The 21st century is synonymous with the knowledge age, today we are targeting to colonize mars and build homes on the moon. But months back when COVID-19 surfaced, no one had imagined even in the wildest of their dreams that life was going to change forever. In the history of human civilization, it was the first time that the whole world was under lockdown. A lot of people called this as the act of god, a reminder from nature to stop abusing the resources haphazardly and better live a sustainable life.
Sustainable life simply means living in harmony with the earth or net-zero living. Focusing on sustainability, the United Nations adopted 17 sustainable development goals promising development for the last person on this planet. The deadline fixed is the year 2030 and its accomplishment relies on two major factors i.e. individual commitment and community responsibility.
There is a long list of issues which the global goals try to solve and out of those one of the pressing problems is the problem of waste. As per one of the reports of the world bank India alone generates 277 million tonnes of solid waste which makes up more than 80% of waste generated in south Asia and about 13% of global waste. Though the per head waste generated by Indians is below the global average but we need to act now if we want to breathe longer and in a cleaner environment. A lifestyle change to save the environment has become a moral imperative now.
If we look at India’s history we will realise how the aspects of cleanliness are so well cultivated in our literature and traditions. The Hindu scriptures time and again stress the importance of cleanliness. Daksha Smriti states that a person should try to maintain cleanliness/purity in whatever work s/he engages in and without such adherence to purity, all actions and works become fruitless. The simple gesture of removing footwear before entering temples and even home is simply unique to the tradition of India. But on the other hand, highly polluted temple ghats and poorly functioning sewage systems are grim realities, and to replace the dismal picture, we need to innovate and find creative solutions like green sole, an organization that refurbishes old footwear and gives it to unprivileged children. Similarly Nirmalya, a brand selling incense sticks made from the waste flowers from temples and mosques. It is not only providing a solution to the waste but it is also employing a community of slum women and serving twin purposes. There are a thousand such stories where a community of social entrepreneurs are coming forward and providing out of the box solutions to the diverse problems related to waste in India.
Now with the religious scriptures and traditions which are driving our movement for swatchta, there are also some undeciphered scripts waiting for their chance to enlighten us. The world is waiting when the secrets behind the text of Indus valley writings will unravel but the one thing which isn’t a secret anymore is its unbelievable engineering marvels. Until 1921 when the Indus Valley site was discovered no one even imagined that there could be a place on earth back in 3300 BCE with such well-planned cities where sewage and drainage patterns were given its due place. Unlike Indus valley days there is a dearth of planned cities in India today and that’s somewhere the reason we aren’t able to deal with waste properly. But the scenario is gradually shifting, in its recent reports, the government has confirmed that under the Clean India Mission it has built 110 million toilets in record time where 2 pit technique was duly pursued so that the waste can be used later as compost. Not only this but NGOs like Sulabh international have done a tremendous job in building community toilets across the length and breadth of the country. Access to the toilet has not only helped prevent health troubles but has also worked in providing a life of dignity especially for women and poor households.
Now, as far as setting precedent is concerned Indore has secured a special place among all the major developing smart cities of India. Also dubbed as mini Bombay, Indore has been placed as the cleanest city in the nation for the last 4 years simultaneously. The force behind the success of the Indore model is dedicated staff and responsible citizens. Every Sunday the cleanliness workers in Indore are on leave and that day local indoris come out in groups voluntarily to spell their commitment for the city and its swatchta.
While awareness about the subject has made people advocate for using straws and have long discussions on ditching sanitary pads for menstrual cups, it becomes important to understand where does this waste comes from, where does it goes, and who ultimately handles it. The sighting of children on the street fishing for plastic and people dying in manholes isn’t that uncommon in India. The deep-rooted relationship with the caste system becomes starkly clear in waste management. Most of the people won’t touch the garbage, much less reconsider being extremely discriminatory towards who is involved in this work. Segregating a community and making them responsible for something which is the responsibility of everyone is a dark reality that haunts Indian society. There is employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry latrines (prohibition) act 1993, national commission for safai karmcharis, schemes to rehabilitate and undo the historic injustice to the people of this community. But today the reality is that more Indians die cleaning sewers than fighting terrorism in Kashmir as per the south Asia terrorism portal and the data collected by safari karmachari Andolan’s Bezwada Wilson.
To tackle the problem of waste we have well-formulated plans, policies, laws, hi-tech machines like the bandicoot, and committed demographic dividend but besides all these, what we require is a change in attitude towards waste and the people who are dealing with it. Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘Everyone must be his own scavenger’.