Some Rubbish Thoughts
This is a difficult one for me to write as I’m fully aware of the risks of criticising India for not adhering to norms that we in the West see as commonsensical. However, it has to be said, India and in particular, Chennai has an issue with rubbish. It’s everywhere: on the beach, on every street, on any patch of unused ground, in the rivers.
I’m not alone in decrying this. The newspapers are full of stories every week about the issue. So why does it happen?
Firstly there is an issue with the privatisation of refuse collection in the city. As has happened in many cities in the UK, these services have been auctioned off to the lowest bidder and as often happens, these companies are better at getting the deal than doing the work. Indeed, the city corporation has started to “nationalise” the privatised services in many central parts of the city as the problem has got worse.
This doesn’t explain why there is so much random litter though. At this point I must admit a debt to an excellent book by Pavan K Varma called “Being Indian”http://www.amazon.co.uk/Being-India-Pavan-K-Varma/dp/0143033425. A career diplomat and writer he has written extensively on the nature of the Indian psyche and India’s place in the world. It’s a challenging read for Indians in that it questions many of the cliché’s we in the West have of the Indian character. Indians themselves have come to accept many of them as well, so it’s not a pretty sight in the mirror. To Varma, Hinduism is the seedbed for their ability to ignore so much around them. Because Hinduism teaches that the individual life is merely part of a continuum and the present is a construct, it is less relevant for a Hindu to consider the environment they live in unless it is directly impacting their own lives. In fact it makes it very easy for them to ignore anything that is not of interest to them. It is quite easy for a Hindu to bathe in the waters at Varanasi, even though there is a strong risk of amoebic dysentery because the oblation is greater than the pollution. Hinduism is a very self centered religion (and I mean this in a non judgmental way) in that you can pretty much tailor it to suit your own needs.
I’ll return to this theme in later blogs, but Varma has some very interesting theories about the concept of the Indians being an especially spiritual people: he debunks it as a misreading of their nonchalance in the face of adversity and ability to adapt to any situation without it affecting their inner core.
All of this is of course, profoundly depressing as it suggests that India will not try to get to grips with its growing waste problem until it is literally overflowing into the houses of decision makers and the rich. I don’t think we can be far off that moment though as India faces a crisis of natural resources: it’s population is growing and it’s ground water reserves are depleting or being polluted. That effects everyone. India is a country almost impervious to government led action: everyone finds a way of working around laws to suit their own needs, so change really has to come from the individual being inconvenienced. In short, effluence will need to overwhelm affluence.