Which is the most polluted city in Gujarat

Nobody cleans away the smog over Delhi

With the “Clean India” campaign launched in 2014, Narendra Modi aims to transform India into a clean country within five years. But infrastructure projects and effective gestures are not enough to achieve this goal.

The murky gray water on the edge of the brick settlement flows down the stream. A pack of dogs wades through a swamp of mud and plastic bags on the bank, competing with a stray cow in search of something to eat. Two toddlers immersed in the game have built a wall of empty cooking oil canisters as if they were building blocks. The musty smell of rotting waste lingers in the nose.

Those who grow up here in Ramapir Tekro get used to a life in the garbage. The inhabitants of the largest slum in the west Indian metropolis of six million, Ahmedabad, largely impoverished internal migrants from the countryside, are in a daily struggle for survival. There is a lack of infrastructure and awareness-raising in Ramapir Tekro for a conscious handling of waste and a hygienic lifestyle.

Birthday present for Gandhi

Ahmedabad is the largest city in Gujarat, the flagship state in which India's president made a career and distinguished himself as a business-friendly doer. If Narendra Modi has its way, India should be clean by October 2019, when the country will celebrate the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. For Gandhi, alongside the freedom of India, cleanliness was a burning concern.

To prepare the birthday present for the Mahatma, Modi initiated the “Clean India” campaign three and a half years ago, a large-scale program that aims to promote recycling initiatives and toilet construction in addition to street cleaning in India's cities. Modi had himself photographed sweeping a particularly dirty street in Delhi, with effective media coverage. The government even put the iconic logo of “Clean India”, Gandhi's circular glasses, on the new Indian banknotes. The fact that Gandhi is involved in a political program is nothing new in India - the “father of the nation” has to act as a moral guarantor in every second politician's speech.

The campaign, for which the Indian government hired Bollywood stars and cricket heroes, reached millions of people in just a few weeks. Many young Indians reacted on social networks and made cleanliness a viral topic. Critics, however, see Modi's liberal economic policies, which have already eroded environmental laws, at odds with a clean India. Many of the large Indian companies contribute significantly to the pollution of natural resources. The pollution of the Ganges and the sometimes life-threatening smog clouds over Delhi are just two particularly prominent examples.

Contempt for the good spirits

Shanta Ben knows little about big politics, but even more about garbage. The forty-year-old in a purple sari worked as a garbage collector for three quarters of her life. "At the age of ten my parents sent me out on the street with a plastic bag for the first time," recalls Shanta Ben, "in order to contribute to the family income." Shanta Ben covered a good ten kilometers today and carried twenty kilos of rubbish on her back. Your daily earnings: 260 rupees (around 4 Swiss francs).

An estimated two million such garbage collectors make a significant contribution to garbage disposal in India's cities every day. As a rule, they are informal workers whose income depends on the arbitrariness of mafia middlemen who sell the collected garbage on to recycling companies. "The vast majority of collectors are women," says Ashish Agrawal, who developed a recycling program in Ramapir Tekro for the NGO Manav Sadhna, which was shaped by Gandhi's thinking. The men in India, Agrawal said, had too big an ego to do such humiliating work.

The garbage collectors do not receive any recognition from society or politics for their work as the invisible backbone of a clean India. On the contrary: the women are often exposed to harassment and harassment, which is why they prefer to do their work in the dark, for example in the early morning or late evening.

"Our religion is consumption"

Agrawal, who wrote a master's thesis on recycling strategies for Ahmedabad, has an overall positive view of the “Clean India” campaign. The political initiative is a step in the right direction. For the first time, an Indian government made garbage disposal a mainstream issue. “But the work starts here on the ground. Unfortunately, our population looks down on the garbage collectors. India should show them respect. "

This is exactly what Shanta Ben receives in Agrawal's project. It appears in the form of a glass of warm milk that is given to each of the garbage collectors with their salary. A small gesture, but between the stinking piles of rubbish piling up in the warehouse, this is a sign of dignity and appreciation. But there is still a long way to go before slum dwellers like Shanta Ben can also live in reasonably hygienic conditions. «First and foremost are the basic needs. Only when these are met can you think about cleanliness, ”says Agrawal. He points to the masses of piled plastic. «Our religion is not Hinduism or Islam. It's consumption. " In the past two years, the recycling workshop has recycled over 900 tons of waste.

From Ramapir Tekro it is only a few kilometers to the Sabarmati Ashram, where Mahatma Gandhi lived for thirteen years and tried out his ideas for the Indian struggle for independence - long before Plastic polluted the banks of the Sarbarmati River. The way to the Ashram leads over the Dandi Bridge, which Gandhi and his followers crossed on the famous Salt March.

More important than independence

For fifty years, the “Institute for Sanitation” adjacent to the Ashram has been devoting itself to education and the construction of sanitary facilities in India. This is a mammoth task in India: Over 700 million people on the subcontinent still have no access to a latrine. Doing business in the open air is a widespread practice both in the city and in the country and, in addition to the transmission of diseases, has serious consequences, especially for women: rapists know where and when to find their victims. "Sanitation is more important than independence," Gandhi is said to have once said.

The Institute for Sanitation goes one step further. «The toilet is more sacred than a temple. After all, you only go to the temple once a week, but to the toilet every day, ”says Jayesh Patel with a mischievous smile, knowing full well that this is a bit of a provocation in India. In the footsteps of his father, who was called the “toilet man of India”, Patel fights for contemporary hygienic conditions. "Everyone is really a power station," he says with a laugh and points to a lantern that runs on gases from a toilet tank.

Patel is a go-getter who empathizes with people's worries, especially in the slum of Ramapir Tekro. He was also the silent idea behind “Clean India”. Inspired by Patel's work, Modi now wants to build 100 million toilets in the country as part of his campaign. But are they really visited? Patel tells of villages in which brand new toilets stood around unused for months because the residents did not want to give up their old habits.

Delivering hardware, Patel also knows, is always easier than reprogramming the “software”. In other words: India's cleanliness problem cannot be solved with large infrastructure programs alone. And this is arguably the main criticism of Modi's initiative. Change must start at all levels. It has to start first in people's minds and hearts. Because an Indian wisdom says: pollution on the outside is always a reflection of the pollution on the inside.