Anita Bhargava believes in clean Delhi (May 18)

Anita Bhargava, an Indian woman who after living for 10 years in New York and California, returned to India to be with her siblings and to make a difference. She has been a driving force behind cleanup actions in the capital, during which 125 locations were cleaned up. But these were pretty soon dirty again. So, she decided – India needs a different approach...

Anita, please tell us more about yourself – about your childhood, studies, leaving India. Was the India you left many years ago the same where you returned later?
I was born in the UK but was raised in India. I moved many locations in India since my father was in the Indian Navy but ended up in Delhi to do my last 2 years of school, college and my post-graduation there. We left India in 1989 to go to Bangkok, Thailand and after spending 5 years there, we moved to NY and then to California. When we returned to India in January, 2004, India had changed a lot, in many ways. The economy was doing well, the variety of goods and services was a lot more, large malls and flyovers had come up all over the place.

What did you do in the US and why did you decide to leave it?
I worked in New York and then in California, in the Bay Area. My last job was with PayPal, heading the data warehousing group for the company. I loved being in the US, it was home, had many friends and I loved my job too. The only part that was difficult was that our parents were getting older and none of our siblings lived in India and both me and my husband felt that it would be good for us to return to India, because it would be great for the parents to have us, but additionally, we have lived in many places and knew that we would enjoy being back in India too. Being Indian, we felt that it was a country where we could help make a difference.

What has been the biggest challenge while initiating Let's do it action in India?
The awareness of the people, the lack of willingness of residents to spend even a little on sanitation and the expectation of people to get everything from the Government makes India the way it is. The level of corruption is very high and services rendered to the citizens are very poor. Citizens do not think united on even basic issues like sanitation. The biggest challenge is the make them feel that sanitation is really important and that if they contribute a little, there is a lot of benefit to the community.

How did the Let's do it action go in Delhi?
While the action went well, we had unexpected results. We cleaned 125 locations, but each of the locations, when re-visited was dirty again. We got a lot of media attention and a decent amount of visibility in the city, but we realized that unless we changed the systems, cleanups in Delhi were pointless. So we changed our strategy – first fix the system, then do a one time cleanup.

What do you consider as the best thing what happened as a result of the Let's do it action in Delhi?
We have a very good working relationship with the civic bodies and the government and if we want to see a sustainably cleaner Delhi their involvement is extremely important, because they are the most important stakeholder.

Did you happen to have any funny incidents during the Let's do it action?
Every person who was participating was made to take a litter oath that they would not litter and pick 10 pieces of litter in a month. My nephew, who was 7 years old took an oath that he will pick 10 pieces of litter daily. He was on a vacation and one night started crying because he had not picked any litter that day and it was almost bed time.

Indians and spirituality go together. Do you have a motto or slogan in your life?
All it takes for evil to triumph is for good persons to do nothing.

Thank you, Anita. We wish you success in your road towards cleaner Delhi.