Civic Sense - Whose Bother is it Anyway...?

A 1976 incident that happened while I was working in Delhi, is still vivid in my memory.
I got down from my chartered bus at Connaught Place and was walking towards the bank branch where I worked. As a Double Decker DTC bus passed me by, I was hit by a red liquidly substance. Lo and behold, my saree was stained red all over by the paan (betel leaf) juice that a bus passenger had spit out with great force from the top deck!
I felt very shabby and unpresentable with red paan stains all over my saree. My dilemma - I was holding the cash vault keys. It was imperative that I reached the bank in time to avoid client complaints. Cash those days (when there were no ATMs, Internet or Mobile Banking - in fact, there were no cell phones) was the bloodline and lifeline of a bank branch, with customers rushing in to draw cash on their way to work and transact other banking business.
I had no choice but to go to my workplace despite the condition I was in. Leave absence of a few colleagues, forced me to stay back and work through the day in a paan-stained saree, answering all sorts of concerned queries!
What I narrated above is a 20th century incident but even after a decade of the 21st century, such incidents abound!
Overflowing garbage bins and drains, spit marks, public defecation, road rage, undisciplined traffic, absence of footpaths on main roads for pedestrians, vulgar graffiti on walls, etc., etc. are a common sight in India. No city, no town, no village has been able to fight or contain any of these. Citizens have become so insensitive that they go about their daily chores nonchalantly amidst the chaotic muck and mess all around them.
In a country, where road rage is rampant, where traffic rules are followed only by some ‘fools’, where pedestrians have no right of way or even a footpath on most major roads (what with frenetic construction activity going on at every available piece of space), where life has no value, and where throwing garbage and unwanted things on the vacant plot next door is considered an automatic right, civic sense just doesn’t make any sense to us.
“Everybody does it” is a common refrain.…
Go to a park and you’ll find parents and children littering. Go to any place where there is a queue system and you’ll find people jostling to jump the queue. And why not, when a famous Lord’s darshan is available according to pecking order - VVIPs, VIPs, assorted ticket holders and lastly the common Dharma Darshan (free-of-payment beholding of the deity at the sanctum sanctorum) devotees waiting in a serpentine queue for insanely long hours,  only to be pushed away with a “jarugandi…!, pondi…!” (Move.…! Go….!) by the well-built priests after a fleeting glance of the Lord, for which they have traversed across the country! One can understand and appreciate the pressures of crowd management, but the aggressive handling of the harried dharma darshan commoners by the priests, leaves much to be desired.
In India, even prominent personalities like politicians, corporate honchos and film stars regularly indulge in proud displays of lack of civic sense and civil behaviour. Ministers delaying planes with complete disregard for other passengers, companies that freely pollute rivers and lakes, film stars getting into frequent fracas, are just a few examples. These prominent personalities are also in the habit of being fashionably late at the events they are invited to as chief guests.
It is difficult for a country to change its mindset when its leaders - political, corporate and social - set bad examples all the time. In India, civic sense as an ethic and a way of life is a low priority -  in fact, a nuisance…
Let’s understand that our roads are dirty not because the municipality did not clean them but because we the people first and foremost, dirtied them – by throwing litter, spitting, public defecation etc.  Such dirt and grime is not acceptable to anybody. Everybody talks about it and curses the government, while continuing to disregard civic sense as a way of life.
Civic sense is nothing but social ethics.

It is a consideration for the unspoken norms of society by the people for the people. Civic sense is not just about keeping public property like roads and streets clean; it is much more than that. Civic sense has also to do with civil behavior - law-abiding, respect for fellow beings’ rights, maintaining decorum in public places – in short, being a responsible citizen. Many countries function smoothly and are clean because of the strong civic sense that is habitually and routinely present in their citizens.
Where does Civic Sense begin…?
Home and school are the primary points where Civic Sense lessons have to commence. Children should be taught civic sense early as a way of life - belief in hygiene, respect for others and humane behavior. They have to be taught about how civic sense and civil public behavior could make a difference to both the quality of their life and their country.
Lessons in civic sense should begin with training children to keep their immediate surroundings neat and clean, and appreciate the importance of cleanliness. They have to be told that even if others are dirty, they needn’t be. They should be encouraged to mingle with children from different backgrounds and respect their sensibilities. This will imbibe tolerance and patience in them from an early age. The children should be told about the relevance and significance of different Indian festivals so that they see the spirit behind and similarities between their and another’s religion. This would certainly develop them into better and tolerant human beings.
Most homes do not impress upon their children the importance of civic sense and civil behavior. After all, what can a child learn from garbage thrown in the vacant plot next door or from parents who constantly abuse fellow road users?
We Indians picked up a lot from the British when they ruled us – their way of banking, style of dressing, English speaking and so on…but we did not learn their neat habits and civic sense. They left behind superbly constructed buildings which stand tall even today, having withstood the test and vagaries of time as against our own more recent, badly-constructed and ill-planned buildings which don’t inspire any confidence in case of a fire or a few tremors…. We kept their properties neat and tidy for them as their slaves, but the moment they left, we started dirtying our buildings and roads with a vengeance…!
I have deliberately avoided here any reference to the municipal corporations’ apathy towards civic sense. They have their own SOPs (Stand Operating Procedures) and Manuals of Instructions. They consider the maintenance of VIP-frequented roads alone as their job. Some knee jerk reactions and actions are seen from them when they are under pressure – like hurriedly sprucing up or laying roads before the visit of a VIP (read ruling party minister or politician) to a particular area….or waking up when a major epidemic breaks out due to the sewage water getting mixed up with drinking water or somebody falling and (more importantly) dying in an open manhole during a downpour….
Most municipal corporations do not have an effective Complaint Redressal mechanism in place….Need anything more be said…?


More by :  Padmaja Iyengar-Paddy

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Views: 3365      Comments: 5

Comment Mam,

You've dealt this crucial issue in a very appropriate manner. I hope this article of yours would
help people in realizing their moral duties towars keeping their country clean.

Sumedha Sagar
14-Apr-2015 11:34 AM

Comment 101% right observation who will change our country GOD KNOWS

suchitra kumar
10-Apr-2015 05:39 AM

Comment The article of M/S Padmaja Iyengar is thought provoking and just wonderful.I believe that the children must be taught by parents in homes and teachers at schools the responsibility of a good citizen. A good citizen must have civic sense.In most of the schools priority is given to academic side and sidestep the most needed things- moral values.

27-Oct-2013 11:23 AM

Comment Yes Dr. Raghavan. Completely agree with your views. Spitting and public defecation are such common sights in our country that we've been completely sensitized towards these and hardly notice them...We as a nation, have come to believe in violation as a matter of right - whether it be our resources or even human dignity...I can go on and on...

Padmaja Iyengar
31-Mar-2013 01:27 AM

Comment Dear Ms. Padmaja,

Very relevant observations.

Looking for civic sense in India today is perhaps like asking for moon. What is worse is that the affairs in this regard are fast deteriorating. There is a basic lack of culture. There is no concern for the fellow citizen or fellow human being. Traffic violations become law. I have observed that more the number of road dividers, the more are the number of people driving on the wrong side. Erecting Shamianas anywhere is a matter of right.

Seeing the state of things one can add a number of unwriiten fundamental rights. Two of them are "to dig anywhere in the streets" and "to spit anywhere"

The phrase "painting the town red" has altogether a different implication and meaning in India.

30-Mar-2013 02:30 AM

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