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Guerrilla street cleaners

Guerrilla – a person who engages in irregular warfare especially as a member of an independent unit carrying out harassment and sabotage [1]
First there was guerrilla gardening, now we have guerrilla street cleaning! When did society feel the need to organize as specialized covert independent units to carry out harassment and sabotage on civil servants everywhere? What will we have next, guerrilla financial planners?
Well to answer the question the earliest use of the word ‘guerrilla gardening’ was in 1973 in Bowery Houston, New York by Liz Christy and her Green Guerrilla group to transform derelict private land into a garden[2]. A more radical example of this is when over 500 activists affiliated with The land is Ours occupied 13 acres of derelict land belonging to Guinness on the banks of the River Thames to highlight the misuse of urban land and the deterioration of the urban environment. Today the term can be loosely used to describe a number of other projects from the Urban Pollinators to Yarn Bombing. The term guerrilla gardening is being applied lightly to describe different forms of political authorship of public space. This includes gardening or knitting as purely a political gesture rather than one with genuine horticultural ambition.
So what is the thinking behind cleaning the streets of India? Even the Indian Minister of Environment. Jairam Ramesh admitted ‘If there is a Nobel Prize for dirt and filth, India will win it hands down.’ Surely this group of Indians are trying to prove that the Indian government is corrupt and failing its citizens?
‘Why are Indian streets filthy[1]?
A floating number of Indians volunteers around the 100 mark under the banner Ugly Indians are trying to change the way Indian cities are traversed. ‘We try to clean our own cities, we try to solve our own problems and we call it guerrilla because we do it on our own without taking credit or doing anything illegal. We think the actions are more important than the people behind it; it’s a faceless, anonymous initiative. We work with our hands and not our mouths[2]’.
Most important is how Ugly Indians distinguish themselves from cleaners  ‘we try to solve the problem by thinking about it, and we think the problems in India are not because the government is not good or the system is not good, but a cultural attitude in India. We tolerate a lot of filth on our streets, so even though if your wealthy or in the most expensive neighbourhoods in the best cities, it is very hard to find a single mile of street that does not have garbage or litter or lots of civic mess, so our feeling is not to do with lack of money or lack of technology; It’s an Indian cultural attitude towards tolerating filth in our public spaces. So we are trying to trying to think, being Indians our self, to think of the psychology of the Indians to make him or her treat their common spaces better. We have been successful in using our heads and not our hands. We don’t clean up streets, we figure out why they get dirty in the first place, we try to create alternatives and we play on cultural factors that Indians understand very well.[3]
The group goes on to distinguish the difference in types of litter. Firstly there is litter that the city collets every morning by collating and stacking it up on street corners for future collection. Ugly Indians recognise that this only encourages greater proliferation; hence to address the problem they created temporary storage to remove the visibility of the rubbish. Secondly the installation of rubbish bins, providing the public with a choice between littering and using the bin. ‘Dust bins are normally stolen and are very hard to manage, so we have solved the problem of how to install and manage the dust bin, and we believe if Indians are given the facility to be clean they can be clean, but we have so little faith in our public systems that we follow the heard mentality. But the moment you make cleanliness the normal status Indians react, we find that when Indians walk in to a flush neighbourhood or a airport or a shopping mall they change their behaviour, but on the streets they don’t behave like that, so we are trying to make our streets so clean by cleaning it out selves, by hiring cleaners, by installing dust bins by doing it all undercover.[4]
India is faced with a number of civil and public problems from, poverty, disease, corruption etc; Ugly India recognises that the problems of India are too big to solve as an undercover guerrilla co-operative. But it is the ownership of public space and acknowledgement of cleanliness very much in the Gandhian tradition of educating by leading all the Hindu caste’s that cleanliness is everyone’s responsibility and not just the lower castes. So when we talk about the enemies of hygiene during this all important war on filth, we must be vigilant and concealed. We must meet the individual urinating on the street, or spitting pan on the wall with patient dialogue, assured in our confidence of victories to come.
Note: May contains traces of Transcript of President Bush's address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001

[1] Webster dictionary
[2] Lamborn, P., and Weinberg, B. (Eds.), (1999), Avant Gardening: Ecological Struggle in The City and The World. Autonomedia
[1] Ibid
[2] anonymous spokesperson for Ugly Indians, BBC Global News, 30 Nov 2012
[3] ibid
[4] ibid


Siddhartha said...

Most of the communities in the entire Indian sub-continent(such as Bengali) are succumbed in ‘Culture of Poverty'(Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is genuinely regret ed or ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-admin system, bad work place, weak mother language, continuous consumption of common social space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold(supported by some lame excuses). Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour (values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting children those are born out of ignorance, extreme poverty. It seems that all of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of ‘poverty’) in their own attitude, involve themselves in ‘Production of Space’ (Henri Lefebvre), an intense attachment with the society at large - one different pathway has to create to overcome inherent 'hopeless' psyche; decent, rich Politics will definitely come up. – Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101, India.

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