Nagaland is home to one of the richest cultural traditions in the world with many tribes and cultural beliefs – something we must be proud of. We belong to a culture that regards ‘respect’ very highly, primarily ‘respect for elders’. Taking ‘respect’ beyond the confines of human interaction, I believe we need to transmit it beyond and give it its due worth with regard to public property.
The extent of just how much we respect public property is pretty evident from the condition of our govt. offices and public amenities today. The joy of visiting a Govt. office is short-lived with numerous paan stained walls and stairs, and dustbins that take their name way too literally, whenever you turn a corner. Visit the supermarkets in Kohima and Dimapur, and you will find yourself tiptoeing through a maze of mud and filth, and trash dotting the pathways. A serene drive to our villages greets us with beer cans in various scenic viewpoints. All this, despite knowing that the ill-effects of unhygienic conditions lead to epidemics, health hazards and environmental imbalances. It’s time we started worrying about it to a greater degree.
If this is what we call a developing or developed Nagaland, at the rate at which we have very successfully managed to damage what’s already there, there may not be much of it left. Probably, part of the problem lies in our apathy to the entire situation. We have become so used to the routine sight of dirt and grime that I think we are soon entering a phase called, to borrow a medical term, “anaesthesia”, in which we have become completely immune to the deplorable unhygienic environment in which we seem to be unabashedly thriving within. So accustomed are we that we no longer even seem to notice the paan stains, spitting or the garbage right beside us. For those of us who do, maybe we just probably give in with a sigh of resignation.
Of course, the problem does not exist only in Nagaland. I recall a Naga friend of mine from Delhi commenting about the condition in Hyderabad, when she first arrived. The first thing she commented about was how much people spit in Hyderabad. The thought had never really occurred to me or maybe it was the “anaesthesia” effect working. But after she told me, I began to notice the rampant, pointless spitting everywhere! It’s actually really incredible. They spit wherever and whenever - even as they are driving, walking, cycling, and even talking! But surprisingly or maybe not, it kind of reminded me of the same scenario here in Nagaland. As much as I’d like to think we are much better off than that, there is a possibility that we can give them fierce competition.
On a positive note, however, we do have exceptions to our case. I remember visiting a village in Nagaland that proved there still is, fortunately, some amount of civic duty still intact. In order to ensure hygiene, large dustbins have been placed in and around the entire village. Another positive sign is the solar powered Higher and Technical Education building in Kohima and the recent renewable energy cycle drive. I think these are some of the positive steps that are already in place. But there is obviously a lot more that can be done.
Until we begin to pro-actively feel a sense of responsibility, ownership and accountability to public amenities and property, we may never get our public hygiene right. Are the concerned authorities taking effective measures to curb the potential hazards? We build big beautiful offices, stores and buildings but do we really know what it takes to maintain them? Obviously, it is no easy task as can be seen from examples around the world. But the examples just go to show that stringent and more honest concerted efforts are required if we want to get the job done.
If you visit shopping malls in the cities or even abroad, you will find moppers constantly working the floor all day long. Enter the bathrooms and there will always be a washwoman standing ready to clean up the next mess. But in most cases, the public themselves know that they are not supposed to spit in the sink or throw trash in places other than wastebins. A northeastern state like Shillong is many times cleaner than our state capital Kohima.
While we may like to profess about how clean we are spiritually, out worldly we show little concern for our environment. I think Nagas take the prize at being fashionably and impeccably dressed but fail miserably in transmitting that energy beyond the individual self. What point is it if we have clean clothes, clean shoes, clean selves but don’t have the public space that allows us to make us feel as if we were sitting down in our homes (our homes are always clean). We are completely oblivious to the amount of proliferating germs that we are so generously welcoming into our streets, our towns and villages.
Honestly, I don’t think our body’s immune powers are that robust to be able to withstand the ill effects of our poor sanity measures and the degenerating environment for so long either. The key thing to work on is changing our mindset. When we finally decide that enough is enough and each of us do our part - looking after public property and avoid littering - maybe we’ll see the change we want to see.