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?

12 thoughts on “What can I do if ‘they’ litter?

  1. I found this interesting video in Facebook:

    While we could emulate this person, there are numerous other ways we could get this done… the sky is the limit if we set our minds on the path to cleanliness. Like cricket commentaries we could spread the mass awareness. Since Indians are “adults” and will not blindly follow rules, we might need to invent “reasons” for keeping surroundings clean. Avoidance of “Ebola” or other epidemic diseases could be one. We could take the help of technology ..like periodic announcements (I have seen talking trash cans in a Chicago temple !) or video scoreboards of the next celebrity cleaning event. We could have traffic police double as cleanliness police who could fine people for littering or urinating in non-designated places (think Singapore). Hope Jayalalitha comes back to build the clean toilets (logical next step after the feeding places) !

  2. So true. We can change no one by talking, but we can change many more people, by setting an example in front of them. This reminds me of Kabeer’s doha…yet again ” Bura jo dekhan main chala, bura na miliya koye, jo main dekhan aapno, mujhse bura na koye”. I am often reminded of this quote, by myself, to myself. 🙂

  3. Yes, we can keep India clean…if each one of us does our best with most sincerity and without judging the fellow Indians. Sometimes I think a bigger issue with this Clean India campaign is bringing efficient practices of waste management. For example, in some parts of my town we don’t have even enough bins where households can throw their garbage. Everyone throws it on a street corner from where the dogs and sheep roaming freely do their best to spill it all around. So while civic sense is a key ingredient, another thing is to have civic authorities provide effective services for waste collection and management.

  4. There is nothing to stop anyone from politely telling the persons whether in the cinema theatre or the road side to drop the wrapper or plate in the nearest dustbin. Possibly a small contribution to the campaign.

  5. This is a great initiative and this campaign has indeed created an awareness on the importance of clean India. The power to end littering is in our hands. Each one of us has to take up the responsibility.

  6. To this day, I remember hesitating when I saw a kid in front of me on the bus crumple a chocolate wrapper. He was definitely going to throw the wrapper out of the window (which he did), but I don’t know what made me wait till he had his hand out of the window. Of course, I couldn’t tell him off afterwards. And I hadn’t wanted to tell him off before to avoid speaking too soon. Yet, I feel guilty. And I have made it a point not to remain quiet. Somehow, it’s better to speak too soon than too late.
    Your post also reminds me of the story of Lord Buddha. A mother came to Buddha and complained that her child was eating too much jaggery. Buddha asked the lady to come back after a couple days and bring her son with her. The mother returned with her son on the third day. Buddha then told the little boy, “Son, you shouldn’t eat a lot of jaggery everyday. From today onwards, be a good boy and eat less jaggery.” The mother asked Buddha, “If this is all that you wanted to say, why didn’t you say so on the first day that I came to you?” Buddha replied, “Till that time, even I had a habit of eating a lot of jaggery. In those three days after you came, I cut back on my consumption, for how can I advise your child against something that I, myself, do not adhere to?” Only when you, yourself, adopt the right measures can you expect others to change. Now, I find myself picking up after others and myself and it gives me a sense of achievement and satisfaction. Moat times I feel lazy, but the guilt afterwards keeps on nagging me and I’ve learnt that it’s better to take a few seconds to keep your surroundings clean than live with that guilty feeling.
    Thanks for sharing this post and spreading awareness. Cheers to working towards a cleaner India… 🙂

  7. I think we all can make a difference. India will not be clean overnight but yes, each one taking initiatives to do his/her bit and ensuring that others around us do their bit too, we will achieve the goal of a Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.

  8. We are trying to coordinate such a campaign to cover the street we reside in. The state of cleanliness is such that it presents an ample opportunity.

  9. They segregate wet and dry wastage at collection point. But what happens at the end point? I bet they dump it all together again. There is zero accountability everywhere.
    My neighbours (are doctors) used to keep their dustbin un-lidded for days, until the mosquitoes multiplied. I requested them to lid it. I mean, simple common sense, but it still needs to be repeatedly hammered in.

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