Beneath the clatter of breaking news, a slow but extraordinary change is underway. Today’s Indians seem to be developing a civic sense at last.
Papers and social media are running a story of a Muslim-dominated village in UP’s Bijnor where citizens turned down Rs 17.5 lakh of government money and instead collected funds to build toilets as a good Ramzan deed. In Mubarakpur Kala, only 146 families had toilets in their houses. Others used the fields. On Friday, the village was declared open defecation-free.
This is not one-off.
Social media recently picked up the story of Versova residents led by lawyer Afroz Shah, cleaning Mumbai’s dirtiest beach. A photograph taken by Versova volunteer Jaya Rathod and posted to thank him on Twitter got a more than 12,000 likes and 6,000 retweets within 24 hours. The residents have now started transforming the Versova beach into a coconut lagoon with a target of planting 3,000 to 4,000 trees in two years. The planting work has already started.
#ICYMI 85 weeks later, Mumbai beach has undergone an astounding makeover. Read: https://t.co/VQ6ZFLtw5o #CleanSeas @AfrozShah1 pic.twitter.com/qOWjFKza7J— UN Environment (@UNEP) May 28, 2017
What used to be a stinking stretch pockmarked by garbage promises to become a vibrant tourism spot. It has also inspired fisherfolk living along the Mumbai coastline to think of reinvigorating their localities.
A strong message repeatedly planted in popular imagination is a powerful thing. One of PM Narendra Modi’s most distinctive and ambitious projects, Swachh Bharat, may just be beginning to work. From the beginning of his tenure, the PM has been talking about jan andolan and jan bhagidari, or people’s movement to drive ideas and initiatives.
It may take a couple of generations for most Indians to regain their civic sense, but the seeds planted today are sure to bear fruit. The Chipko Movement of 1973 was one such sapling of an idea which spawned a forest of activism and people’s movements over the decades.
Complement @AfrozShah1 & his team, BMC for removing 5 MillionKg of Filth in 85 weeks in #VersovaBeach,great initiative,Let it inspire others pic.twitter.com/iaLFe6Wpt8— M Venkaiah Naidu (@MVenkaiahNaidu) May 22, 2017
You now find a policeman spearheading the transformation of the chaotic junction of Sarjapur and Haralur Road, with residents from nearby buildings painting the panels along the boundary walls, renovating the space outside their homes. Public urination has stopped, autorickshaw menace has lessened. Senior citizens and children from Hyderabad to Amritsar are coming out to clean the streets, help disentangle traffic.
In villages and small towns, young women are refusing to get married in households that do not have a toilet. Celebrities like Sonu Nigam are raising, albeit controversially, issues like noise from religious places. The other day, rock singer Vishal Dadlani tweeted: “Spent the morning clearing garbage from Carter Road Beach. Do join in, every weekend, Mumbai. Very rewarding, super fun, + a great workout!”
The revival of civic sense is only befitting of a civilisation that gave the world its first urban sanitation system. In the cities found at Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Rakhigarhi sites, homes or colonies drew water from wells. From what appears like today’s bathrooms, waste water was directed to covered drains which flanked the main streets.
And all this was created roughly 4,500 ago, while thousands of years later, Europe was still reeling from darkest pandemics like Plague of Justinian and Black Death because of poor sanitation before citizens’ mindset began to change.
The coming years could be watershed for India. A nation can become a superpower without nukes but not without civic sense.
(Courtesy: Mail Today.)