Admit it: when you are in a place where everything is spotless, and orderly… you more often than not do not need a sign that says “DON’T LITTER” or “KEEP CLEAN.” You comply with the norms of this miraculously immaculate environment. You’re scared to put something back in the wrong place, or exert too much force in case you break something or god forbid, leave a footprint that’ll spoil the picture I just gave you.
And yet… find yourself in a bustling market, replete with slush and noise and litter and once again, you comply. You’re happy to add to the litter and noise, splashing about in the muck, however fancy the (now torn and written over) DON’T LITTER signs are. Perhaps it’s the usual argument of one person cannot undo this mess. Or that you don’t even bother rationalising: when in muck, act like pigs do.
Collectively, our attitude towards India’s lack of cleanliness is quite flippant. Sure, it’s a topic of conversation. We’ve all had the “How is it that we don’t litter when we go abroad but the minute we enter India, we’re back to littering?” chat. Or the “I just went to ___ street today. I’m not going there again, even if I really need to buy something.” We throw a chocolate wrapper in a dustbin and feel like a ninja, but in another instance, when there is no dustbin in sight… we let it join a pile of waste by the pavement, as hey, whoever is cleaning that up can take care of the chocolate wrapper too.
Sometimes, when there’s a plastic cover (yeah, those still aren’t going anywhere, despite being charged for in grocery stores) around, we might find the heart to dispose a milkshake carton or two in it, and search for a dustbin later. Mostly, though, it goes out of the bus window because otherwise it might ruin our backpack. Yes, that’s personal cleanliness at the cost of public cleanliness. Because we feel no sense of ownership for our roads and bus stops. Why would we? They are so unclean! (And we’re not helping).
How do we pay heed to different rules in different situations? How can we turn our back to civic responsibility so easily?
Studies related to the Broken Window Theory offer an adequate, and alarming explanation. The Broken Window Theory, introduced in 1982 by Wilson and Kelling, says that when rules or social norms (such as to keep the roads clean, or not littering) are openly disregarded, the situation will only escalate in notoriety. Disorder (like graffiti), is shown to promote further disorder (littering) (Source: nasw.org); which, in turn, can lead to an accumulation of litter and even theft.
The solution provided by this theory is to “repair the broken window” before it leads to widespread vandalism and alternatively, to clear up the litter, which has already accumulated, that has and can lead to further disobedience and chaos.
A radical change to our environment can lead to a change in our mindset. This alone, makes the vision of a clean India important. It may finally put an end of the cycle of flippancy, and have us care about where we dispose waste and become more socially conscious. It may involve initiatives taken by groups of people and cannot be done overnight, but is not impossible. Following your own values, and sticking to them regardless of the setting, is also shown to be effective. When “offenders” look at people properly disposing garbage, it is found that offenders, too, stop littering and clean up after them. (Source)
Thanks to PM Modi addressing the issue, it is already receiving the real, undivided attention of many. Strepsils’ #AbMontuBolega campaign has also taken up this issue, urging people to raise their voice against “all that is dirty in our country.” With protagonist Montu and hashtag #AbMontuBolega encouraging people to speak up on issues that matter, it is a great way to raise awareness. Words are powerful, but hopefully it will lead to action… starting with acquiring a sense of personal responsibility, and eliminating litter and lack of hygiene at its root whenever and wherever possible.