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Coming clean on why filth fails to move India

By Administrator on July 20, 2016

Even for an undying optimist enthusiast like me, the top-of-the-pile negative reality is that India is dirty – plain and simple. Opinions vary why change is super slow and minuscule, even negligible, despite the government of the day building a huge campaign around cleanliness.

While India being third world and thus poor and lacking resources is the obvious explanation, many attribute it to poor governance, to a whole set of people who are just not interested in the concept of cleanliness, and are oblivious to the sights, sounds and odour that are nothing less than offensive to a visitor.

An average Indian does take pride in keeping the house clean, whatever be its shape and size, but when it comes to the neighbourhood, forget city-zenhood, the moral compass of cleanliness takes a knock. A dirty city, the filthy outdoors bother very few. A dirty house is what India cannot tolerate.

As SabTera, a social enterprise, ventured into its community outreach programme in Janta Colony, one of the economically weaker areas surrounding a relatively posh city that Chandigarh is, the visual assault was apparent. For an outsider, the narrow lanes, the open drains and the filth that only keeps adding up are the first thoughts and the first issues one wants to fix immediately.

But how does one inspire an entire population to clean up the area they live in? The fact that the houses are kept clean is an indicator that the idea of what cleanliness means and signifies is not lost on them. But why does this dignity of life that cleanliness exemplifies disappear the moment these very people step out of their houses.

That’s where the challenge lies — instilling in minds the concept of collective, shared lives. The idea that a dirty street is a reflection of everyone’s life, that a filthy corner only shows how filth is acceptable when clearly there is no place for it.

The experiences of Janta Colony are varied, interesting and eye-opening.

As we went through similar houses greeting parents and children, we stopped rooted near this one house which was like an oasis among the mire of unkempt, haphazard line of tiny homes. This particular house had a creeper at the gates — beautiful trees and plants around and a little room with this lady, Vidya, sitting under her room fan exhausted by the sheer weather these sultry months bring along.

We walked in without seeking permission, a given for Indian homes, though let it be known that those who have less show greater warmth in welcoming visitors.

We learn that Vidyaji has been a widow for the last 20 years. Her husband worked at Mount View Hotel as a gardener and carried that learning even to his own home, no wonder it is so pretty and green. Even Vidyaji prefers to keep her house spotless. “I sweep the house at least twice a day,” she says as these leaves keep dropping.

She gets a monthly pension of Rs 1,400 (an amount a group of 3-4 friends can spend on just a cup of coffee in Mount View where Vidyaji’s husband worked). Her son and daughter-in-law work in PGI as house helps.

She does not really get along with her “difficult” daughter-in-law, as he puts it, but loves her grandchildren and has kept her independence from her son. “Many people come by and ask for water because my place is seemingly cleaner,” she says.

We had actually found our role model – if this 65-year-old can do it, surely the others can be inspired. She can tell them why she prefers to sweep her house a couple of times —  “I like it that way.” It has nothing to do with economics but temperament.

As we are about to leave, she mumbles a few words. We ask her to repeat. “Will you give me a job?” she asks. We could have answered there and then: “We give you a job? You are already doing a job that is so worthy, more than you can ever imagine.”


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