Not-so-ugly In­dian

A group of anony­mous cit­i­zens in Ben­galuru is clean­ing filthy streets and in­spir­ing change across In­dia

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - MOUSHUMI SHARMA | NEW DELHI

A group of anony­mous cit­i­zens in Ben­galuru are trans­form­ing dirty spots in their city into clean and

green pub­lic spa­ces

PRIME MIN­IS­TER Naren­dra Modi re­cently launched the Swachh Bharat Ab­hiyan scheme for a cleaner In­dia with much fan­fare. But long be­fore Modi’s an­nounce­ment, a group of Ben­galuru cit­i­zens were anony­mously do­ing their bit.

Call­ing it­self The Ugly In­dian, the self-ef­fac­ing mot­ley group has been clean­ing the city streets since 2010.It strictly pro­hibits mem­bers from speak­ing to the me­dia, and even if they do, they do not dis­close their iden­tity. “The names of in­di­vid­u­als are not im­por­tant. What mat­ters are re­sults, ”claims www.theug­lyin­dian.com. Their motto is sim­ple: kaam chalu, mooh bandh (start work­ing, stop talk­ing). They be­lieve the prob­lem lies with the peo­ple and not the sys­tem.

Not all In­di­ans are ugly

With help from vol­un­teers and lo­cal civic au­thor­i­ties, the group is striv­ing to not only keep its city clean, but also bring about a change in the “ugly” at­ti­tude of In­di­ans.

They iden­tify “ugly spots” in the city and “fix” them— what the group calls spot fix­ing. A spot fix could be any­thing from re­mov­ing garbage to cov­er­ing open drains, re­mov­ing paan (be­tel nut leaf ) stains from walls to restor­ing pub­lic places used as uri­nals.

On the sched­uled day, mem­bers reach the spot equipped with face masks, hand gloves, brooms, mops, spades, buck­ets and dust­bins. “We are ex­pected not to so­cialise and waste time. We spend ev­ery sin­gle minute do­ing our work,” one of the group mem­bers told Down To Earth in an email in­ter­view. Within hours, they re­store an ugly spot to a clean and green pub­lic space.

There are no cri­te­ria for peo­ple to join the cam­paign. Those who want to con­trib­ute can write to theug­lyin­dian@gmail.com or sign up on the group’s Face­book page, www.face­book.com/theugl.yin­dian. “It is open to all. Most new mem­bers th­ese days are IT pro­fes­sion­als and stu­dents. Many multi­na­tional com­pa­nies in Ben­galuru are also sup­port­ing The Ugly In­dian by ei­ther en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ees to join our spot fixes or form groups to clean up the area around their or­gan­i­sa­tion,” adds the mem­ber.

He claims that the group raises its funds from mem­bers and “does not en­ter­tain ex­ter­nal spon­sors for spot fixes”.

Small steps make a dif­fer­ence

The im­pact of their work is vis­i­ble from the change that has come about. Take the Wind Tun­nel Road in Vi­nayak Na­gar. A few months ago, the pave­ment on one side of the road was a dump­ing ground for garbage.The Ugly In­dian went about clean­ing this spot. The re­sult: a clean and colour­ful foot­path with benches for peo­ple to rest.

The Ko­ra­man­gala Club area saw a sim­i­lar trans­for­ma­tion. This is an af­flu­ent neigh­bour­hood in the heart of Ko­ra­man­gala, which houses many tech parks. But in the ab­sence of civic ameni­ties such as dust­bins, res­i­dents dumped garbage on the road. Once the The Ugly In­dian started their spot fix­ing, Ko­ra­man­gala Club looked as good as new.

The Ugly In­dian’s sin­cere ef­forts have also led to a mag­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the six sub­ways in Ben­galuru’s K R Cir­cle. The group started its clean­ing spree on Au­gust 1 this year. Two spot fixes over two week­ends later, the group changed the dark, urine-filled sub­ways to un­der­ground run­ning and walk­ing trails, com­plete with lights, graf­fiti and paint­ings.

Th­ese are just three of the nu­mer­ous spot fixes un­der­taken by the group. Most have been taken up in Ben­galuru’s cen­tral business dis­trict, in­clud­ing M G Road, Bri­gade Road and Church Street. A few oth­ers have been car­ried out out­side the pass­port of­fice in Ko­ra­man­gala, Memo­rial Church in White­field and nmkrv Col­lege in Jayana­gar.

Team­ing up for bet­ter re­sults

The group is helped by the Bruhat Ben­galuru Ma­hana­gara Pa­like (bbmp), or Greater Ben­galuru Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion.The two en­tered into an agree­ment on July 19 this year with the sign­ing of a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing.

In an email in­ter­view, B S Sathya­narayana, bbmp mayor, says that the civic body and The Ugly In­dian have to­gether un­der­taken 10 spot fixes in a sin­gle day in the btm lay­out, a popular res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial area in the city.He says the group has helped bbmp clean seven sub­ways and two pub­lic toi­lets.

“Clean­ing sub­ways was chal­leng­ing. I my­self took part in one of the spot fixes,” Sathya­narayana says. The suc­cess of the cam­paign can be gauged from the re­sponse of the pub­lic, in terms of en­cour­age­ment, par­tic­i­pa­tion and com­mit­ment to main­tain clean­li­ness.The group has more than 200,000 fol­low­ers on Face­book. The mem­bers reg­u­larly up­date the page on the lat­est spot fixes and post pho­tos of their work, which gives bet­ter ac­count­abil­ity to an oth­er­wise anony­mous group.

“You are a big in­spi­ra­tion to a lot of us. Ev­ery day you drive sense into so many,” writes Var­sha Narayanan, one of the fol­low­ers. “I hope the gov­ern­ments in­te­grate The Ugly In­dian’s ini­tia­tive with the PM’s vi­sion of a clean In­dia,” writes Monal Ag­gar­wal, another fol­lower. Some are ap­pre­cia­tive and scep­ti­cal at the same time. Nee­lam Kashyap, a res­i­dent of Ko­ra­man­gala, says, “The Ugly In­di­ans have taken up an amaz­ing ini­tia­tive. I have seen trans­for­ma­tions around my home and of­fice. The only con­cern is that after a few weeks, peo­ple tend to lit­ter again. I think this can be pre­vented if more peo­ple get in­volved.”

The group mem­bers say they try to en­sure that peo­ple do not go back to throw­ing garbage .After a spot fix, the group keeps a close watch on the area in what they call the 15-day test.If a spot re­mains clean for this pe­riod, they deem their ef­fort suc­cess­ful. Most of the spots fixed by the group have re­mained clean beyond 15 days.

In­spir­ing In­di­ans to do their bit

The clean­li­ness drive by The Ugly In­dian has en­cour­aged peo­ple in other ci­ties to start sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives, such as Mumbai Ris­ing, Gur­gaon Ris­ing, Kolhapur Ris­ing and Meerut Ris­ing. In Jaipur, the group is called Shut Up and Do It. Th­ese groups get to­gether in their ci­ties and beau­tify pub­lic places such as com­mu­nity cen­tres, parks and mar­kets.

Aman Jassal, one of the mem­bers of Gur­gaon Ris­ing, says the main prob­lem is with the at­ti­tude. “We need to do our bit first. Only then can we hold the gov­ern­ment ac­count­able and force it to take ac­tion,” he says, adding that clean­ing a spot is not enough. “It is im­por­tant to beau­tify it too, say with graf­fiti. Only then will peo­ple find the place at­trac­tive and feel the need to main­tain clean­li­ness,” he ex­plains.

The cit­i­zens who are part of the cam­paign be­lieve their ini­tia­tive is a small start. But a jour­ney of a thou­sand miles be­gins with a sin­gle step. For this coun­try, this step has been taken by the “ugly In­dian”.

PHOTOGRAPHS: THE UGLY IN­DIAN

(Left) One of the six sub­ways in K R Cir­cle that has been ren­o­vated by The Ugly In­dian; (Right) The group trans­formed a pave­ment in Sadashiv

Na­gar from a garbage dump to a clean walk­way;

(Be­low) Another sub­way in K R Cir­cle that has been con­verted into a run­ning trail and a photo gallery

Be­fore

After

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