Why is it that some of us throw empty packets of wafers or pouches of water on the roads in Ahmedabad, but refrain from doing so when we are in Singapore or Seoul? One explanation could be the tough action taken in such cities against littering that acts as a deterrent. However, there is a more important reason for such irresponsible display of civic conduct that we indulge in.
Though some of our cities are historic, we have yet not been able to develop a culture of organised civic sense which is inherent to every citizen’s public conduct. One image from the devastating earthquake in Japan that has left a mark on my mind is the orderly, long queue of citizens waiting patiently to buy essential provisions in a departmental store. Usually with development and progress, societies evolve certain acceptable codes of social conduct -- a set of Dos and Don’ts. Everyone in that society -- rich or poor, black or white, educated or uneducated, man or woman -- knows that they ought to stand in a queue waiting for their turn.
They have to dispose off the waste they generate inside or outside their house in a particular manner. While on the road, they need to adhere to certain basic traffic rules. These codes, often unwritten, are ingrained in every individual in such societies and they do not require stronger, novel laws to enforce such conduct.
Every child who grows up in such a society knows what is expected of him and what he ought not to do in public. Every new entrant in this shared value system also learns the acceptable limits of his social behaviour. Somehow, in the Indian society, the evolution of such an acceptable social conduct has not taken place. This is a process and we have cases of certain sections of the people showing more responsible traits, or there are certain cities where the residents show better adherence to an acceptable conduct more than others. This is a gradual process and is also linked to economic development.
Right from childhood, such values should be taught and made a part of the socialisation process. School textbooks should carry chapters devoted to acceptable social conduct and emphasise on the importance of dignity of labour. Gandhiji always cleaned toilets and urged others to do so. I feel that our schools should conduct such activities, where children get to clean the toilets or remove litter from the roads. This would enable them to develop a strong sense of responsibility at a very early age.
This would help them in developing respect for the people who do these dirty jobs of cleaning the public places and toilets in order to keep the city clean. In this process, they would grow up to appreciate the value of generating less waste, recycling waste and protecting nature and the environment. Once such a collective social psyche is developed and takes firm roots, we will have a Singapore-type scenario. This also forces the administration to be more responsible and responsive. Social campaigns by NGOs and the media to promote such temperament also go a long way in promoting such psyche.
Though some of our cities are historic, we have not yet been able to develop a culture of organised civic sense which is inherent to every citizen’s public conduct
The author is municipal commissioner of Ahmedabad