Are we an unclean nation?

Every time we visit a tourist spot in the UK, we end up asking this question – Why are our tourist places in India’ not as well maintained? My previous post had a lot of you commenting about this and I really felt that this needed a post of its own.

There is something about India and cleanliness. Most of our public places are atrociously dirty. We would find miles of rubbish and no dustbin anywhere. The saddest part is that even our holy places are more or less covered in filth. Now, before you guys start beating me up, let me try and analyse it out.

Some of the reasons that I can think of are

Government Apathy . I believe strongly, that governments with a will can make a difference.  We had gone to beautiful lake in Wayanad. It had all the right messages – ‘Do not litter’ , ‘No plastics’ etc.. it even had litter bins! And to be honest, there was no litter around – at least by Indian standards! However, even in this place, government apathy was visible. There was a small fresh water aquarium there and most of the tanks had sick looking fish and water that looked as if it had not been cleaned since ages! I found that so, so sad! When this is evident to a normal person like me,  why is it not evident to the authorities? Or is it that they just prefer to look the other way?

Isn’t it sad that so many of us, have seen so much more of places outside India, than in India. I find the Incredible India campaign really exciting! It makes me really sad that the beauty of a lot of these spectacular places get dimmed, when people talk about the inconvenience involved.

One thing that gave me solace though, was the fact that even the Eiffel Tower was covered in graffiti – made me happy that we Indians are not the only ones who feel the need to profess our love to so and so 🙂

In another tourist spot, in the same district, we came across the same noble messages, and this was a waterfall. So when we reached the waterfall – we found every kind of litter possible, hanging off trees and bushes. Now the waterfall is a few steps down – from the tourist information center – where they had provided bins and stuff. Clearly, people did not bother bringing up their litter – they just had to throw it where they stood.

That brings me to the second point

Apathy of the general public – I have had experiences of being called an ‘angrez’ – long before I even came abroad  – when all I had done was tell somebody that they could refrain from throwing garbage anywhere that pleased them. The attitude of so many people is – ‘I don’t care’!  Haven’t we all come across railway carriages full of peanut shells, sweets wrappers, newspaper bits.. anything and everything! I remember being told very strictly by my parents that throwing garbage anywhere else except the bins, was not done! And this basic rule, seems to have eluded most of us, Indians! And how do we change this? Clearly, we will not do anything unless there is a monetary aspect to it – so maybe the government should fine anybody who litters!

And why do I see most of you shaking your heads in disagreement? Because, we all know that fines are never really properly implemented, are they? Corruption in every level will probably ensure that fines would not really help.. Still, I think, it might be a step forward. Atleast the fear of fines, might prevent some people from throwing rubbish all over the place. I remember an old Doordarshan info clip, showing how we keep our houses spotless but would not think twice before dumping rubbish in public places! I remember someone saying that we, Indians, have a great need for ‘shuddhi’ (purification), but no real need for cleanliness!

Another complaint we keep hearing about India is the lack of public amenties like toilets. Most of us would not use a public toilet anywhere in India, thanks to the high hygiene standards that they adhere to! Here too, I think public apathy comes into play. While it is extremely easy to complain about it, I wonder how many of us do the basic things to ensure that the next person who uses the toilet is not inconvenienced! This is evident even in toilets in flights to India.. Within a minutes, the toilets would have water everywhere – toilet seats dirty, toilet tissue everywhere.. And this we do not get to see in flights to other destination. My husband was mentioning how at the client’s place, they had circulated a memo on the ‘correct usage of the toilet’!  Apparently people have complained that the condition of the toilets have deteriorated after the Indian vendors moved in! That is so shameful!

While, I do agree that we have a lot lacking in terms of infrastructure, we also have a lot of issues with people’s attitudes towards cleanliness and hygiene. I think, each of us can do our bit, by trying to, at the very least, leave the public toilet in a clean condition for the next person to use.. And teaching our children about the need to keep public places clean.

Littering does not just happen because people just go around throwing garbage wherever they please. In most of the cities that I have lived in, I had not found a very good system of household garbage disposal either. Most people leave the garbage outside their houses in polythene bags and these are shredded by neighbourhood dogs – if they get a chance! So now most people try and bring out the garbage, just before the garbage collectors come.. This might vary in some cities – I am just putting down my experience.. I do hope its better in some places at least! When we were living in Jamshedpur, in a Tata colony, I have to say  – the system was as good as the ones abroad. They had a huge garbage bin where everybody of a particular area would throw the garbage and this was periodically and systematically emptied! If one city can have this – why can’t this be replicated across? I think it has become a complex interlink of government apathy and public apathy.

Population is another aspect which we just cannot ignore.. With our steadily increasing population and so many people without access to basic amenities like water, expecting the country to be spic and span is a probably expecting too much! There is so much more to say, that I could go on and on… The one thing I feel strongly about is that , instead of pushing everything on our government, we could all do our bit. And that would make a difference.

Is it so difficult, to try throw garbage only in the bins provided, if there no garbage disposal system, carry back your garbage and dispose it off in a proper disposal?

To try and stop another person from littering?

To try and join local communties to see how we can make a difference…There is a lot being said about voting, but if we really want to make a difference, maybe, we need to get involved more.

One of the places that I had been to, during my last trip to India, had rubbish on the roads, pigs gorging on it and little children playing amidst all this – oblivious to all this! I certainly hope that one day, scenes like this – would truly, be something of the past! What do you think?

46 thoughts on “Are we an unclean nation?

  1. Smitha as i said before it is not possible in india with such a huge population and lack of awareness.Even where there is awareness people are not bothered to keep the place clean.
    Even our heritage places are spolied by the tourist,who write rubish on the walls.I have seen there were many poster requesting people not to write but still no one is bothered.When we tell someone not to write he will say “tera bapa ka property ha kaya” (personal experience)They don’t know the importance of our heritage sites.Govt is doing a lot on this but still most of them are being spoiled.

    • Yes, Varunavi – What you say is true.. Its sad isn’t it? I know I have had experiences like that too 😦 I think its sad that people don’t have a sense of pride in their heritage.. Not everybody though, but still a considerable number…
      We are certainly to blame for the state of our country.

  2. Among the many reasons for this lack of cleanliness that we see in India are two fundamental ones, to change which will take some doing. One is that we have a sense of personal cleanliness only. That ends at the boundary of our space, be it home or work. The concept of having a similar social responsibility is alien; that is why you were called “angrez”. The second is that “internal cleanliness” has culturally been considered more important for thousands of years. In the West, people bathe to clean their bodies; here, the act of bathing has been associated with “purifying” oneself more than just getting the dirt off the body.

    Will all that change? Not in a hurry, it seems.

    • Vinod Sir! Welcome here! I was missing your comments ! Was actually going to ask email you:) Delighted!

      Yes, I think you have pulled out the 2 most important concepts! Yes, we really donot have the ‘social responsibility’ that other countries seem to have.. And you are so right when you talk about ‘internal cleanliness’.. Things will not change in a hurry – as far as it does change…

  3. as much as i wanted to avoid this post… i couldnt… 😦

    I dont knwo waht i can do to change it, but i make sure i dont litter anywhere, we carry extra bags when we travel so as to keep the kachra in the polythene…

    my group is thankfully quite aware… yes it is a big problem… and lots of work needs to be done… but charity as they say starts at home… and it has started at my home…

    • Dhiren, Why are you so angry at me for bringing this topic? And why stay away ? You should come and give your views! Am sure there will be something for all of us learn 🙂

      And yes, charity does begin at home and if we all pitch – I am sure we will make a difference.. If not today – definitely tomorrow.. Please come back here and tell us all your views:)

  4. I aint angry with you smitha… not at all… i could neve be 🙂

    there are many shortcomings in our country… sure.. and they must be rectified…

    just they twitch me ! 😦

    • Thank you Dhiren!
      Yes, India does have a lot of shortcomings and despite all that – it is the place we all call home! It is certainly Incredible India – just that it needs a little cleaning up 🙂

  5. I so agree. I think we need to take responsibility of our actions each one of us that alone can make things work. Another thing I feel we all struggle hard to keep our houses and premises clean but when it comes to shared toilets (even at offices) or public places we don’t care. I always thought people who travel by Rajdhani are normally working class and educated people. They will immediately complain if the food served is cold or not good but after eating food they will be the first one to throw that papers below the seats !! Pathetic.
    There should not be excuses I feel. Every tiny bit helps.

    • Yes, Bluemist – There really should be no excuses.. And you are so right about educated people behaving in the same way.. That is actually more difficult to digest.. It probably just goes to show how deeply this is ingrained in people…and how difficult it will be for all this to change.

  6. ”One thing that gave me solace though, was the fact that even the Eiffel Tower was covered in graffiti – made me happy that we Indians are not the only ones who feel the need to profess our love to so and so ”
    Had a huge laugh at that one !

    Yeah India needs to wake up and fast!This apathy is so visible in not just the attitude of the governments but also the attitude of the aaam India..We happily throw our kuda karkat down the balcony, we religiously sweep our houses and leave the rubbish right outside our door……its like we have these invisible lines in our minds that only we can see relly clearly…and it says that beyond such and such point its not our responsibility to do anything…the concept of cleanliness is alien to us…

    We happily piss at corners, throw wrappers out of flashy crore rupees cars, we spit, scratch and do a dozen more things..all very happily…

    Graffiti? WE Indians have made an art out of it!

    X loves (heart with an arrow:lol:)Y and what not!

    Its so hilarious and yet so so depressing!


    This change needs to come in our personal attitudes and I dont see that happening anytime soon…

    • Indyeah, Agree with you. In some ways, I really feel that we as a people have more to blame than our government! We revel in being this way. I have heard so many people say – ‘Hum to aise hi hai’ – as if it is something to be proud of! As if it’s some badge of honour! That is what actually enrages me. I actually forgot about this but, the Asian parts of UK – especially London – is equally squalid! And that makes me so ashamed – that this is what we bring ? Is this our mark of distinction? That actually reminds me – I have heard this – not sure how true this is though. Apparently there is a part of London, a predominantly Asian part, where the local council refused to clean, because people were just not maintaining it.. Not really sure if it is true though..
      As for graffiti – I have seen equally talented 🙂 ones abroad too 🙂 But yes, we take it to another level by creating toilets all around – especially on walls and corners 🙂
      Our personal attitudes have to change.. I guess what the government can do is bring out campaigns to instill this in our people…

  7. Agree with bluemist…its sad to see educated ppl behaving in this way..and its more annoying when they suddenly become so civilised in foreign country…
    Abdul kalam once raised the same point in his speech…..We sit back wanting to be pampered and expect the government to do everything for us whilst our contribution is totally negative. We expect the government to clean up but we are not going to stop chucking garbage all over the place nor are we going to stop to pick a up a stray piece of paper and throw it in the bin. We expect the railways to provide clean bathrooms but we are not going to learn the proper use of bathrooms. We want Indian Airlines and Air India to provide the best of food and toiletries but we are not going to stop pilfering at the least opportunity.

    • Rashmi – Totally agree! We are too ready to blame everything on the government, without doing anything to help ourselves! Agree with everything you say!! Wish more Indians thought like you! And yes, the most shocking thing is that the educated lot are equally bad!

  8. Hey Smitha,
    I think it is apathy that is the main problem…. 🙂 people take pleasure in pissing in public… 😦 and spitting as well…. thanks to paan and what not….

    similarly, yes the gov does have its role to play, but the most important role should be played by the people……

    only yesterday, I had to face some uncomfortable questions regarding “mumbai” as one of my clients had watched the film over the weekend…. 🙂
    population and poverty are other important issues….

    • Ajit, How could I forget about Paan!!! Yes – that is a total menace! Can’t tell you how many times I have narrowly missed by a ‘paan missile’!!! You know, in Jamshedpur, the Tatas would go to great lengths to whitewash and paint all the flats and within a day, you could see paan spit in all the corners in the common areas! And this time, when I went to our apartment in Bangalore -I was amazed to see paan marks there as well!! Its unbelievable!

      Govt does have a part to play, but unless, we, the people wake up to this – no matter what the govt does, things will remain the same..
      Population and Poverty also add to the existing chaos.. The reason I did not go into great lengths over it, is because poverty does not necessarily convert into this kind of behaviour.. In the slums , I think the equation is different.
      What worries me most is that educated folk don’t care, and think that it is their ‘right’ to go on behaving like this!

      ‘ only yesterday, I had to face some uncomfortable questions regarding “mumbai” as one of my clients had watched the film over the weekend…’ That is the most uncomfortable thing – to have to defend your country in something like this… I have gone through that 😦 What can we do, but hope that things will change.. and do our bit..

  9. I agree wholly and especially on the population bit being the major cause for such a situation in our country. But more often than not, I find the educated lot involving in public spitting and littering. I mean, if its a person who is illiterate and who is not aware of the negatives of dumping, cleanliness,etc. I can understand. Its like Education doesnt make a difference at all on these lot??

    • Vimmuuu – Yes, it is the educated lot’s behaviour, which is more scary! Yes, its as if education makes no difference. And I have come across, highly educated people, from premier institutes – who do this kind of thing.. I think it’s a cultural thing.. A lot of people are actually proud of it! As if , this is what defines their ‘Indianness’!

  10. We carry our bags wherever we go, and even if there is litter around we don’t add ours to it, and we have been called ‘angrez’ too. I think we Indians have just got used to throwing litter, and seeing litter thrown everywhere, but also consider the slums … we have a vermiculture pit for our garbage, but in the slums not too far from where we live, there are only five toilets for around 300-500 people (guessing the numbers). It’s an illegal encroachment – now authorised, I cannot imagine them bothering with cleanliness. They just throw their garbage across the roads, their children also can be seen squatting their anytime of the day. If nothing else if there was someone employed to clean those unusable toilets – like see in food malls on highways, I am sure it will make a difference.
    Very relevant post Smitha!

    • Thank you IHM! The slums are a totally different story isn’t it? I did not even touch slums – as I was not really sure of a lot of things. Yes, it is difficult for them to bother about cleanliness when there are ‘ive toilets for around 300-500 people’. This is where, I would say, that the government needs to come in! There are the areas where the govt needs to take an initiative. It would surely make a difference.. I think half of the initiatives of the govt get eaten up by corruption! So even if the right intentions are there, things get waylaid, by corruption..

  11. A pertinent post, Smitha! And yes, government apathy, public apathy, individual apathy, all add up to the way in which we find ourselves!

    In school, this is so very evident. The ones who have been instructed from home to not litter, and those who are forced to not litter, because of rules n stuff! So instead of taking class, each morning, I used to spend at least 10 minutes asking them what they have done to make their surrounding better:) Telling them does not work. The net result was that the class rubbish bin started overflowing with toffee wrappers they collected from here and there on the campus, and the kids of neighbouring classes started calling them “pichakaara”s :D! It could be very off putting for young ones who find ideals only to find they are not appreciated 🙂

    Still we ploughed on… and at least sorted a few things by thinking of how we could be better!

    This is a great post on the possibilities one should work towards! Thanks Smitha, also , for dropping by for the housewarming!

    • Usha, Welcome here! Thank you so much for visiting!

      ‘So instead of taking class, each morning, I used to spend at least 10 minutes asking them what they have done to make their surrounding better:) Telling them does not work. The net result was that the class rubbish bin started overflowing with toffee wrappers they collected from here and there on the campus, and the kids of neighbouring classes started calling them “pichakaara”s 😀 ! It could be very off putting for young ones who find ideals only to find they are not appreciated ‘
      I so agree! I think the peer pressure definitely puts off a lot of children! So even if these things are drilled into them, sometimes children might want to blend in with their peers! You know what, there is a pre-school channel here in the UK, called Cbeebies. Its from the BBC and they make it sound so much fun, to do these things! I think just watching it makes the children want to clean up! I wish we had programmes like this in India. They do not preach – they just make it part of the game and children also get awarded for it! They get ‘green stars’ ! But again, this can work only if the parents and teachers participate! Thank god we’ve got teachers like you and Indyeah 🙂

  12. Yes! we are. I have seen people calling the ones who follow rules as ‘angrez’ too. Also the ones who follow all rules and regulations abroad too goes back and litter Indian streets. Dogs and Men take to the walls.

    Last time when I visited Qutab Minar, I just couldn’t stand there because of the stink. We keep cribbing that govt. doesn’t maintain it but even the people don’t help.

    • Solilo – Yes!! The enjoy the ‘freedom’ in India to do whatever pleases them!!! I find it so disgusting! People definitely do not help! Like somebody said – ‘In India, for the men – every place is a urinal’!!!!

  13. I agree with your post and have a similar observations but over the years have come to associate this with the caste system and its vicious hold over the Indian psyche. Cleaning up or not littering is not the upper castes responsibility – they have a right to litter wherever they feel like and some minion is supposed to be cleaning up behind them. I have seen the most well educated people litter; some for want of conveniently placed litter bins and some as a matter of choice.

    My last three years in Chennai were an experience. We had a private contractor looking after cleaning the roads and garbage in Chennai. The contractor would operate by night and the roads and most surroundings would be sparkling cleanby about 5 am in the morning, but come 7 am and the littering would start and by evening, the contractor and his men would have to earn their pay again. Do hope that things would start improving…..the only way is if most of us educated people lead the way.

    • JPJ, You make a very valid point! ‘over the years have come to associate this with the caste system and its vicious hold over the Indian psyche. Cleaning up or not littering is not the upper castes responsibility – they have a right to litter wherever they feel like and some minion is supposed to be cleaning up behind them’ !
      It is so sad isn’t it that people feel that its their ‘right’ to litter! The people who litter ‘as a matter of choice’ is the problem! Until that mindset changes – little will change! Yes, we educated people have to lead by example!

  14. We are…we def are not because, we dont have sense of cleanliness….but its because we dont give a damn if its not personally ours …..we dont throw a banana skin, spit a bubblegum on the road from a moving vehicle in any other country when we are there coz, we are too scared to misbehave…though literally no one cares/notices you in most of foreign countries….we care, abt what they think!!
    but back at home…we know for sure ppl look/notice but we dont care…..we think its stylish, its fashion, its something to be proud of…..Arghhhhhhhhhhhh I somehow feel so frustrated thinking WHY?????

    I cross roads only at pedestrian crossings, when signals are there….but its me who is more in danger than a person running in middle of road….
    I dont throw kachara on road, but like to throw in a dust bin but was faced with a challenge finding a dust bin to throw this into….finally i gave up…………and so started carrying a plastic bag with me, to collect if any and throw in a bin later….Aaah i am laughed at saying I carry a dust bin with me !!
    Well, to be honest with you…I dont care what someone says!

    My policy, Be the change you want to see!! !

  15. You don’t find any dustbins in most of the places . Even the developed parts of cities , with a few exceptions . I think that is one major factor , at least in my case . Where am I supposed to throw something if I want to ? The best I can do is to look for a place where there is an existing heap of garbage , and throw it there .

    • Kislay, I agree that we donot find dustbins in most of the places.. I carry plastic bags and carry my junk home.. But that might not be possible always.. The govt should be doing more, without a doubt.. At the same time, I feel we should also do our bit.. I have seen people throw littering away – even when there are bins..

  16. Very good post, Smitha! I see so many long comments. Everyone is affected by this.

    I had visited Srirangam temple recently. I saw toilets in each and every road. You have to pay just Rs.1 (the amount differed from one place to another!) to use it. Still I saw men dirtying the walls of the toilet itself, which was just outside the compound wall of the ancient temple. When people do not bother to keep even the area surrounding the temple, we cannot expect them to keep other places clean. We too carry carry bags to keep the empty coffee cups or wrappers, when we travel.

    When I watched the movie ‘Wall E’ I felt that our earth is really going to become like that with all the platics, we are throwing. I take jute bag with me when I go shopping. But most of the things are already wrapped in plastic bags. Till some years back, we were carrying our own bags to buy vegetables and provisions were packed in paper cones. Now, when I think about it, it is funny. Even I think plastic packets are easier to handle!

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