Time to fight for Bengaluru – choose your weapon

Reclaim our city, the same way that the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protesters managed to catch global attention last year?

It was a pourakarmika who, last Friday, provided  the answer to the vexing question of what to do about the mounds of garbage  that now characterise our city. She was sweeping up the rubbish from the road in front of my apartment — mud and muck, mixed with soggy bits of paper, plastic, heaps of dried flowers and leaves rotting after the overnight drizzle, dog mess, the lot. — and carefully piling it right in front of my door.

This new mound by the kerbside was also blocking the path of the rain water to the drains  along the edge of the road, and  a pool of stagnant rain water was collecting across my entrance, scaring  me with the threat of dengue.  And this is a ‘fancy’ up-market area, with lots of posh commercial facades along the street.

I caught her on duty that morning and asked her why she was piling the garbage outside my entrance. “The tempo will come and take it away,” she said. (The tempo hadn’t turned up  for five days, but that, she said,  wasn’t her concern.)

But why in front of my apartment, when an old rubbish dump exists  at the corner across the road, I argued. “Who are you, to question me ?” she retorted.

Ponder over that — who was I ? A resident of the city, a taxpayer who has every right to supervise the maintenance of the city’s cleanliness, I wanted to say, but she had pushed off, and in any case my retort would have been wasted on her. You need to be ‘someone’, a VIP, minister, MLA or  a corporator, to be heeded. The common man, including the educated, upper middle class, has no clout in today’s version of democratic administration.

If I had been a ‘neta’ standing for election, she would not have dared to ask who I was.
I called up a friend in central Bengaluru and she confirmed that her neighbourhood is maintained well, there is no garbage — because many VIPs live in that area.

So why have we not enlisted the support of the VIPs, for insisting that the BBMP get its act together? We have Azim Premji, Mohandas Pai and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw voicing their condemnation of the stinking rubbish heap that the city has been reduced to.  If more eminent residents raised their voices, and it made news, would the BBMP (or its pourakarmikas) be able to ignore it?

Think of all the eminent newsmakers that Bengaluru is home to — from Girish Karnad to film stars, Infosys founder Narayana Murthy and pioneering entrepreneur Captain Gopinath (of Deccan Airways) we have an impressive line-up of residents whose voices are ‘newsworthy’. Capt Gopinath did try to stand for election last time, but lost — as have others who could not (or did not) go round the slums bribing voters with gifts of saris and liquor and cash.

Columnists have made the point that we need —

* More citizens’ involvement, especially from among the well-known (like Premji)

* More mass mobilisation of voices from the educated middle classes. Scientists (even the most eminent, world renowned ones) and professional achievers have so far remained aloof, either because they are too busy or do not believe in joining protest marches and street demos. But if the director of  NCBS (National Centre for Biological Sciences) who  was recently elected  a fellow of the prestigious Royal Society (FRS) and also received the coveted Infosys prize for eminence in science, was down with dengue and had to be in the ICU, can the middle class afford not to lend the weight of their voices to the protests against BBMP’s callousness? 

I can understand a slum dweller falling prey to dengue (though, that  too is a violation of a fundamental  constitutional right to safety and health, even for slum dwellers) but the director of NCBS? Is this not a matter of shame for the city and a devastating indictment of the corporation‘s administration?

* Get more non-political and capable citizens elected to local bodies so that their voices can be heeded.

Of the three points, the last is not easy, given the stranglehold of mafia-like elements that stand to benefit from the status quo, and do not want to ‘clean up’ the mess. An honest candidate gets throttled if elected, or trampled during the election. Ashwin Mahesh  had the backing of former Lokayukta  Justice Santosh Hegde, and still could not muster enough votes earlier this year when he stood for the graduates constituency.

I also know of activists who exposed malpractices and were threatened by goonda elements.

But if the first two points muster support (from eminent citizens and the upper middle classes, scientists, IT professionals, film stars, and the business community) we could reclaim our city, the same way that the ‘Occupy Wall Street’  protesters managed to catch global attention last year.  I was in Italy some years ago when Naples when the city made news with mounds of garbage (only one third of what Bengaluru now has). The army was called in to tackle the mess and the city was quickly cleaned up. With a far larger population, why are we taking this mess lying down?

I see garbage heaped outside several school entrances — in any other country, this would have led to immediate legal action from outraged parents.

We have eminent sportspersons, from Anil Kumble to Dravid to Ashwini Nachappa who promote brands (or road safety slogans). How about roping them in, for pulling up the BBMP? After all, anyone living in the city, including the eminent, becomes vulnerable to sickness, with such horrendous mounds of stinking garbage.

If you are reading this, you are part of the educated elite. Part of a privileged community of residents who, unlike slum dwellers, know their rights. Lend your support, mobilise, take time off (for your own and your family’s sake) and if you are part of — or know anyone in —  the elite group of newsmakers, get them to lend their voices, and strengthen citizens’ voices for better administration.

There is a move among some middle class groups, to refuse to pay property tax by April, as protests against the callousness of the corporation. If it becomes a mass movement among Bangaloreans, it could become as effective as Gandhiji’s boycott of foreign cloth. Joining street demos may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there are alternative means of registering one’s protest.

We had the BBMP administration declaring in court, that "as of October 31, all garbage had been cleared". An outright  and blatant lie — and we, the educated middle class, didnt even raise a feeble voice of protest at such travesty and criminal lying.We read the news report, muttered wryly, and turned the page. Are we not, then complicit, too?

As the saying goes, it only needs right thinking persons to keep quiet, for the wrong-doers to go scot free and flourish…

Or the next victim of dengue could be you, heading for the ICU…

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