All the travelers to India in their first days in the country are horrified, of an awful, in terms of Western culture, custom — why do Indians litter that much? Why the streets of India are so dirty? Not even the uneducated, but even members of higher castes, who don’t tolerate a single spot of dust in their homes, can throw garbage on the streets, just near the high walls of their estates.
For a couple of weeks travelers, if not fleeing home, get used to trash around, but the question remains. Typical situation: talking with a Hindu about terrible pollution, drinking chai with seagulls around, your Hindu friend shakes his head “yes, yes,” and agrees — that we do so poor job with our ecology, we need to be more conscious about environmental conservation (it’s better not raise at all the questions of esthetic side of garbage piles), and then, after another “yes, sure, you’re right,” your Hindu friend will throw the plastic cup from his tea down to street, and go on.
Why? – Such an ancient culture, developed religious, emotional, social, scientific “spheres”, etc… But why there’s so much garbage on the streets of India?
In its entirety, I didn’t manage to get into this phenomenon, but I’ve found at least a few keys which can clarify something:
1. In India a culture of pottery has flourished for thousands of year: totally ecological cups — you drink from it, you throw it under your feet, it turns to dust. Disposable tableware has turned into plastic, but the culture and habits do remain. The Indian government, realizing the problem has even rushed to encourage manufacturers of traditional pottery to fight plastic, but it doesn’t help;
2. until recently quite rural, or associated with family farming culture of life – of which the cow is an integral part. Everything that the cow poops out is natural (and, ideally, quickly collect and stuck at the walls of houses to dry in the sun to become fuel used, warm up the house in winter (in the north) and cool it down in summer. And Hindu doesn’t care that all these processes happen in the heart of Delhi or Varanasi under the feet of men and women walking by. Everything is OK;
3. “pantheist’ perception of the world – everything is natural, everything is either clean or dirty. Dirty is a foreigner, who doesn’t wash his ass, but a Hindu who has taken his morning asnan, has a tilak and has recited his daily mantra, stepping into a pile of cowdung barefooted is not. The division of the world into “pure – impure” is not like in the West. It exists not in the plane of bakteriology, household garbage or any other, but in the plane of religious dualism of “sacred – profane”;
4. poor education in schools, covering not the entire population. During Kumbh Mely every day I watched the Indians spit into the sand near washing sinks, afterwards the same sand was taken to wash cups and dishes. It seems that Hindus are not even taught that it is wrong for the reasons that every school-aged kid in West knows. Indians are not even taught different behavior is possible;
5. officials, authorities, municipalities, etc. — in many cities dustbins just do not exist;
6. uncertainty of property rights and the lack of “sense of owner”, which could be spread beyond the threshold of an Indian’s own house;
7. general apathy – everything is shanti-shanti-shanti, heat at the street, everything is OK, why do something, and if even there’s an understanding that the trash pile needs to be carried away — why do it now, there are much more important things to do now. And mountains of rubbish – someone sometime will take care of them: the shudras, the cows, and the stray dogs, and the monkeys, or if they will not, we can dig paths among them…
8. some special, purely Indian demons…
The reasons do seem clear, but when will the Indians begin to do something about it?
They say that in Singapore, which had the same problem, it was solved with draconian laws and strict supervision over their observance – the $200 fines for throwing garbage in the unassigned places were implied, but I can not imagine how can it work in India. Will they put in jails offenders who have no money for fines… None of the Indians, with whom I’ve talked about the issue do not have an idea what to do with it. Maybe in reality there is no problem? Maybe it’s we, the Westerners, have a distorted perception of reality, and Ganga is beautiful, even flowing among the mounts of garbage and when there ‘s nothing you can survive in it’s divine waters?
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