All we need is Civic SenseThe Views Paper, March 1, 2011A new consciousness is dawning upon us as a nation. Incredible India campaign has just released a television advertisement that shows Amir Khan urging Indians not to litter the public places, not to spit on roads and not to pee in public places. This is a welcome, timely and much needed initiative. As we travel from Kashmir to Kanyakumari or Gandhinagar to Guwahati, we find the roadsides or public places littered with garbage, people spitting and peeing in public places. This leaves us with a feeling that the whole country has been turned into a garbage dump. How have we allowed this state of affairs as a nation? It is truly a matter of concern. This has happened when India has been rising at unprecedented economic growth rates during the past decade.
We Indians are personally very clean people. We brush our teeth and take a bath everyday and wash our hands before eating. We keep our houses speck clean. But when it comes to public places, as people we are simply unable to keep our streets, our railway stations, hospitals, or places of worship clean. This is the state of affairs everywhere in India including hundreds and thousands of villages, towns, mega-cities as well as in the streets of the national capital New Delhi. We simply have very poor civic sense or social ethics.
What is Civic Sense? Civic Sense encompasses unspoken norms of society that help it run smoothly without someone tripping on somebody else’s toes. Civic Sense is all about having consideration for a fellow human being. It means being polite, showing consideration to elderly, women, children and disabled people, driving in one’s lane without honking, throwing one’s garbage in dustbins, smoking only at designated places. The list can go on.
Why is Civic Sense needed? The WHO report shows that India leads the world in number of deaths resulting from road traffic accidents. 126 thousand people lost their lives in road accidents in India in 2009. According to the National Crimes Records Bureau 14 people die every day in India in road accidents. This is many times more than the number of people who die as a result of terrorist attacks or conflicts. Our careless and chaotic driving is taking its toll everyday yet we continue to buy driving licenses, put ourselves, our family as well as our fellow countrymen at grave risk.
Recently a road rage incident at the very posh market area in New Delhi took the life of an innocent person who had a family to feed and spoilt the career and life of a promising pilot. These are some of the examples of the huge cost we are paying for our poor civic sense or rather lack of it.
While travelling abroad we have often observed that even some of the poorer countries compared to us have cleaner streets, smoother and orderly traffic, wider footpaths with ramps for pedestrians, parents with prams and people on wheel-chairs as well as a dedicated lane for bicycle riders. Back home in India, try walking in Chanakyapuri, the heart of New Delhi where most of the Embassies are located, you’ll find to your shock how many times you have to hop up and down from the footpath to road and from road to footpath. If you happen to be a person with disability with a wheel chair or a parent with a baby in a pram, then be ready for nightmare while walking in any part of New Delhi.
When I brought this state of affairs of Delhi roads to the attention of Delhi Traffic Police on their Facebook page, I got no response. When I wrote and spoke to the head of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation bringing the issue to his attention, I was told that we Indians have terrible civic sense and if the Corporation built footpaths friendly for people with wheelchairs then people will drive their scooters and bikes on the footpath. I was further told that I was the first person to put forth this kind of new sensitivity to their notice and they will take action though it may take time. I offered myself to walk with them and show them all the footpaths and zebra crossings in Chanakyapuri which needed to be redesigned to make them friendly for pedestrians, parents and persons with disabilities.
A few days ago, along with a group of concerned citizens, we decided to start a nationwide cleanliness campaign ‘Come Clean India’ to express our angst against the state of affairs in our country by physically cleaning parks, tourist spots, hospitals, railway and bus stations. Doing this we were fully aware that a long term solution needs to be found and implemented. Buying garbage is one such idea, so that people can rush to collect all garbage lying in the street and sell them to the municipal corporation or a private company. Converting garbage into energy is another idea that could possibly make buying garbage economically viable. We need more such innovative ideas to make our country cleaner.
How do we instill civic sense in us? Many are of the view that civic sense should be taught in schools and colleges along with other subjects such as Maths and English while others think that the government should start a nationwide campaign to instill civic sense in people in association with civil society groups. This brings us back to Incredible India campaign featuring Amir Khan and his lessons in civic sense on Television. More celebrity messages of this sort are needed. I would suggest that we involve the corporate sector along with government and civil society groups in this noble endeavour.
Abhay K, a writer-poet-artist & diplomat, is author of six books. His most recent publications are Candling the Light and Colours of Soul. His writings have been published by Times of India, ‘Diplomatic Sqaure, India Abroad, Literary St. Petersburg, Women’s Petersburg and several other magazines. His art works have been exhibited in several countries including Frnace and Russia. You can reach him at www.abhayk.com.
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