Ruchira tells us about the unhygienic and unclean habits of Indians. Despite the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, a much-hyped cleanliness campaign, the brainchild of our honourable PM, the ground realities are contrary. Read more in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
A vital question. Tough to answer. Depends on one’s perception of cleanliness. We, the urban Indians, are familiar with the sight of housemaids sweeping the interiors and dumping the garbage besides neighbours’ doors. I am sure many among us living in high-rise buildings have, some time or the other, been drenched with dirty water from a bucket emptied by a casual maid on an upper floor. When you hang out washing to dry there are high chances of their being ruined by similar showers.
Indians’ Unclean Habits
Average Indians have this infamous habit of combing their hair (and beards too), rolling discarded hair into a tiny ball, and popping it out through the nearest window, without pausing to think how their little missile may cause discomfort to fellow humans.
It is disgusting to find bigger projectiles like discarded diapers, used sanitary napkins et al landing beneath your bedroom window, backyard or a manicured lawn. One can hail the scarlet betel-leaf (paan) mingled with saliva as the national paint; you come across it everywhere – lamp posts, fences, walls and staircase corners of commercial/ public buildings. I shamefacedly admit that several of my acquaintances too have a penchant for spitting on the streets. There is also an odious habit of littering the streets with handbills, soiled table napkins, wrapping paper, old newspaper and such like. If educated established people behave in this manner what can we expect from country clods?
Muck and Filth on Roads
Talking further about roads and streets, I have travelled abroad quite a few times; all cities have their flip sides, but in terms of filth and garbage accumulation Indians streets take the cake. One winter morning, many years ago, my family members were walking down from our lodge to the railway station in Shimla, when suddenly an upper story window of a roadside house flew open, and splash! A bowl of leftover lentils (daal) landed on my mother’s shoulder, ruining her beautiful sweater! The quintessential Indian mind!
Agents of Filth
Even otherwise, dog poop, cow and horse dung, putrid fruits and vegetables are to be found aplenty in our lanes and by-lanes. On winter mornings, be careful while walking on the street, lest you step on gobs of phlegm. I feel nauseated when auto-rickshaw drivers, during a red light, or traffic jam clear their throats, cough up all the mucus they can and then eject it on the roadside. Thirty minutes later you will find a pretty wet circle at the spot. Ugh! The other day, the rickshaw I was riding on, had halted at a traffic light; a motorcyclist levelled up with me, opened his visor and spat out phlegm, which luckily missed me by a fraction of an inch. “Can’t you see where you are spitting…? Are roads meant for spitting? Don’t you know about the cleanliness drives?” I hollered. Pat was the reply, “Kamaal karti hai madam hum ghar jaye kya thukne?” Another installment of ejection. The wondrous Bharatiya!
More Cellphones, Fewer Toilets
The crowning glory of India’s unhealthy (read unclean) habits and lack of hygiene is the proliferation of open-air (sit-anywhere) toilets. The fact that India has more mobile phones than toilets came as a shocker. I recall how once while waiting for the train at Yamuna Bank in Delhi, I saw an urban young mom making her toddler piddle right on the tracks! Good habits begin at home!
There are instances galore. I live close to a business district in East Delhi. Besides, the Karkardooma Court, which is almost always in news, stands the Central Pollution Control Board. There is also a slum cluster in the vicinity. Ironically, early morning joggers or other passersby have to negotiate varying quantities of faces on their way. In summer it gets worse when you have flies buzzing all over the place. As the shadows of evening lengthen, office-goers on their way home might bump into odd female slum dwellers lurking in the shadows, defecating unabashedly. The boundary walls of office complexes and commercial buildings double up as open-air urinals. At the end of each day, the odour that emanates is well, strong enough to beat all the perfumes of Arabia hollow.
Disturbing. Disgusting isn’t it? Think of us poor souls who have to live with this 365 days a year. The picture may vary only slightly, elsewhere. Isn’t it paradoxical that the organisation is unable to control pollution in its immediate surroundings?
Amazing that a country that is fast evolving as an economic, as well as nuclear superpower, can be so nonchalant about basic facilities for its populace. Is this the future of our India? Our youth may ride into space, plunge to oceans’ depths or climb snowy mountain peaks… but the ground realities back home are certainly not very encouraging. Incidentally, women of lower strata of society are worst-hit. However, it is encouraging that young women in Haryana have effectively begun the no-toilet-no-bride campaign. But a good deal remains to be done. A recent flick, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha was an eye-opener.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan is a much-hyped cleanliness campaign, the brainchild of our honourable PM. In the New Year, a three-month cleanliness competition has been incorporated. The public is expected to send their feedback on cleanliness measure big and small. No doubt some people will. But will these schemes deliver the goods? Will proper, functional toilets flourish near each and every slum cluster? Are the sweepers motivated to remove garbage instead of mere shoving it down roadside sewers? Will animal dung disappear? Will there be adequate urinals on major roads and streets?? Wastes dumped into designated bins? Like it or not, there is a rot deep within our system. And it must be stemmed from awareness and information. Rather than aping the West in terms of fashion, lifestyle, and gizmos, Indians must work hard to emulate the minimum, basic, hygienic living conditions. The time is now…
©Ruchira Adhikari Ghosh
Photos from the Internet
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