“These rooms are clean to both you and us,” Mr. Bhanot told Indian reporters. "Foreigners want certain standards in hygiene and cleanliness which may differ from our perception”. This was the explanation offered by Lalit Bhanot, the second-ranking official on the organizing committee. Nevertheless this article is not about the misadventures of the CWG organizing committee. It is about the advertisements which featured Aamir Khan and were aired before and during the Games. Advertisements that urged Indians to portray a 'clean and hygienic India' picture to the visiting athletes and tourists. Aamir Khan tried to impress upon the Indian TV viewers the importance of not littering garbage on roads and in parks, of not painting the walls red with pan-red spit and of not harassing or teasing the tourists. In the first place, it is embarrassing that a series of public advertisements are needed to drive home such basic civic sense lessons. However, from another point of view, it is heartening to see an effort being made to educate the Indian masses.
Cleanliness and hygiene in India is of prime importance. As a nation we have seen people from all states, religions, etc strictly following morning ablution rituals. At the break of dawn, women arise to sweep their courtyards and adorn it with rangoli. Bathing once or twice a day is a must in most homes. In villages where toothbrushes are unavailable, barks of trees are chewed on to clean teeth. Women enter the kitchen to cook only after a bath. Homes are swept and mopped before the lamp is lit in the evening. Yet the concept of clean, sterile surrounding extends only as far as the garden wall or the balcony railing as the case maybe. 'What you cannot see, cannot hurt you' seems to be the common ideology. The garbage generated in a home is casually tossed over the boundary wall to collect in heaps on the road and flow into the drainage system during the monsoons, or over the balcony railing or out of the kitchen window to collect as a mound on the sun-shade of the apartment downstairs. Buy a coffee to go and few minutes later the styrofoam cup flies out of the window of a speeding car.
Plastic bags and PET bottles are strewn in abundance in the garbage heaps. I once saw a red postal letter box which stood a few feet apart from a circular garbage bin with a diametrically three feet wide mouth. Few garbage bags lay inside the bin but most were lying outside it since they were just tossed in the general direction of the bin. In contrast no letters were lying around the letter box, they were all 'inside' it. Why can't we make more efforts to dispose our garbage in a proper manner?
Now that the Games are over I am not aware if Aamir Khan is still popping in between the TV soaps to help improve the overall cleanliness level of the country. I do fervently hope he is, since India really needs an image makeover. It is time we started working towards a truly clean and hygienic India. To achieve that we will definitely need a much better waste collection and disposal system along with small but sustained efforts from each citizen to keep the public spaces clean. The minimum we need to do is…
- Collect garbage at home responsibly; separate the biodegradable, plastics, metals and glass
- Municipal and panchayat authorities should introduce wide-spread garbage collection networks
- Invest in recycling
- Introduce appropriate disposal systems for hazardous household waste such as batteries and e-waste
- Provide many more bins in public spaces which should be emptied and maintained everyday
- Continue with the public education series of advertisements
- Launch initiatives to clean our roads, parks, drains, rivers and other public spaces
As a nation, India is slowly forging ahead in terms of GDP, development and economic clout. On one hand we have shiny new skyscrapers and on the other we have clogged, overflowing drains. It is time we literally 'cleaned up our act'. The world is watching us.