Early in the morning on a warm Sunday seemed the perfect time to go for a walk on Juhu beach in Mumbai, before the city woke up and masses of humanity overcame everything. Besides a few young kids playing cricket on the beach before their 10am curfew, I am essentially alone. I stand still, looking at the ocean, behind me the beautiful grounds of the Theosophical society. It should be the perfect place to get a moment of peace away from the hustle of bustle of Mumbai. But try as I may, my gaze kept coming back to the trash strewn all over the beach – modern human trash of bottles, plastic, old clothes, food wrappers – just carelessly left behind by the beach visitors the day before.
Walk anywhere in most Indian city, and you will finds trash everywhere. Whether it be a working class colony or a street of multi-million dollar apartments.
Are Indians just inherently dirty? That is hard to believe. Visit most people’s home, whether rich or poor, and they are kept neat and clean – swept and mopped almost every day.
While visiting a friend in a posh suburb of Mumbai, I noticed a food wrapper had fallen on the ground. His father just casually pushed the wrapper with his feet over the edge of the balcony and let it fall to the ground below.
If the wrapper is trash for your apartment floor, then why isn’t it trash for the ground below. Herein lays the crux of the issue.
Indians in general have a very different relationship with the environment outside their homes compared to western countries. One’s home is a sanctuary, but outside is essentially free for all and individuals do not seem to have any sense of responsibility to it – it is someone else’s problem. In the West it would not be uncommon to see people volunteer to clean up their community on weekends. I have seen groups of people picking up litter from the side of the street on weekends. When little league baseball season starts, dozens of ordinary people, some quite well to do, will get together and clean up the fields, picking up trash, raking, mulching etc. – creating a clean, beautiful, safe outdoors community environment for their kids. This would never happen in India. Public spaces are dumping grounds, as long as you cannot see it from your home, it is ok. Cleaning it up is the responsibility of the government, municipality or someone else.
India has had tremendous economic growth in the last decade and a half. However can a society truly progress with a callous attitude towards its environment? Can true living standards be raised without care of the community and public spaces around us? Is it real progress if we live in nice million dollar apartments and houses, but outside there is trash, dirt and an unhealthy environment? My friends in India take exception to this and point out examples of some clean areas – but the fact that the clean areas is the exception rather than the rule, says it all.
The irony is that the Indian culture refers to Mother earth with reverence and in song and literature the soil of our land is glorified. Yet for all its talk, the reality is that in India we have no issue disrespecting mother earth and throwing our trash on her face.