Baadal Nanjundaswamy is an ordinary citizen like any of us. But what makes him unique is his attitude. While not all of us are inclined to take ownership of public roads and streets, the civic activist highlights the poor condition of infrastructure in the Indian cities of Bangalore and Mysore, through his artwork. Popular for its ingenuity and timely execution, his art captures the attention of civic authorities and prompts them to take immediate action.
While Baadal–through his creativity–instigates the government authorities to better the society, a Bangalore-based initiative called The Ugly Indian (TUI) urges citizens to take responsibility for their neighbourhood and engage in direct action. Run anonymously, this initiative brings together like-minded people who clean up the city streets. Instead of providing temporary quick-fix solutions, the initiative strives to create responsible citizens who would maintain the cleanliness of their society.
This initiative is a success. “What began as a simple project in Bangalore Church Street four years ago, quickly spread. There are literally 20-30 teams operational across the city,” an ‘anonymous citizen’ said on a TEDx talk Why is India so filthy. Today, the idea of TUI has flourished across 30-40 cities in India. The best part, these citizens remain anonymous. “The focus is not on who does what. The focus is on the results instead,” TUI maintains.
“You can change your future by changing your attitude,” is a well-known maxim. Unfortunately, it is often our attitude that lacks a sense of public responsibility. Almost always, we tend to differentiate between what is ‘ours’ and ‘not ours’. We then carefully take care of what is ‘ours’ and neglect (and sometimes cause damage to) what is ‘not ours’.
For instance, all of us manage (or at least try to manage) our homes efficiently. We do not deliberately dirty it or vandalise it. We readily follow implicit rules laid down by ourselves or our family members. While we certainly take ownership of our homes, we seldom get the inclination to adhere to the rules of our own residential association. Radhakrishnan T, an exasperated association president of an apartment in Chennai, says, “Residents crib about pollution and water scarcity. But it is hard to get the same residents to not waste water. Some don’t even separate biodegradable waste from non-biodegradable waste. So, we have to impose fines.”
It seems we tend to believe that in a democracy, our duty ends as soon as we cast our votes and elect our officials. We carry on with our regular lives, unaware of what work elected leaders are implementing.