What can I do if ‘they’ litter?

The “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan” was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 02, 2014. There have been many reactions, most of which have pessimistically stated that India can never be clean.

Among the many problems that need correction is our habit of treating our nation as one large dustbin, or to put it politely, our habit of littering.

On July 25, 2013, I had published a post Can India ever be clean? … Yes! Today, I am presenting an edited version of that post.

My colleague and I were driving back to office after having visited a customer. We had stopped at a traffic signal. To our left was a popular street-food stall. There was the usual crowd of customers and a huge pile of disposable plates outside the dustbin next to the stall.

My colleague exploded, “Why are these idiots throwing the plates around the empty dustbin? Why can’t they throw the plates into the dustbin? It doesn’t involve any extra effort. They will never change! These people will always litter!!”

I replied, “People can change, and can be made to stop littering. I’ll explain how. But, firstly, why do you say “They will never change.” Why not “We will never change.”?”

My colleague replied, “People like you and I are different from the majority. We are aware of cleanliness, hygiene, etc. But, we are in a hopelessly small minority. The people who are totally ignorant about cleanliness, hygiene, etc. create filth by littering indiscriminately!”

I countered, “Wrong on both counts! Firstly, we may be better than many of our compatriots, but we are definitely a part of the problem. Secondly, we can make a difference. You’ve told me that you and your family are regular filmgoers who enjoy not just the film, but also the popcorn you eat while watching the film. What do you do with your empty popcorn packet?”

“I crumple it and throw it under my seat,” my colleague replied.

“What do your wife and your (6 years old) daughter do with their empty popcorn packets?” I asked.

“They also crumple the packets and throw them under their seats,” he replied.

“Did you instruct your daughter to do that?” I asked.

Realising what I was driving at, he replied, “Obviously, she’s copying her parents.”

“Correct!” I exclaimed. “You probably picked up this littering habit from your parents. Your daughter picked it up from you. Two decades from now, her child will pick up the same littering habit from her. What’s the point of being “aware of cleanliness, hygiene, etc.”? Next time, why don’t you and your wife fold the empty packets and keep them, to be thrown into the dustbin while leaving the theatre after the film ends? And don’t wait for your daughter to copy you. Tell her to follow your example. That would be a good beginning: 3 persons changed for the better! The 3 of you should spread this message to others, and ask them to spread the message further. It won’t be easy, but if you are persistent, you will achieve considerable improvement over some time. One thing’s for sure: things won’t get worse!”

After a long silence, my colleague said, “I agree things can improve to some extent. But, can Indians ever stop littering?”

I replied, “I’m sure there are a lot of persons like you who speak very passionately about this matter. All such persons should transfer their passion from speech to action, stop littering and make people around them stop littering. Every person who stops littering should make people around her/him stop littering. Eventually, all Indians will stop littering!”

What do you think?

A constable’s brave reply to Prime Minister Modi!

On October 2, 2014, during the launch of the Swachh Bharat campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi picked up a broom to sweep the parking area of Mandir Marg Police Station in New Delhi. He then asked the police personnel present why they did not keep their workplace clean.

While all the other police personnel responded with the usual embarrassed silence, one constable told Modi the police station was not clean because “a majority of them (policemen) remained occupied with his security route and they just didn’t have the time for anything else”.

The constable’s honest, and brave, reply has prompted the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) to re-evaluate the deployment of nearly 500 security personnel during Mr. Modi’s movement in the Capital. This India Today report quotes a senior police official: “On October 3, a new set of guidelines for the security arrangements came from the PMO which clearly asked the Delhi Police to deploy only the required number of personnel for the prime minister’s security instead of turning the city into a fortress.”

The constable deserves praise for having had the courage to speak up to the Prime Minister! Police personnel are usually silent in the presence of ministers, legislators and politicians since speaking up may invite overt or covert punishment.

Equally importantly, it must be appreciated that Mr. Modi took the constable’s feedback in the proper spirit!! Politicians normally do not act on inconvenient feedback from policemen and government employees, but ‘reward’ the giver of such blunt feedback with some form of punishment.

Will we see more persons following the constable’s example and more politicians following Mr. Modi’s example?

I believe that this incident will inspire more persons to give honest feedback to Mr. Modi. If Mr. Modi responds to all such feedback in the proper spirit, we will see more politicians following his example. Change will not take place overnight, but it will take place.

What do you think?

Turn the other cheek? Or offer to slap back?

(The “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan” was launched on October 02, 2014. The least we as citizens can do to contribute to a cleaner India is to ensure that we, and everybody around us, dispose of garbage in the proper way. I am re-posting ‘Turn the other cheek? Or offer to slap back?’, which had originally been posted on October 03, 2013.)

Early one morning, while I was walking down my street to the local park for my daily walk, I saw a young man come out of the house where he worked as a domestic help, carrying a garbage bag. Just as he was about to drop the garbage bag on the footpath, next to the gate of the house, a middle-aged woman, who was sweeping the courtyard of the opposite house, where she worked as a domestic help, politely requested him to throw the garbage bag into the dustbin barely 50 feet away.

Giving the woman an insolent look, the young man replied, “This street does not belong to you or your employer. You bother about keeping your employer’s house clean,” and dropped the bag on the footpath. The woman replied in a slightly raised voice, “If you don’t pick up that bag right now and throw it in the dustbin, I’ll open it and empty the contents in your employer’s house! This street belongs to all of us. Nobody has the right to dirty it.” The young man realised he had met his match. He quietly picked up the garbage bag, walked down the street and threw the garbage bag into the dustbin.

I was filled with admiration and respect for the woman.

When I related this incident to a friend who lives in another city, he recalled that, a few years back, his neighbours, both educated, English-speaking persons, used to keep their garbage bag not outside their own flat, but across the corridor outside my friend’s flat. My friend politely requested his neighbours a number of times to refrain from doing this, but without any result. The neighbours’ invariable reply was, “We’ve told the maid so many times! OK, we’ll tell her again.” My friend knew the neighbours were bluffing, but didn’t want to make a big issue of a seemingly trivial matter. One day, when he ran out of patience, my friend told his neighbours almost exactly what I had heard the woman tell the young man: that he would empty the contents of the neighbour’s garbage bag in the neighbour’s drawing room! That yielded the desired result!!

These are only two examples of how polite requests often fall on deaf ears. If you ‘turn the other cheek’ to some people, they will reward you with a second slap! With such people, it is only a real threat of penalty or retaliation that works! This is not restricted to any particular category of people. Educational qualification, socio-economic status, etc. have absolutely nothing to do with it.

If more of us emulate the attitude and behaviour that the woman and my friend had displayed, people like the young man and my friend’s neighbour will change for the better! Then, we will have no need to ‘turn the other cheek’ because there would no ‘slap’ in the first place!!