The city is full of die-hard spitters. Mumbaikars think that it is their birthright to spit anywhere they want to,” said an upset Vineet Shah from Kalyan, who is preparing for his Chartered Accountancy (CA) final exams. But unlike a lot of people in the city who are best at complaining and cribbing about the unsanitary conditions, Shah and his friends are working towards change. Forty CA aspirants from a coaching centre in Kalyan, have come together for a noble cause. These youngsters , in the age group of 16-20, call themselves ‘Samarpan’, meaning ‘giving yourself’. “It is a cleanliness drive, which started last month at Kalyan station. It is basically an anti-spitting campaign with the objective of keeping Kalyan station clean from paan and tobacco stains. The entire station is blighted by this. We believe that it is our duty as responsible citizens to keep our surroundings clean,” said Shah.
Armed with masks, gloves, brooms, bottles of caustic soda and unflinching determination, this new generation of change makers meet four days a week between 5-7 pm. Members are at it for almost a month now. The planning, however, was almost a yearlong process. The group intends to carry on the cleanliness drive till the monsoon season arrives. M Hariharan Iyer and one of his colleagues, who teach at the same coaching centre in Kalyan, stumbled upon this idea during a discussion with a few students. “We were clueless when we started. It has been a difficult journey so far, but my students and I have realised that it is important to give back to society. Otherwise, nothing is going to change.” After bouncing off a few ideas, the group decided to embark on this project. While 80 people had agreed to participate, only 40 finally turned up.
Shah and his team initially wanted to organise a flash mob at Kalyan station. “We were really inspired after we saw the first flash mob performing at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). We wanted to replicate this at Kalyan station but couldn’t get the required permission from the authorities concerned. We wanted to organise a flash mob right outside the station, but that area is chock-a-block with traffic. Then we thought that we should do something that could have a greater impact. We decided to collect garbage from different housing societies and separate the dry and wet garbage. The committee members of various housing societies in Kalyan had a problem with this. Hence, we had to drop this idea. After this, we decided that we could try and do something at the station, which will benefit a lot of commuters. So, we went for the cleanliness drive instead,” said Shah. Iyer further added, “Initially we wanted to paint the station. Also parts of the station have such tough stains that we thought it would be easier to paint those areas, but we couldn’t get the permission required to do so. Hence, we decided to erase the stain marks for which we were easily granted permission.”
All 40 members of Samarpan have divided themselves into four groups, each group comprising 10 members. “All four groups then go to different parts of the station and clean areas which are dirty and stained. Some carry placards and shout slogans to spread awareness on harmful aspects of spitting, tobacco, gutka, etc,” said Shah. Members coordinate through Facebook. “We use Facebook to keep each other informed or to just spread the word around,” said Shah.
While Samarpan seems to be up and running now, it wasn’t easy for these students in the beginning. “We had to get permissions. Money too was an issue but we are sorted now. While railway authorities have allowed us to carry on with our work, the monetary part has been taken care of, as all 40 of us have donated Rs 100 for the campaign,” said Shah. Inspite of the initial hurdles, group members find the experience rewarding. Nikita Talreja (19) describes the experience as “just awesome”. She added, “It was wonderful when an old lady walked up to us and gave us Rs 21 for the cause. Some homemakers too expressed their desire of joining us in our work. This is what keeps us going.” For Shah, it was “a bit of fun, at times it was frustrating.” Shah remembers an incident when three men got down from the train and offered to help them. “The men told us that they too wanted to join the group and participate in our activities. While we were cleaning, people would stand and order us to clean properly. They thought that we were workers from the railway department. After we tell them that the work is voluntary, they apologise and leave,” said Shah. Swaroop Shekhar Khadilkar (21) a participant said that the girls are infact more enthusiastic than the boys. Inspite of a few initial hiccups, the group is dedicated to achieve what it has set out for. “Some comments like—usse kuch fark nehi padne wala hai (It is not going to make a difference) will not deter us from achieving what we want to.”
The project has evoked mixed reactions from commuters and onlookers. Khadilkar recollects, “We had barely managed to clean an area, when somebody just came and spat next to us. This inspite of a dustbin, which was present nearby. When we explained to him what we were trying to do, he felt really guilty. We even had beggars appreciating our work.We also had people coming and asking us about our project and in which way can they contribute. This is enough to keep us going.”
When asked if their cleanliness drive will be able to change the mindset of people, Shah sounded optimistic. “After we clean an area, we revisit the place after a few days. We have found that the areas remain quite clean. We have noticed that spitting at the station too has reduced. In the future we intend to keep spittoons at various points in the station.” He added, “Some places are so badly stained that we take almost two hours to clean that area.” Iyer however doesn’t sound that optimistic. He said, “it is discouraging when the place which was cleaned say on Monday, again looks dirty on Tuesday. The students then go about cleaning the same place again. But they are a determined lot.”
Many parents were initially reluctant to let their children participate in such a project. “They were fine with us shouting slogans and talking to people about harmful effects of tobacco and gutka. But, many of them were not happy with us cleaning various parts of the station. Some feared that we might contract an infection or any other disease. But once we assured that we will be taking full precautions while cleaning, they were fine with it,” said Shah. Talreja said, “My parents had no problem when I told them that I wanted to participate in the drive. Infact, a lot of us have younger siblings. They too have joined us in the project.” The long-term plan, says Iyer, is to replicate the project in other stations as well. When asked if their effort will make a difference, Iyer replied, “Habits do not change overnight. If not commuters, this will help the students to become better human beings.”