it may ultimately lead to an end or at least an arrest or slowing down of the use of such filthy language.
For sure, there were personal triggers—or like you would call them ‘inflection points’. Personal experiences that kind of became the final straw after which I knew I had to do something.
So, one day, while standing on a pavement in Delhi, waiting for the car to arrive, there was a young man, a boy, in fact, talking right next to me on the phone. From the context, it was clear he was talking to his girlfriend or something because he was pretty loud and oblivious to everyone around. But, every second word was a gaali—abuse in Hindi, English, and languages a multi-linguist would not have been able to identify. It went on for over 15 minutes—I mean what energy and perseverance… all for a wrong cause!
For me, each gaali spewed recklessly was one more nail in the coffin of a decent society. Something had to be done soon and someone had to it. And then I realised, I had to be that someone!
Q. Can you expound the tagline ‘Swachh Bhasha, Swachh Bharat’ to our readers?
A. The entire premise for the tag-line was that Swachh Bhasha is also a component of Swachh Bharat. Let’s not only clean up our surroundings and environment but our language and minds as well.
Q. What type of traction have you received to date, in terms of support from Bollywood?
A. Thank God for social media! Online has given us so much traction, I’m very sure we would not have been able to achieve as much as we have in such a short time if we launched this initiative say 20 years ago when social media had not yet found its feet and the internet lacked true penetration.
We’ve also tried to stay topical and newsy, because that’s the best way to grab people’s attention. So during the recent lockdown, our research showed that one big problem—and not just in India, but worldwide—was domestic abuse. The situation was leading to deteriorating mental health and precipitating violent episodes, where most often the victims were wives and other weaker members in the household.
Q. Tell us more about the mission.
A. It’s more of a powerful passion and hopes that we can one day conscientize every Indian—however hopelessly ambitious that may sound.
But yes, we have no illusions about anything changing overnight. This is a lifetime project. a project of several lifetimes. The hope is that if we start now, we can reduce the incidence for the next generation and so on.
The aim, therefore, is to conscientize as many people as we can with the objective of insulating subsequent generations from this, well, curse.
Q. Would you enlighten our readers about the process of spreading awareness regarding this mission?
A. There has been some of that, as I mentioned earlier, all thanks to social media. But sadly, not enough. It’s sad—and I say this coming from the same space and industry—that media has not taken up this issue. It’s not like they wouldn’t know what we’re doing. We live in an extremely connected world; so when media can pick up small, insignificant or sordid stories and sensationalise them, why can’t they do something for this which would actually lead to the betterment of society?
It’s a simple chain reaction… If I improve, my family improves, and progressively so does society, country, and world. Whether the world becomes better or worse… it all begins with me!

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