Why is India so filthy? | The Ugly Indian | TEDxBangalore
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Why is India so filthy? | The Ugly Indian | TEDxBangalore

November 13, 2019


Translator: Helena Bowen
Reviewer: Denise RQ 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,
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?” Some of you will say:
“OK. I want to fix it. I don’t even know how to start!” Let me take you to dream land.
In dream land, 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. 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 all need to admit
that we are all Ugly Indians and more importantly, only we
can save us from ourselves. As long as we’re emotional
about it, we won’t solve it. 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, Here 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? 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 our 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, upscale neighborhood. 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 It has been like this forever. Because there are paan stains,
people urinate on it. Nobody walks on that footpath. 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. This is very common; this is Indiranagar. The young school boy
is facing a death trap. We see this very often.
Have you never seen a death trap? Bangalore is full of death traps.
The little boy has to walk around. Look at that footpath. If you ask the residents,
they have complained for years. Nothing has happened. Three people said, “Let’s fix it.”
This is what they did. They actually went and fixed the footpath.
It has remained fixed for 6 months. What’s the message?
If you see a problem, go fix it. Nobody stops you.
You can actually make a change. Don’t waste your time complaining. Litter bins are a problem. Why? They can look like animals,
they’re made of fiberglass, they catch fire with cigarettes,
some litter bins are rusting, they’re falling underground. Don’t litter bins look so dirty that they actually bring down
the aesthetics of the place? The litter bin is
supposed to make it clean. Sometimes they’re not where
you want them so people improvise. They put litter in trees. Some people said, “can we design
a litter bin that will not get stolen, looks beautiful, that people will use,
that lasts through the weather, and actually improves
the aesthetics of the place?” They came up with something
called the Tere Bin, a designer dustbin. This is on Brigade Road in Bangalore. The beautiful part is it is not stealable. Nobody wants it because it is
made of materials nobody wants. It works, it looks clean. For the last 3 years, there are
200 dustbins across Bangalore. It has worked because somebody
applied his mind to solve a problem. This is in front of ITPL. The dustbin is where
you need it: a bus stop. People use it. It has worked. This is the biggest problem
of all: open garbage. This is outside the Koramangala Club. You would think they would figure it out,
but they didn’t, and some people said, “Let’s make this as an example,”
and this is what they did. It has remained fixed.
It is not a photo op at all. (Applause) The reason well known places are taken
is that if people who are rich, powerful, and with social pressure cannot do it,
then there is something wrong with us. This is outside the house of Dr. Rajkumar. Poor Mr. Puneeth Rajkumar
has to see this every year. He’s got amazing social power,
he couldn’t fix it. This is what was done. It has remained fixed
for the last 6 months. (Applause) This is J.P. Nagar
outside Ambareesh’s house. We’ve chosen people who are important
who can get things done, but it requires the public to do it. This is outside a slum. This is cow dung. This is where children
wait for their school bus. It’s become a beautiful bus stop. This is outside a tech park. Every tech park in Bangalore
has got open drains. There are billion dollar
companies in there. Apparently nobody is willing to fix this.
They’re all blaming somebody else. A few people went, made
a safe zone, made it a bus stop. It’s working! So the point is whether it’s a slum,
or a tech park, or an affluent zone, you can make change. This is in Whitefield nearby.
This is an open toilet. The slum at the back has
people who use the toilet. That’s a wine shop.
This is in the Jagriti theater. It’s crazy, so some people
in Whitefield said, “Let’s fix it.” So they fixed it, but what happened?
People still threw garbage. You cannot fix a place
by just painting it. You have to solve the underlying problem. So on day two, five people went
to all the houses and said, “Tomorrow we will make a new system so you don’t need to put
your garbage on the ground.” See what happened. What is interesting
is that all the people, the slumdwellers, the wine shop owner,
the Jagriti people, people in apartments, got together to solve a common problem. They had never spoken
to each other before. They used to complain to
each other about each other. When the community comes together
to fix a common problem, it is no longer a tragedy of the commons,
it is a victory of the commons. This particular project has spawned
many more projects in Whitefield. (Applause) Now look closely. This is actually urine
outside a wine shop. Indian men need to urinate
and let’s accept that. Let’s not get emotional about it. Can we make them
urinate in a dignified way and rescue the public space? This is urine outside a wine shop.
The wine shop owner couldn’t be bothered. It created an innovation
where someone said, “Let’s create a dignified way for men
to urinate and rescue our public space.” It resulted in something
called the Wonderloo: which is an open-air urinal,
a private space where men urinate, and the rest of the wall gets rescued. Now who did all these projects?
Look closely. There are senior citizens. That lady is in her seventies.
She’s holding a crow bar. There are retired army officers,
slum children, the wine shop owner. They all came together
and did this project. There was no contract label.
It was done entirely by citizens. That evening, people came
in their car to buy liquor, and they used the restroom in the open. Everybody is happy. All the stakeholders in that spot
eventually got what they wanted. Even though they have
hugely opposing ideologies, they’re getting along,
and that’s the big message. So what do you think?
Is there any hope? Yeah, that’s good. Over 400 spots have been fixed,
but more interesting is that 90% have survived,
and that’s an excellent survival rate for problems that were so chronic that no one even knew
how to start solving them. But how does it all work?
That’s what I’m hear to tell you. It’s not about painting a wall,
there’s much more to it than that. The most important thing is this:
(Indian) “Kaam Chalu, Mooh Bandh!” Only work, no talk!
Bayi Muchko, Kelasa Hachko. It’s as simple as that. In India, we talk too much.
We refuse to listen. If you decide to do and don’t talk,
incredible things can be achieved. Don’t lecture, don’t moralize,
don’t create awareness drives, don’t tell people what to do. Don’t act condescending and say,
“I know the solution to your problem.” Because it might not even
be a problem at all. If you take the lead, others will follow. Some of you may have been
in protests and dharnas. When you go on a protest,
some people join you, some people ignore you;
it’s the same with good work. If you go and do disruptive,
positive anarchy, some will follow you,
some will ignore you, but nobody will stop you. The only person stopping you
from going out and doing good is yourself. Don’t blame anybody else for stopping you. Don’t expect credit,
don’t expect applause. Stay anonymous. Don’t take anybody’s money.
Use your own, whatever your means are. If a single person does something
within his own means, you’ll be surprised
how many other people join you. The moment you take money
you’re almost losing your independence. Gandhi famously said,
“Be the change you want to see.” There’s a slight problem with that,
with due respect to Gandhi. If the situation is hopeless,
you first need to see the change that you want to be to believe
that you can even make the change. That’s where Facebook has been fantastic. Every before and after
photograph goes on Facebook. People say, “Wow,
it’s possible. Let me try it.” Creating belief that our pathetic
civic situation can improve is the biggest lesson
the Ugly Indian Movement has learned. Focus on results, not on
who is doing it, how it’s being done. If you can deliver a before and after
photograph, you’re good. If not, Facebook is a very brutal decider
of whether the project was good or not. There are many myths about social
movements that have been broken. Volunteers are the easiest to get. Bangalore has thousands of people
who come out on weekends and work. These are not social activists. These are people with regular jobs
who take time out to work. Money is not a problem at all. Many of the projects shown
cost less than 3,000 rupees or 60 USD. If 10 people get together and put in
300 rupees each you can fix a spot. It’s cheaper than going out
for dinner or coffee in one of Bangalore’s upscale restaurants. And the best part: You can make a dramatic change
without asking anybody else for help. A lot of people worry
about the government. The government loves it
if the citizens engage. Just paying taxes
and voting is not enough. If you come out and work
the government loves it. The Bangalore and the BBMP
have taken the first step in partnering with citizen movements. It is unprecedented in India,
and we are hopeful that other cities take note
that when the collective energies of the government employees
and the citizens are put on the common cause, improving the city,
dramatic change can happen. We spend too much time
fighting the government. That should stop. India is truly rising. What began in Bangalore on Church Street
four years ago quickly spread, And now there are literally 20-30 teams
operational in Bangalore. All their work is on Facebook
and slowly, across India, there are 30-40 cities:
Kanpur, Agra, Chennai. You just name a city,
people are coming out. And you know the best part? None of them know
each other, nobody talks. The only thing that counts is results. So wherever you are,
go out and do something, post it to Ugly Indian. If your work is on Ugly Indian,
you become famous on your street and other people join you. These are random photos sent by people:
Kanpur, Amritsar, Agra, Chennai. Everybody is trying to copy,
emulate what’s happening elsewhere. Simple message: if you want to change the world,
start with your own street. If you want your street
to change, you should do it. If you wait for somebody else
to do it, it may never happen. The choice is yours. A question that is often asked is
why are Ugly Indians anonymous? So far I’ve revealed my gender,
because of my tone of voice, and the language that I speak
in which I am proficient. But you don’t know what I speak at home,
you don’t know my age, you don’t know my religion,
you don’t know my caste, you don’t know my political views, whether I have a ponytail
or whether I have a tattoo. The problem with India is
we make judgments on people and not on the work they do. The reason The Ugly Indian has worked
is that the focus is only on results. Not who did it, why are they doing it,
what are their motivations? Anonymity allows a lot of people
to come and join the fold. The message is stop being
an Ugly Indian from today. Go out and do something. Do you think there is any hope? I came here two days back
to check out this hall. This is how it looked like
outside where we are. That is the footpath.
It says, “way to school.” Very helpful if you’re going to school,
you should take this footpath. That’s exactly outside this hall.
This is what you would normally do. This is a “chalta hai” attitude:
I don’t care. It’s not my problem. I need to get from A to B.
I’ll just jump over it. We need to change from
“chalta hai” to “kaam chalu”. So what did we do?
We went to a construction site, we got some laborers,
we got some iron rods, We fixed it so “chalta hai”
got changed to “kaam chalu.” If I’m going to spend 18 minutes
doing “mooh chalu” in this auditorium, I will spend 18 minutes working outside,
and in 18 minutes that place was fixed. (Applause) When you go out today,
please walk on that footpath on the way to Brigade school
because it was fixed 2 days ago. We got into the josh of it. Just outside the entrance of this hall is
an open electricity box for the garbage. We spent an hour and fixed it. When you go out today,
you will see work done by three people three days back because
they felt they needed to do it. The question to ask is: have you
made an impact on your street? And we love TEDx.
They said TEDx is a talk fest. Can TEDx do anything? So 2 days ago, 100 people
from this audience came out and did a spot fix in Bangalore and that’s the story
we’re going to share with you now. This is K.R. Circle,
one of Bangalore’s favorite circles. It’s a beautiful place,
but with one problem: pedestrians have to cross on the road. There are underpasses there,
beautifully designed, but they are either closed
or if they’re open, they look like this. That is urine that has not
been cleaned for years. The lady coming in is holding her nose.
Just look at this lady. She has to wait for the man to cross.
She walks bravely, holding her nose in the dark, dingy, urine-filled room
to get to work. Isn’t that sad? These girls are risking their lives
crossing to go to college. They don’t want to use the underpass.
That girl is making a decision: she’d rather walk on the road
than go in the underpass. This girl goes to college
with her nose closed. That is the Mayor of Bangalore. We invited him to come
inspect this and he said, “We’ve tried for years to fix it.
Can the public help?” The public said yes. A group of the public went in
and cleaned this place. The mayor came and joined. They transformed the subway
and for the last 3 weeks, it’s been running well. This is what it looks like now. 2 days ago, the TEDx
volunteers came here. They’re entering the subway
to check it out. This is the clean subway.
See how different it is. (Applause) Look at how many people are walking.
They’re smiling. It’s a friendly place. All it takes to convert a public space
is a little bit of sincerity and effort. And the public has rescued a subway. They came here to see the change
that they wanted to be. This is what they did: In the next hour, 100 people from this room
actually went and cleaned up the subways. This is how they look:
10 subways repainted. As we speak the subways are being cleaned
and come next week, they will all open. 6 subways in K.R. Circle open because of the efforts
taken by people at TEDx. This is what it looks like: if I want to walk from the library
to Freedom park, it’s very difficult. But what they have done now is Bangalore has beautiful under-connected
pedestrian walkways lying dormant. They have been rescued. We have K.R. Circle for cars and we have a pedestrian circle
for pedestrians. What do you think? Is there any hope? (Audience) Yes! All the people who worked on
the spot fix give yourselves a big hand. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)

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