Cleaning up the country

A recent clean-up drive at Oshiwara saw bicyclists clear garbage and illegal posters. Founders of the Ride and Clean Up! hope to take the initiative across India, finds Moeena Halim

Before the sun rose on the morning of November 2, Oshiwara’s streets got a thorough clean-up. Cyclists who joined Rakesh Bakshi’s Ride and Clean Up! campaign, coupled with enthusiastic locals goaded by Lalit Vashishta, came armed with brooms, garbage bags and gloves.

Participants clean the bus stop at Oshiwara during the clean-up drive initiated by Rakesh Bakshi and Lalit Vashishta
Participants clean the bus stop at Oshiwara during the clean-up drive initiated by Rakesh Bakshi and Lalit Vashishta

“Some even brought soap and water to scrub posters off electric boxes,” reveals Bakshi. The filmmaker, author and avid cyclist was shocked by some of the garbage they found abandoned on the streets. “There were soiled nappies strewn across the street, too. It was disgusting,” he complains.

Rakesh Bakshi
Rakesh Bakshi

A lesson from Gandhi
It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at New York’s Madison Square Garden that inspired Bakshi to initiate a clean up drive. “Modi talked about Gandhiji’s attention to cleanliness and I wondered why it had never been stressed upon in our textbooks,” says Bakshi, commenting on the lack of civic sense in the country.

He began getting in touch with his network of cyclists and friends across the city and in other parts of the state and found several passionate volunteers. “Next month I will take the clean-up drive to Panchgani and to Pune in January. I have a house in the hill station and for years I’ve noticed the mess tourists leave behind.

I guess it’s that lack of a sense of belonging and ownership that makes people less thoughtful about keeping the place clean,” notes Bakshi, who hopes that locals from Panchgani will join the drive.

Vashishta, who co-hosted the drive at Andheri, agrees that mobilising locals is most important in the long run. “The drive was successful because people living in the area participated in it. After the clean-up, I realised it was important to continue spreading the work and mobilising people,” he adds.

Going cross-country
Once he’d rallied citizens in the Oshiwara area, Vashishta decided to take the campaign across the country. He started a Facebook group called Garbage Busters, which got an overwhelmingly positive response in the week prior to the drive. “Within two days, over 1,000 people had joined that group.

We are encouraging people from across the country to upload photos of neglected garbage dumps in their neighbourhood. Tell us which municipality is in charge and we will use social media to send the word out to them,” says Vashishta.

The public group has already seen people from the municipality, social workers, and celebrities joining in. “We’re hosting a meeting in a few days and we hope to appoint zonal representatives too,” he adds.

For Bakshi, who publicised their work through photos on their Facebook page, it was an email from a citizen in Bangalore that spelt the success of his Ride and Clean Up! drive. “He asked if he could replicate the initiative in his city. All I could say was ‘Why not’?”

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