Cleaning India

This is a tough topic for me to approach because somehow it makes me feel guilty for bringing it up, but I have decided to jump in and tackle it anyway.

Here goes: Chennai and the surrounding cities that I have visited are really dirty.


Dirty can mean a lot of things, what I am referring to is abundant trash on the ground. I think this picture says it all. The very sign asking citizens to take pride in their town and keep it clean is surrounded by trash. Not a stray water bottle or soda can, not that even those are ok, but a significant amount of trash.

Sadly, the complete disregard for proper trash disposal extends beyond the city streets even causing the closure of our nearest national park.

As an enthusiastic patron of US National Parks, I was very excited when Chris told me that we had an Indian National Park just kilometers from our house. I imagined heading over each morning for a run in the park with Chris and maybe some hikes or picnic lunches on weekends.

Reality hit hard when our relocation coordinator told us that the park was closed to all guests. Figuring that she couldn’t be serious, I went and checked for myself. She was right. The reason? People were destroying the environment of the park by littering.

I wasn’t around back in the ’70’s during the big environmental movement in the US, but I have to imagine that the trash problem that sparked it did not even compare with what I commonly see on the streets of India today. The sign above tells me that some citizens are concerned, but I seriously question whether there is enough backing for this initiative to have success. My impression of the national psyche here is that it is ok to litter and without a general stigma against throwing trash on the ground, I doubt that there will be enough momentum behind these green campaigns for them to take root.

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is. I suppose I am just expressing that the garbage on the side of the road made me really sad and frustrated as I played tourist today. Hopefully young leaders in India today will choose to incite some change and enable a cleaner India tomorrow.

  1. jena said:

    That is really sad that a National Park is closed because they are destroying it. I guess there are no penalties for littering and or destroying National Property.

    Uhm, I hate that youtube video that is at the bottom of your post. That person made out of people totally freaks me out. Chris laughs every time it comes on TV because it is so weird, and I don’t like it. I mean c’mon, the nose is someone’s butt. weird.

    • Brit said:

      There is a YouTube video at the bottom of my post? How come I don’t see it.

  2. When I was living in Korea, I was also often surprised by how litter-y it could be. I stopped counting the times I saw young people (teens and college students) simply dropping their garbage on the ground when they were done with it. Public garbage containers are difficult to find, although sometimes there’s a garbage bag fastened with a bungee cord around a tree….nice. We would see impromptu trash piles on the sidewalks or in vacant lots (which were also interestingly used as vegetable gardens for surrounding residents until the lot was bought and developed). Ironically, though, home garbage disposal is extremely regimented and it was mandated that you separate everything into separate bags so things could be properly recycled or shipped off to a landfill.

    I feel for you and the hopefully the closing of the national park will be temporary!

    • Brit said:

      I’m surprised that they are regimented about home garbage collection but litter in public! I’m not really sure what they do with our home trash, our cleaning guy comes each day and takes it away. Hopefully we are not contributing to the problem unknowingly. The younger kids seem to care more about the environment, so maybe there is change in the pipeline.

  3. Litter and the general dumping of rubbish is a big problem here in India.
    Rather bizarrely, the notices advocating more care for the environment are usually in English, a language most people won’t be able to read. (It’s the same with “safe driving” posters.)
    I often wonder if Indians have become so used to the rubbish that they just don’t “see” it anymore..

    • Brit said:

      That is a really interesting point about the signs being in English. Doesn’t make much sense does it?

      In my neighborhood there is a mural that was painted by school children that asks people not to litter, again in English. I wonder if they did any clean-ups or other projects or if it was just the mural?

      In Shanghai a few weeks ago, my host told me that the government there actually hires people to pick up the streets and sidewalks which was interesting. Apparently instead of creating a shift in typical behavior, they are just masking the impact of littering there. I never would have suspected that had my host not mentioned it.

  4. Lisa said:

    Definitely an ironic picture! Also interesting that previous commentor JofIndia points out that many people can’t read English. Granted, I don’t think you should need a sign to tell you not to litter. I do recognize that there is some truth to the fact that when you see mess long enough eventually you look past it and don’t “see” it. I do this in my house sometimes w/ piles of papers or things haven’t put away forever…

    • Brit said:

      That’s a really good point. We have a table full of random stuff in our apartment right now that needs to find the trash or its proper homes!

  5. Lisa said:

    P.S. It’s quite sad about the national park being closed. 😦

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