“I see litter as part of a long continuum of anti-social behaviour”―Bill Bryson
An interesting video came up on social groups where one strong person not only thrashed four boys sitting in a vehicle before his own in a traffic jam but also emptied the contents of a rubbish bin into their car. The reason for this conduct was that the boys had thrown out some litter onto the road and this man, who was in the car just behind got out and put back their trash in the car which made them jump out to fight ignorant of the fact that they had challenged a professional wrestler who alone was enough for the foursome. This video was probably made in a western country from the appearance of the men but the fact is that littering the roads is a common practice in our country, the citizens of which boast of being followers of a religion that has laid immense stress on cleanliness, liking it to half part of faith (Cleanliness: 50% faith! Daily Times, January 2, 2020).
One would think that the so-called educated and sophisticated lot commuting in latest model cars would have better sense than to roll down their window panes in order to throw out a half-eaten corn, a candy wrapper, a cigarette butt or just a crumpled tissue paper but alas, this is not so. One of the worst offenders, are people from this community. They do not even bother to notice that they are strewing on a clean road or a well-manicured divider island. A colleague narrated his one-time experience where on a stop signal, he got out of his own car to pick a used tissue paper thrown out from the vehicle before him and brought it back for proper disposal. He showed restraint and his own noble character by not flinging it back from where it came but once the signal turned green, the transgressors started hurling tissue papers from all windows as if to challenge him to pick them all. This shameless attitude speaks volumes about the degeneration of the value system of our society. Instead of feeling remorse about their brazen act and apologizing, the car occupants behaved in the most disgustful manner conceivable.
Another incident that occurred near a toll booth on Lahore-Sargodha highway shows how callous some people are towards their country. A latest model Toyota Corolla with rear tinted windscreen was being driven, from which orange peels and pips were constantly hurled out much to the dismay of this scribe who was right behind. Despite many attempts by honking and flashing headlights, to stop this horrific action this continued until the car stopped at the toll booth where the suited-booted occupants were told to desist from throwing garbage out at which they sneered, retorting back that they would do whatever pleased them and that nobody had the right to question them.
Generally, people discriminate between their own homes and public places. Where they are highly fussy about cleanliness of their houses, they do not give a fig about public places spitting around, throwing rubbish and worse, even urinating on the roadside or along a wall. It is like there is a general understanding that one can take liberty with what is not personally owned and leave the mess to the government to clean up. Consequently, parks, archeological sites, historic monuments, even school/college desks are found engraved with names and symbols. People seem to be oblivious of their civic responsibilities towards their homeland and heritage. This kind of an attitude is both insensitive and uncivil, depicting a very poor picture of the national character. Pakistan needs to learn from other countries of the world, especially Singapore that is located in the same continent, Asia.
From being declared the dirtiest and most polluted city in the early 1970s, Singapore has attained the rank of the fifth cleanest cities after Calgary in Canada, Zurich in Switzerland, Luxemburg and Adelaide in Australia. To earn this position, a city has to operate in such a way that it resolves those issues that can result in unsanitary living conditions causing poor health. These are principally related to waste management, pollution-free transport system that in turn directly affect general cleanliness and air quality. With its strict adherence to law and persistent imposition of heavy fines regardless of who commits the felony, this little island state has reached remarkable standards of hygiene. Some important measures are discussed below.
Usage and trade in harmless things, such as chewing gum is completely illegal with fines up to 1000 dollars if found in one’s possession. Proper legislation on this ban came on the front after the 5 billion $ Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) started its operations. This was important because of the damaging effects of disposal of chewed gum by sticking on door sensors what to talk of elevators, key holes and seats in other public places.
First time offenders throwing minor items as cigarette butts and toffee wrappers are fined 300 $ whereas those involved in throwing bigger items like bottles, cans, boxes etc. are made to appear in courts, with punishment in the form of wearing luminous bright green vests and cleaning up specified areas to make them realize the hard work cleaners do to tidy up the city and to also shame them before others for their act of throwing garbage around.
Vandalism is also considered detestable and declared a crime punishable with at least two months imprisonment and a few strokes of caning. This includes stealing or damaging both public and private properties. Even putting up posters, banners and flags is prohibited. The famous case in point is that of Michael P Fay, an American citizen who was caught spraying paint on 18 cars back in 1993 and sentenced to two months imprisonment and six cane strokes. Americans reacted strongly to the ‘violent’ punishment the count of which was reduced after then president, Bill Clinton requested clemency. Those Americans who supported the position of Singapore government did so because they considered that visiting Americans should obey the laws of their host country.
Perhaps the most noteworthy and effective measure is regarding the offence of urinating in elevators that are equipped with Urine Detecting Devices which set off an alarm after picking up the urine scent and lock the door until the police arrive to arrest the culprit.
With these type of regulations in place, it is no wonder that Singapore has managed to invoke discipline among its people and obtained for itself a dominating status among Asian countries, which facts also convey a great deal about the strong conviction of its leaders to turn around the fate of their country for in the words of Emma Goldman: “No real social change has ever been brought about without a revolution.”
A revolution involving cleanliness may not necessarily be violent but it definitely requires strict observance of regulations and imposition of heavy fines, penalties, punishments etc. without any discrimination. Pakistan has the potential to become clean and green provided the leadership has the resolve to motivate the public and enforce rule of law.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)