Full text of Why is India so filthy by The Ugly Indian at TEDxBangalore
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Don’t let my mask scare you, I’m just trying to stay anonymous. My name is Anamik Nagrik. I’m a proud Indian and I have one problem with my country. And the problem is: why is India so filthy?
I’ve traveled outside India, in neighboring countries in Asia, my friends have been to Africa, and we can all agree on one thing: in India we tolerate filth on our streets. But why? We can send a rocket to Mars, but we can’t fix this problem. Why do we keep our houses clean and our streets dirty? Even McDonalds has come to Bangalore. It’s cleaning the steps of its outlet out there, but you can see how dirty it is outside. They’re either incapable or unwilling to fix what’s outside. So what’s the problem? Why are we like this? And I think all of us in this audience know the answer: “It’s not my problem. I pay tax. I vote. Isn’t that enough? What more should I do?”
And some of you will say: “Okay. I want to fix it. I don’t even know how to start!”
Let me take you to dreamland. In this dreamland, there is no corruption. The government is strong. Our budget goes up ten times. Do you think our cities will be clean? What do you think? The answer is no. I think we all realize it’s not about money or systems. It is about us as a people.
Look at this picture. Can someone shout out: which city is this from? Look closely, look at the furniture. Can you guess? Shout out. Which city is this? It’s not Bangalore. Look closely again. There’s a clue out here, the Bank of India. The other clue is that it’s very poorly maintained. There are paan stains everywhere. This is a restaurant. It is Singapore, and it is Little India in Singapore. And what does this tell us about us? What is Singapore’s brand image? Cleanliness, it is a fine city, they enforce laws, they are very affluent. They care about their look.
But when a group of Indians lives in one neighborhood, we seem to bring down the civic standards. We can beat the world’s best systems. In fact, I would like to say, and I’m an Indian, we are the undisputed world champions of public filth.
Why do we need a policeman when we have a traffic light? Because we are a society that doesn’t like to follow rules.
In Bangalore, dustbins are not allowed. You are expected to keep your garbage at home until the collector comes, but it doesn’t seem to work. So one neighborhood in Bangalore, Indiranagar, said, “Let’s put dustbins.” So they put dustbins and see what happened. We don’t like to follow rules, so all the garbage is outside the dustbins.
Now this is the problem with us as a society: We need to all admit that we are all Ugly Indians and more importantly, only we can save us from ourselves. And as long as we’re emotional about it, we won’t solve it.
And so do you think there is any hope? What do you all think? A lot of people have given up, they leave the country, they stay in gated communities. But some people said, “No, let us try and fix this problem in an Indian way by understanding the Indian psychology.” So social experiments began on Church Street in Bangalore in 2010, where the idea was simple: Let us understand Indian’s behavior from a point of view of culture, behavioral psychology. Let’s see what it takes to make an Ugly Indian change. But most importantly, without him or her realizing it. We don’t like to be told what to do. We have to be fooled into improving our behavior.
Can we nudge an Ugly Indian towards better behavior in public spaces? And you may have heard of the Broken Window Theory which says that if a place is ugly, it becomes uglier. If a place is beautiful, it commands respect.
There’s another theory in economics called the Tragedy of the Commons, which means we care for our private spaces, we don’t care about public spaces. India is the perfect example of both these theories in action.
This is Koramangala. That lady is throwing garbage on the road in a beautiful part of an upscale neighborhood. And why is she doing it? Because someone has already thrown before.
What can we do to make her change her behavior without her knowing it? This is a typical example of civic problems in India: Paan stains on the wall. This is on the wall of Deccan Herald Newspaper in Church Street. It has been like this forever. Because there are paan stains, people urinate on it. Nobody walks on that footpath.
So a few people sat, and observed it, and tried an experiment. This is what they did: they painted the wall, they painted a red band at the bottom, they put some flower pots, and incredibly, there were no more paan stains on that wall. And why? Because the person spitting paan is trying his best to be clean. He chooses to spit into the pot. If he by mistake spits into the corner, the red color masks it. Once people stopped spitting, people actually go on the footpath. It works. There are dozens of walls in Bangalore with the red band at the bottom that has taken an Indian solution to apply to an Indian problem.