Chapter 1: Are YOU an Ugly Indian?
Are You an Ugly Indian?
Why is India so filthy? Why do we keep our homes clean and our streets dirty? Why can’t we do anything about this pathetic lack of public hygiene?
Who is to blame for our lack of civic sense? Is it our corrupt politicians, our dysfunctional governments, or ‘the system’ ? Or is it us, the people?
Is it time to admit that many of India’s problems are because we are all ugly Indians – that we, the people, are as much part of the problem – if not, the problem.
It’s about our rooted cultural behavior and attitudes, isn’t it?
After all, even in cities like Singapore, London and New York with efficient civic systems and a culture of rule-enforcement, Indian-dominated neighbourhoods are dirtier and have lower civic standards than other parts of the same cities. Seems like we ugly Indians can beat even the world’s best managed cities into submission!
When asked about this, we just shrug and say we are like this only – and nothing can be done about it.
A group of citizens in Bangalore disagrees. They have spent the past few years showing that the ugly Indian can change and that there is hope! They call themselves The Ugly Indians and operate anonymously.
You’ve probably seen their website (theuglyindian.com), followed them on Facebook (The Ugly Indian), enjoyed their popular ‘SpotFixing’ youtube videos (many have gone viral), or read media articles about them. Better still, you may have seen examples of their work that abound on the streets of Bangalore. If you aren’t aware of The Ugly Indian (TUI), that’s understandable – they work hard to stay anonymous and underground, and want only their work to speak for itself.
On Dec 12, 2011, Anand Mahindra (one of India’s most respected corporate leaders) tweeted:
The Bharat Ratna is India’s top civilian award, given only in exceptional cases. These are serious words from a serious man, who runs a $15bn business conglomerate with operations across 100 countries, and was recently voted one of the most influential voices on twitter globally. He followed it up with another tweet: ‘India’s urban nightmares will improve not with Shanghai-style, ‘bull-dozer’ programs, but via ‘inside-out’ initiatives like #uglyindian.com’.
Anand Mahindra has no idea who the Ugly Indians are, he just follows their work online. Like him, thousands of people from around the world keep track of TUI’s work through ‘results’ posted online.
They all want to find out who these guys are, meet with them, invite them to conferences, interview them for TV. This has never happened. No names are shared, no meetings granted, no interviews given, no volunteers called, no money sought, no credit claimed. The Ugly Indian has remained stubbornly undercover and anonymous right through its incredible journey. In India, that itself is quite an achievement.
This anonymity seems to trouble many. The Namma Bengaluru Awards honours the unsung heroes of Bangalore that contribute towards improving the city – the city has a large number of well-meaning social workers and organisations. Despite its best efforts at not being considered, TUI was nominated as a finalist in 2011, and managed to disqualify itself for the award by not responding to any questions or emails. Jury members privately expressed frustration at this evasiveness, and decided not to include TUI in the final vote to avoid the embarrassment of nobody turning up to accept the award in case TUI won. Doing good work and not taking credit is not typical Indian behaviour, and arouses all kinds of suspicions!
I am Anamik Nagrik, the anonymous citizen. I infiltrated TUI on strict condition of anonymity in 2009.
After 3 years of undercover work, hundreds of real success stories, a wide global following and most importantly, a positive response from the local community, it is time to tell the TUI story.In detail.Not as a FaceBook post, or a short video, but a detailed account of the thinking, the philosophy and the process that drives The Ugly Indian.
As all practitioners know, god is in the detail. Many of us have good ideas, but implementing ideas that actually work and survive on the Indian street is a different skill altogether, a skill that is clearly in short supply, seeing the state of our cities.
This is a book of heart-warming true stories from Bangalore, with rare insights from those who have done real work on the streets. If you want to learn how to change Indian behavior and attitudes towards public spaces, you will find lots of useful material here. The experiments detailed here are a template on how we can keep our streets clean – for the simple reason that they have actually worked!
Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment Minister, famously said –“Our cities are the dirtiest in the world. If there is a Nobel Prize for dirt and filth, India will win it hands down”. Lucy Ivimy, a British politician complained - “I know that in India throwing rubbish out of a window and total disregard for cleanliness of a public area is normal behavior…in London this is not acceptable behavior” and she was scorned, though everyone knew she was right. On being criticised for the poor preparation for the 2009 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the organizing committee chief Lalit Bhanot offered this defence -“Indians have a different standard of hygiene than westerners”. How true. We all know what they mean, and they were expressing publicly what we all know privately. They will enjoy reading this book, and so will those who agree with what they say.
Only if you believe that we Indians are part of the problem, can you even begin to accept that only we can find a solution. Cynics, and those in denial, need not read any further.
The Ugly Indian motto is Kaam Chalu Mooh Bandh. Just Work No Talk. And that is what I will do now, stop talking and begin writing. Here it is – the never-before-told inside-story of The Ugly Indian!
If you have ever wanted to make a difference on the street outside your home or office, and not known how to start, this book is for you.
We are all ugly Indians. Only we can save us – from ourselves.