Garbage on our streets, garbage in our minds

So I’ve been thinking about Garbage. Which is significantly different from what I usually do….thinking garbage.


We wonder often why our cities are full of lumps of garbage. By we, I mean of course, the English speaking classes of India. Why, we ask isn’t it like that in say, Indonesia or Latin America where socio-economic conditions are similar but cities and towns are much cleaner? Sparkling clean compared to our garbage littered streets with decaying lumps of garbage every few meters!


Here is part of the answer according to me: The Indian Caste system*

The Indian caste system taught us that Garbage was always someone else’s job..that of the untouchable and polluted lower castes. As a result we never developed a personal concept of cleaning our own dirt.
Additionally there was never a chance for systems based purely on economics to develop around garbage collection and disposal, once we allowed unnecessary stigma to be attached to the essential activity of the removal of our dirt.
So with the pressures of modern life and migrations (rural to urban) came a disintegration of the structure that allowed our villages, towns and cities the means to stay clean. Couple that with the fact that our lower castes hate their lot, surprise surprise.

Our living spaces have Garbage that we deserve. Delivered via thousands of years of social inequities and the attitude that our garbage is someone else’s problem.

Like Plato said, “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men & ideas”.

* – (No doubt pathetic administration, inadequate funds, corrupt practices and bureaucracies play a big part too. But I think we share these with many other 3rd world countries of similar means and conditions that are much cleaner)


2 thoughts on “Garbage on our streets, garbage in our minds

  1. Seema July 16, 2012 at 9:12 am Reply

    You may be right about the garbage problem. I also wanted to tell you about this unique garbage situation I see very often. There is a really posh housing complex near one of South Mumbai’s most popular Mall/multiplex. Outside the gate of this complex there is a huge garbage pile. The people from inside the complex always travel in their air-conditioned cars, so the only people who are inconvenienced are the guards, maids and pedestrians trying to navigate the footpath. I always wondered who put that garbage there. Then I noticed that there is a colony of lower income householders just across the street. After 11pm the women from these houses cross the road with a filled garbage can and dump it outside the complex’s gate. So, it’s not just caste, there is a class system too in play. The so called poorer class are also the cleaner ones or at least appear to be so because they transfer their garbage to the un-caring upper class who in turn waits for “somebody-else” to clean it up…the garbage pile meanwhile keeps growing.

  2. arun July 16, 2012 at 4:38 pm Reply

    I’m pretty certain of it the more I think of it actually. Was surprised to find nothing on this possible connection anywhere.
    I heard a few more stories today about how the ‘lower castes and classes’ are more careful with their public spaces. Except when the public space is mostly used by the other.

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