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Saturday, December 8, 2001

Indians follow rules. Indians are law-abiding citizens. Indians keep their homes and surroundings spic and span. Indians don’t throw orange peels or papers from moving vehicles, nor do they litter public places or spit on the roads. Where do all these Indians live? In countries where importance is given to rules and where norms of community behaviour exist more in the practice than in the breach. The Indian whose civic behaviour abroad is exemplary does not think twice about littering public places once s/he reaches India? Recently I asked the security-check person in an airport if there was a dustbinaround to deposit the paper in my hand. To my surprise, he offered to take care of it for me. He took the paper from my hand and before my very eyes threw it right on the floor! Why bother to be responsible when no one around is? The natural direction of water-flow is downwards. The natural direction for most behaviour is the accepted and easy way. We keep our homes clean, and make our streets, parks and playgrounds dirty. This is a cultural issue.

President Naraynan cites Malcolm Adiseshaiah referring to his mother, “a high born lady who kept her house spotlessly clean. Every morning she used to sweep and clean the household herself and then dump the rubbish in the neighbour’s yard.” Fortunately solving public littering does not require high literacy, technology or resources. Most of us would follow rules, which are strictly enforced. If Indians can change their habits abroad, we can change them here too. First the MCH should provide facilities like dustbins and trashcans in all public places like parks and roads and make provisions to have them cleared once or more everyday. A campaign should be launched to make people aware of the clean-up drive. In theatres, shopping malls etc the owners should take responsibility to provide dust bins. Out of force of habit people may still dump things anywhere and everywhere. But with trained staff, rules can be enforced. In apartment complexes nowadays we see statues and portraits of gods and goddesses in corners to prevent people from spitting. And it seems to work! A positive note is our prayer places in recent times are cleaner than they used to be.

Once public education is launched, and facilities are available for disposal of litter, strict rulesshould be framed with severe penalties for violations, like in Singapore. The fine is so heavy that nobody dares to throw litter in that little country. Most of all, we should start frowning on our fellow-citizens when they transgress the rules. Social pressure does work. Personal example, peer pressure, public education, and penalties for transgression – all taken together can easily keep our public places clean. The initiative should come from MCH and media.