Why Is India So Dirty?

Posted by Deepak Kumar
June 7, 2017
It is New Delhi. You can see foreigners wandering on the sidewalk trying to lay their eyes upon something – something green, big, and basket-shaped. Something which must be found on the side of the road as it is important to maintain hygiene. They wander for a while asking people around, about it. No one seems to be able to help them. They take a look at other people littering the road with paper cans and wrappers. They are visibly disappointed. After loitering about for a while and being visibly helpless, in a final moment of awakening, they throw whatever trash is in their hands on the littered pathway. In that moment, they turn Indian.

People don’t learn about India through pictures. They learn about India through experiences. And some experiences are dreadful for those who are not accustomed to such unhygienic practices.
People easily blame municipal corporations for the ill-management of dustbins in a city. But they don’t realise the core problem. The problem every Indian suffers from; the mentality that anyplace outside one’s home is not home (and consequently), not our responsibility to keep clean.
A friend from Indore once told me that the Indore Municipal Corporation had taken an initiative to put dustbins in public places so that people kept the place clean. What went wrong? The people took away all the dustbins! Where to? Perhaps to their own homes. Why? Because places outside their homes were not worth cleaning. The dustbins were misplaced according to their misplaced logic.
If such things happen, how do you expect people to care about public hygiene? Forget the graver issue of public urination – but dustbins?
While we are on the topic, let us talk about how stark the difference is between international and Indian practices of waste disposal. Abroad, there are different colours which are used for dustbins to dump different kinds of wastes. Green for recyclables, red for glass waste, blue for non-biodegradables, and yellow for plastics, polythene, polystyrene, etc. The colour coding is used by various medical and research facilities internationally. Sadly, in India, this coding is only used as a visual admixture t0 demand extra money for a false facility.
I had once read a blog by Devinder Sharma called ‘India is world’s biggest dustbin’.
The world’s largest industrial disaster, killing and maiming thousands more in the years to come, is a reflection of what India has come down to. Not drawing any lessons from the Bhopal tragedy, India has relied on hazardous and toxic technologies. In fact, it has opened its doors wide enough for dirty technologies and products.
In his blog post, Devinder Sharma writes that he was amused to read that the environment minister Jairam Ramesh, had told journalists that he had handled some waste and had did not become ill. And in the words of author Indra Sinha, this was like touching a cigarette and saying, “Look, I haven’t got lung cancer.”
In an accompanying editorial, the Hindustan Times talked about the Kaiga nuclear plant leak in 2009, another disaster in which about 100 workers were exposed to increased levels of tritium from a contaminated water cooler. Ship-breaking is an exercise which is highly polluting the environment and damaging to the people who are involved, and yet, India has emerged as the prime destination for ship-breaking in the world. Asbestos, which has been banned in several countries for its carcinogenic properties, is again welcome in India. PET bottles are sent all the way from the US to India for recycling and shipped back. The US does not allow recycling of PET bottles. The list of such hazardous imports is endless.
All encompassing, the core problem which I talked about earlier remains the same. As long as we think that the space outside our home is not our home and go on deriding it with wastes (toxic or not), we will always be living in a big fat garbage pile and sure as hell die inside it. ‘World’s Biggest Dustbin’ – a title befitting the nation of litterers.
When it comes to littering, I had my own epiphany. Once, a senior colleague of mine saw me throwing a chocolate wrapper on the street. She voluntarily picked it up for me and criticised me for littering. As embarrassed as I was, I tried to take the defensive route of. “It is already dirty, what difference does it make?”. She eventually made me realise that if everyone starts thinking that one wrapper does not make a difference, the whole world will become a pile of garbage. And conversely, if everyone starts picking up after themselves, the whole world could become a clean paradise.
From that day onwards, I learnt to keep any trash in my hand or pocket until I could find a dustbin. I believe that these little things may do wonders, and if all of us start doing the same, we will at least be able to eliminate the smaller problem. Furthermore, the day people like us become a part of the government, the bigger problem shall be solved.
We must understand that it is not the government which changes the people, it is always the people who change the government.