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?