We live in a museum of waste

By Shubhankar Chakravorty

The majority of Indians’ instinct to litter and poor sense of hygiene has been one of the most encashed sources of humor over the decades. It has earned standup comedians with the most applauded punch lines and writers with the most appreciated plots.

But this is how we Indians pickled up, after gaining independence, the rapid, unplanned urbanization that took place in India—otherwise, a cause of chest broadening for us all—can be traced back to be the root cause of India’s littering glory.

As the population galloped out of control, so did this pseudo civilization and its baggage. The one credit that the British rulers could earn out of their three-century-long summer vacation in India was of urban planning and city management that mutated beyond recognition after independence.

Illegal construction and unplanned erections made space for all but room for a few. Some of India’s largest cities bragged of Britishers’ town planning that was deconstructed to allot roof for people displaced by India’s inter-and intra-refugee traffic.

Later, as the economy turned greener, trees replaced chimneys; branches replaced wires for birds to hold their parliament on. Rivers were used for industrial drainage, killing lives, breeding diseases. The soil was rendered hollow by uncontrolled mining, sands were dug out of the riverbeds, sweet groundwater was sucked out to be carbonated.

Energy is being generated by weakening people’s immunity. Poison is showered over acres of vegetation for good growth, and it has reaped a harvest of generations of deformed animals, including humans. River courses are being altered at political whims, forests erased, and settlements compromised for growth at the cost of development. India wants to overpower the world, but how can that be done without empowering the citizen?

The reality remains that all these are a cause of concern for only the sandwiched section of the Indian society, the middle-class. The bread at the top isn’t even aware of the India that resides in the overcrowded districts where people sort garbage for food and kids frolic in choked drains. Needless to say the bread at the base lives in or around that unfortunate littering India, unfortunate, not just for those people who live that way but also for the rest who choke before accepting the “other” India.

Today the poor are the debit the powerful capitalize and the credit the middle-class citizen has to pay for. It is that stinking reality whose life seems eternal like a plastic bag, which by the way makes up the majority of the garbage riches anywhere in the world, more so in India.

But then again, it would be unfair to claim that no good forces are addressing the issue of garbage and littering. It’s just that the forces working against them are a hell of a lot more dedicated and resourceful. The sheer lack of political will depleted social responsibilities and the state’s pitiable sense of accountability has resulted in this museum of waste that we live in.

The India that went to school in the last decade of the 20th century grew up learning that India is shining. They were kept blinded by the flickering India, vulgar flashes of which India has to witness with incidents like farmers’ suicides, trafficking of children, slum burning, and so on.

So what kinds of litter are we to dirty our feet in—the kind we shuffle through on the streets or the kind that bestows upon us a Third World identity? We Indians have so many varieties of garbage to choose from after all.

(Published in The SoftCopy)

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