By Saurabh Gandhi:
No one likes dirt. Some are forced to live in unhygienic conditions. Some think that it’s alright as long as it’s not in my backyard. Some believe that it’s the sole responsibility of the government to keep the city clean. Some want to make a change but wonder how they would look carrying around a broom in the locality. Some don’t even know the harm that accumulated waste can cause to their health because it has become ‘normal’ and ‘non-optional’ for them to live in such surroundings.
Nehrunagar slum and Sabarmati area – the problem of absence of cleanliness and sanitation in these places in Gujarat was caused by factors ranging from compulsion to ignorance to mere indifference. The state government had declared “Clean Gujarat” or “Nirmal Gujarat” (in local parlance) as the theme for the year 2007-08. However, unlike law and order, maintaining cleanliness cannot be achieved with an iron fist.
The picture above is of Nehrunagar slum located opposite to bus depot on Hatkeshwar Mahadev temple road at Amrawadi. But this picture is old. Now things have changed to a great extent. What used to happen in this area, was that, the waste that you can see provided the slum dwellers with a source of income. People separated the saleable paper and other stuff and earned some money by selling it. But the problem was that the remaining waste was left there to rot and cause diseases in the area. The money that they earned was spent in the treatment of those diseases.
It was around this time that the Municipal Corporation started a cleanliness drive. But then explaining to the people of the area that their so-called “source of livelihood” was actually causing more harm to them and their children was not an easy task. An NGO gave a helping hand and started spreading awareness among the people and gathered the youth and women in the area and cleaned up the place and put two dustbins there. Now the local people understand the health benefits of cleanliness and demand more dustbins.
A similar problem was faced by Hemant Vyas, living in the Sabarmati area of Ahmedabad. His home was near a vegetable market. There was also a hospital nearby. A lot of waste had accumulated in the area. It was not only household waste but also medical waste. Everyone – from the families living there to the vegetable vendors to the doctors and the patients — was troubled but no one did anything. Vyas, a lecturer in a college, along with many of his doctor friends approached the city officials and convinced them to help Â in the cleaning. With this initiative, the place was not only cleaned but ‘wait-for-it’ a garden was built there.
These two examples show us that where ignorance is the problem, it can be removed through spreading awareness and where indifference exists, it can be fought with someone taking an initiative. Does the government really need to ask Amir Khan and Vidya Balan to tell us how important cleanliness and sanitation are? Or do we need more NGO’s to spread awareness through direct people to people interactions at an individual level and more individuals like Hemant Vyas who inspire others through their initiatives?