Give a Little Respect

Something you will discover about India is that there is a huge patriotic streak that runs through every citizen, but it only surfaces when they feel threatened, or as I believe, insecure about something – I have sat through frequent rants about how India is so much more enlightened and a better country than the West will ever be, usually after having made an innocuous statement like “India has poor people”. There is an inbuilt resistance to not wanting to hear anything bad about the country and in some ways I guess that is quite patriotic.

Oh yes, if you are Indian and you are reading this then I should forewarn you that you might get a little bit upset because I’m about to insult your country and your litter culture. While I welcome your comments and thoughts about the Indian attitude to littering there is no need to vent about something unrelated like the “western superiority complex”. The issue at hand is litter. Stick to it 🙂

The modus operandi for Indian citizens is to have a mutual dislike with neighbouring states, much like the rivalry between England and Scotland. The dislike intensifies when talking about North India and South India. The South believes the North are all stupid (and given the latest case of student visa fraud in the UK, they may have a point) and the North generally regards the South as prudish and socially repressed (which again, is a fair point!).

But that all changes the moment someone insults or makes fun of India and you suddenly find that you have 1.2 billion very angry citizens to contend with.

Jai Hind. (roughly translates to “Victory to India”).

Take for example the racist attacks in Australia. The whole of India is currently united in their hatred of Australia with the forums and blogs full of tirades denouncing Australians as fundamentally racist.

(This of course coming from a country with a thousand years of the Caste system and where low caste communities have barriers and walls built around them to stop them coming near areas of high caste community, or where low caste people have to be buried in separate cemeteries to high caste people, or can’t even enter a temple of their faith)

Anyway, for a country that can be so patriotic and united, they appear to have very little respect for the land in which they live. It’s perfectly normal to be driving along, drinking a bottle of Coke and when you are finished with it, wind down the window and chuck it out, no matter where you are, or who it might hit.

Car interiors are kept spotlessly clean because whenever you are finished eating or drinking anything the packaging goes straight out the window. It doesn’t matter if it’s paper, plastic, metal, with not a thought for the environment (or who it might hit as it’s launched from the car) it gets unceremoniously dumped.

Thinking of taking the family out (and this is India, the immediate family will consist of 40 people) for a picnic on a Sunday afternoon? They will certainly come back with less than they took because all the food packaging, wrappers, containers etc. will be left behind, not even placed in to a bin, joining the rest of the litter from other family picnics.

When my company had a sports day, catering was laid on, plastic cups and plates were provided along with water bottles. At the end of the day when people were leaving what happened to all that rubbish? It was left behind, strewn across the playing fields, a job for someone else to pick up.

The point I’m trying to make here is that having a disregard for the environment and others around you isn’t a problem of the minority of people or even a majority of people. This is EVERYBODY. It cuts through age, gender and socio-economic boundaries.

I was on a very scenic railway while in Ooty – it’s actually a UNESCO world heritage site. I was sat in the first class carriage and a very wealthy middle class man in his early thirties was with his family. He was giving drinks and snacks to his young daughter and as she finished them he simply threw the packaging out the window, despite signs all over the place pleading people not to throw their litter.

I’ve challenged a few people on why they just throw their rubbish in the street instead of waiting to find a rubbish bin or taking it home and putting it in a bin there. The answers range from “why should we make our car get dirty” to “I feel tired carrying it around” to the ever arrogant “poor people can pick it up and sell it as scrap“. Yet bizarrely the same people will also agree that dumping rubbish is a big problem and people shouldn’t do it but without acknowledging that they are responsible for it.

Just why people drop their rubbish without a thought could take a deeper understanding of Indian culture than I’ve got in the last two years, but my own theories extend from the fact that middle and upper class people are so used to having other people do their dirty work (even I have a maid who cleans my apartment each day) that they are able to drop things in their own home and the maid will clean it up instantly. Whether it’s food packaging or spilt drink, the culprit rarely has to clean it up themselves.

Even in the office, an office boy will hand out small paper cups of tea and coffee and then has to go around clearing them all up as the office staff will not put them in the bin, or worse, simply drop them on the floor.

Another classic example of this just happened tonight at the restaurant where a portly middle aged gentleman knocked his glass off the table shattering it and spilling water everywhere but made no attempt to help out or even acknowledge the fact, he was more concerned about getting another glass of water. Even as the water and glass sat on the floor the waiters continued as if nothing had happened. Eventually a small boy came along with a dustpan and brush and cleaned up the mess – the gentleman in question didn’t even apologise or thank the person for cleaning it up.

I think it’s this “I’m too good to clean up any mess” attitude that they take with them when they go out of the house, to them dropping their litter and trash is as normal as breathing, they’ve always done it, everyone else does it, so what’s the problem? As I said, there just isn’t any thought about how it might affect others or the environment, as long as the used packaging is no longer in your life, who cares what happens to it.

This uncivilized and thoughtless attitude is carried over to the incredible beauty spots all over India. Despite a million signs and rubbish bins, Indians continue to drop their litter as if they are too good or too worthy to be carrying rubbish and somehow it’s the responsibility of the poor and low caste to clean it all up for them.

Now, I’m writing this blog post in Ooty, one of the most beautiful places in all of Tamil Nadu with breath taking scenery everywhere you look, and yet despite the awe inspiring views around me, I found that I was becoming increasingly annoyed with the middle class Indian for the complete and utter disrespect they have for their country, other people and ultimately, themselves.

What should have been an entry of stunning scenery instead turned in to a rant about disrespectful Indians with no civic sense whatsoever. It’s not even as if they can claim there is no where to put their rubbish as there are bins literally everywhere.

I’ve included photos in the hope that it shames at least some people to think twice before throwing the empty water bottle, cigarette packet, tissue, crisp packet or coke can out the car window when they are finished with it.

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Now, cue angry responses from Indians who claim they don’t drop any litter at all!

18 Comments Give a Little Respect

  1. Alistair

    I’d say that if the littering became much worse, some enterprising Indian/s would start picking the stuff up to sell for recycling. For example, the poverty in Mumbai ensures that the vast majority of plastic, metal, paper, etc. used in the city gets recycled … putting the rest of the world to shame.

    Perhaps the real difference in India is that they don’t spend money clearing up after people in public places .. be it due to insufficient budgets or corruption.

    Or perhaps they have more serious problems to worry about first (education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.)?

    It is sad to see these photos, but if I had $20 to give away on a good cause in India, clearing up this mess would not be top of my list.

    Reply
  2. s.yogan

    The number of pieces of litter dropped per person per day in India is VASTLY higher than the UK.

    The number of indians as such is vastly higher too

    Reply
  3. Fay

    Alistair, yes obviously India in some ways needs a a better waste disposal infrastructure, but that is not what Pete is talking about. He is talking about the fact that many people in this country do not think twice about littering. Ok, if there are no bins it’s legitimate to add your litter to a pile that is already there, but the place Pete has photographed had bins!

    Shaun, please read the ‘per person’ part of my statement!

    Reply
  4. s.yogan

    Fay

    Yup My bad sorry didn’t notice “per person” part of your statement.

    I think pete has dustbins in his apartment too.

    sorry couldn’t resist. Pete keeps warning me not to get into a verbal discussion with you.

    Reply
  5. admin

    @Alistair: There are street people who already do this, dressed in rags they go around with massive sacks picking up bottles and scrap. There are also bin men (and ladies, this is an equal opportunities country for the poor!) who empty rubbish from industrial sized wheelie bins, but even here, people pile the rubbish next to the bin rather than putting it IN the bin!

    Regarding the recycling, I’m not sure about in Winchester, but where my parents live they’ve started weighing your rubbish and you’ve got to be recycling a certain percentage. Collectively the town recycles over 50% of its household rubbish – and it doesn’t get dumped in the streets to achieve this! We now have a total of FIVE bins; one for general rubbish which is collected every two weeks, one for general recycling, one for cans and glass bottles for recycling, one for paper and card for recycling and finally one for plastic and plastic bottles for recycling.

    Finally, the photos are from the tourist spots frequented by the middle and upper class Indians – the ones with the money, the educated ones, the ones who should know better. It’s not a case of not having the resources it’s a case of them not having any respect for their country or fellow people.

    Sure, $20 could go to a much better cause, but the middle class Indian doesn’t need money, it needs to alter its mindset.

    Reply
  6. Fay

    Why people in India are more likely to litter than people in Britain?

    My guess:

    In Britain along with industrialisation and the massive increase in non bio-degradable waste came huge investments in city infrastructure. Thus an ability for a person to dispose of their waste without littering. People obviously had to be educated to ‘find a bin’, but ‘finding a bin’ has become part of the mainstream culture. This didn’t happen in India, and ‘finding a bin’ is not the mainstream attitude at present.

    That does not, however, excuse a guy, who can read signs requesting for him to not spoil Ooty by throwing litter, to spoil Ooty by throwing litter.

    There is no excuse for dropping litter – particularly when there are bins!

    And Pete is right, a lot of the Indian middle class do not have to clean up after themselves in their own home. Maybe some take this mindset into the wider world. It is a reasonable supposition to make.”

    Reply
  7. admin

    I can see Fay’s comment being leapt upon here, so to nip it in the bud: this is a discussion about India’s attitude towards littering, not the amount of waste that the West produces, which is obviously far higher and ‘worse’ than India.

    I don’t want people to make comparisons with anything else, I want them to discuss littering in India. Why would an educated, wealthy middle class Indian teach his daughter that it is acceptable to throw your litter out the window? What’s the thought process? What’s the reasoning?

    Reply
  8. admin

    The examples I’ve provided clearly show that saying everyone drops litter is not a stereotype but an observable fact. If you wanted to get technical about it I could say “it’s closer to everyone than a majority because so many people do it that there is barely a minority to speak of”.

    As with everything on my blog I write about what I see and observe and give my opinion and thoughts based on that. I may be wildly incorrect in my 5 minute conclusions, but I don’t need to go any more indepth because this is my personal blog, not the Guardian newspaper 🙂

    Reply
  9. Fay

    Coming to Pete’s aid here.

    Would anyone argue against the following statement?

    The number of pieces of litter dropped per person per day in India is VASTLY higher than the UK.

    This is Pete’s central point. He’s not saying every Indian litters, or no British people litter.

    Here is my anecdote. I’m on a boat drifting through the backwaters of Kerala with a couple of mates and a load of other tourists. Most of these tourists are Westeners, but there is one Indian couple. Now believe me, only a Westerner with seriously anti-social tendencies would drop litter into that calm dark water. I can only imagine some 14 year old with aspirations to not-give-a-shit-or-whatever would do such a thing. But a nice Indian lady, a maths teacher, a woman who is enjoying the beautiful scenery chucks her rubbish of the side without a thought.

    Now here’s a quote from my English mate, a Geographer and Enviromentalist who travelled round a bit of South India with me. “India really opened my eyes to the impact people can have without any particular point source like a factory or whatever on the landscape.”

    Another anecdote. I’m sitting on a train eating dinner with my fellow passengers. I take my rubbish to the end of the carriage and put it in the bin. My fellow passengers drop it on the floor, dhally rice grains and all. Next morning a small boy shuffles though the carriage on his bum, sweeping up the mess as he goes. He is not even tipped by all the people who made the mess. 🙁

    Reply
  10. s.yogan

    Dude, I am not offended but i dont get offended easy.

    UK was worse some time back. Like Alistar says “Or perhaps they have more serious problems to worry about first (education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.)?”

    Me .. ….Dude I have seen your pad first have that cleaned. You have too much of time on your hands what you need is to get ****

    Reply
  11. Tom

    Man, this is turning into a bit of a fight. I’m tempted to bring up the dreaded ‘R’ word, as that’s about all that’s left in terms of Topics That Are Guaranteed To Start An Argument!

    To put my 2p in, I’m forever astounded by the distinct lack of respect that my countrypeople (I’m in the UK) have for the world around them. I’m a teacher, and I’m routinely amazed by the attitude my kids show to litter: they’ll drop it wherever they’re standing- inside, outside, sitting down, standing up- and when I confront them about it and tell them to put it in a bin they are genuinely affronted: “That’s the cleaner’s job”. It drives me to distraction.

    Reply
  12. admin

    Tom, I just hope the kids you work with learn at some point as they get older to respect their environment a bit more otherwise the Lake District might be in danger of turning in to the photos I’ve posted above!

    Hopefully Fay’s observation of “I can only imagine some 14 year old with aspirations to not-give-a-shit-or-whatever would do such a thing” is correct!

    Reply
  13. s.yogan

    Pete

    The old guy is not intentionally teaching his kid, its just a habit he picked up from his parents. There was no special thought process involved there.

    both u and Fay state that “the fact that middle and upper class people are so used to having other people do their dirty work” Not True it is not only the middle class who litter everybody does.

    Where you come from You are probably punished (fined) and socially penalized if you litter.

    Just because u litter it doesn’t mean u r uncivilized. Going to war and killing, (for what) that would be more like uncivilized. and anyway to quote yourself “you might see people throwing rubbish in Edinburgh (and even I couldn’t believe how many guys were pissing in the doorways after a few drinks)”

    so dude stop judging, clean up after your mess in your pad, dont pee on the bloody street just because other indian dudes do it and pete dude u really cant get lucky with the people u go around calling uncivilized and thoughtless.

    Reply
  14. Jens

    Pete, a little about littering and some more on modes of communicating between British and Indian people.

    This was really interesting stuff from my point of view – both the blog post and the comments. I am Norwegian. My country under Danish and Swedish rule for 500 years; we were never a colonial power. And I am a theologian, who last year lived in Chennai studying religion from the perspective of the Dalits – from the Indus valley civilization to the immigration of the Aryans, to the coming of the British and up to today.

    And as I do believe that the caste system is a fundamentally oppressive system founded on the Aryan need to control the darker skinned descendants of the Indus Valley civilization, I also know that the Europeans who arrived in India in the 15- and 1600s did not react negatively to it, as they were accustomed to the feudal system in Europe. Historically, Europeans have been more interested in exploiting India than helping the country develop structures for a more equal society.

    So when you are a European in living in India, it is important to be able to keep two thoughts in your head at the same time:
    – Yes, coming from an egalitarian European tradition, you will find that India is in many ways fucked up.
    – But: The West is very much to blame for having contributed to keeping it that way and making it worse in modern times.

    So when it comes to littering, the British could of course have contributed much more than they did to build better sewage systems and change how people handled their waste. But they didn’t. And that is partly why it is still as bad as it is. Gandhi was mad at Indians for littering as much as they did, and mad at the British for not doing more, because he’d lived in England and South Africa and seen how it could be handled differently.

    And in the same way, the British could’ve done much, much more to liberate the Dalits. But they didn’t. The most important Dalit liberator was an neither Hindu nor British. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, and had to fight both the Indian Hindu majority and the British to make India become a more just and free society.

    Reply
  15. Fay

    Allowing the BNP to say what it wants works better for Britain than not allowing them to exist, but that this may not be the same in other countires. This is in terms of legal precedents – for example in Germany there have been attempts to ban their version of the BNP due to them being anti-constitutional, and also in terms of Britain historically having been a place of freedom of expression – Marx and others found safe haven in Britain after having been expelled from other countries. Anti-colonialists in Britain were allowed to speak their mind even if they were considered crackpots by the mainstream.

    Secondly I really resent the fact that people are assuming that I have some British superiority complex just because a) I have opined that not thinking twice about dropping litter is incredibly scummy, and b) I have stated my observations that this happens a lot more in India than in Britain.

    I have made attempts to understand why b):
    1) “In Britain along with industrialisation and the massive increase in non bio-degradable waste came huge investments in city infrastructure.” – this chimes exactly with Jens reasoning.

    2) “And Pete is right, a lot of the Indian middle class do not have to clean up after themselves in their own home. Maybe some take this mindset into the wider world. It is a reasonable supposition to make.” – Shawn, your objection to this explaination is flawed – people aspire to be higher class, just because a lower class person does not have someone to clean up after them in their home doesn’t mean they don’t feel that it is someone else’s job to clean up after them in the streets. Their, that’s my armchair sociology done for today!

    And Tom, you are talking about the 14 year olds with aspirations to not-give-a-shit-or-whatever that I mentioned.

    Reply
  16. s.yogan

    “coming from an egalitarian European tradition, you will find that India is in many ways fucked up.
    – But: The West is very much to blame for having contributed to keeping it that way and making it worse in modern times.”

    You only think India is “fucked up” ???

    You also think that you are to blame for it.

    I litter and you blame yourself?????

    sounds good

    Fay who is assuming that you have some British superiority complex?

    Reply
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