Broken windows and painted walls
For me, the most remarkable personal discovery in 2015 was Mission Prabhughaat. The concept of Shramdaan was inspiring - the team at Kashi gave me hope and made me want to be involved.
The year ended, however, with me having been a well-meaning supporter of the movement (on social media) and nothing more. There was a strong desire to contribute, but perhaps, as with most people trying to do new things, the initial static friction was too great to overcome.
The job of countering this resistance was done for me by Malcolm Gladwell, in the middle of 2016; wherein he, in his book The Tipping Point, introduced me to the most remarkable personal discovery of 2016 : the Broken Windows theory. The theory had, and continues to have, a fascinating connect with me not because I have unshakeable faith in its correctness and applicability in all contexts — but because it helped me give a name to beliefs I have held for a very long time.
Essentially, the theory can be exemplified like so : getting rid of graffiti inside and outside New York City Subway cars (may have) helped cause a marked fall in incidents of serious crime in the 1950s.
Reading this made me instantly draw a parallel with my city, walls and the public sanitation problem. I was (and still am) absolutely convinced that just like neighbourhoods with a low degree of maintenance (broken windows) would draw higher rates of serious crime, areas in our cities that have today become ugly mass garbage disposal spots are the result of walls that were spat on, defaced with posters and littered around by small vendors.
How do we fix this? There is the oft-used list in essay questions one could answer this question with : government policy; bureaucratic implementation; an aware citizenry and a dedicated municipal body. The question that we probably need to be asking, and consequentially answering, is how do we start fixing this in an absence of all of these?
For me — we need to start painting the walls.
The bad news is that this answer gets me a variety of responses but most of them are confused looks and snide remarks.
The good news, however, is that I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
The even better news is that it works.
A week later :
Three months later :
Cleaning the spot would have been one thing, but achieving that level of sustenance is another. That open dumping lane in Tilak Nagar (New Delhi) wasn’t just cleaned up; it was transformed into a public recreation area/parking spot.
With WMTC, in the six months I’ve been involved with it and in the year and a half prior to that, we’ve managed to work on a number of these locations (spotfixes); managed to come into touch with a number of NGOs, volunteer groups, civil servants and politicians who are all committed to the cause of bringing about drastic change in public sanitation by reclaiming these sort of areas. They all think painting walls will work — and they’re all ready to do it despite being tax-paying citizens : clearly there is an undying desire in us to see a cleaner city; but perhaps now, for the first time, this desire is finding ways to express itself in tangible ways that are producing real results. One of those real results is DDSIL : a government body that the South Delhi Municipal Corporation has handed over the job of cleaning its part of the city to. Amidst the administrational and implementation-based overhaul DDSIL is trying to bring, it has also been adopting the principles of shramdaan and spotfixing in public sanitation. That, in turn, has inspired a higher number of people across the city to organise themselves into groups and take similar action.
There is a very large number of these groups across the country, and they’re all diverse in their own ways, but all of them share one trait : none of them include any painters, street artists or designers. While cleaning these streets and painting these walls, mostly they have no idea what they’re doing, but they keep on sweeping and keep on painting with the belief that it’ll look good at the end. And it usually does.
The above process presents a fantastic parallel with this entire movement itself: we mostly have no idea what we’re doing - but we’re all spurred on by the belief that it is going to look good at the end.
And so we keep on doing it.