Wednesday, November 26, 2008

'Broken Window' theory and Mumbai's litter problem

I am guilty for I have littered. But its only because others did it too!

I use Mumbai's suburban railway network to commute to and from work everyday. I also eat the absolutely delicious chana, singg and other sinful treats which are served on platforms. I also face the problem of disposing the paper cones they come in, once I am done eating the contents . There are no dustbins in the trains. Sometimes I carry them home in my pocket and dispose of them in the dustbins there, but mostly I litter the platforms.

Like the rest of them.

I feel bad for doing it, but I say to myself - hey, there is so much litter and filth all over Mumbai that what harm could one additional little peice of paper do?

Does this sound familiar? If yes, we are all providing more evidence to strengthen the 'Broken Window' theory which a group of researchers from Netherlands have just proved.

"The idea that observing disorder can have a psychological effect on people has been around for a while...

It was this effect that his experiments, which have just been published in Science, set out to test.

His group’s first study was conducted in an alley that is frequently used to park bicycles. As in all of their experiments, the researchers created two conditions: one of order and the other of disorder. In the former, the walls of the alley were freshly painted; in the latter, they were tagged with graffiti (but not elaborately, to avoid the perception that it might be art). In both states a large sign prohibiting graffiti was put up, so that it would not be missed by anyone who came to collect a bicycle. All the bikes then had a flyer promoting a non-existent sports shop attached to their handlebars. This needed to be removed before a bicycle could be ridden.

When owners returned, their behaviour was secretly observed. There were no rubbish bins in the alley, so a cyclist had three choices. He could take the flyer with him, hang it on another bicycle (which the researchers counted as littering) or throw it to the floor. When the alley contained graffiti, 69% of the riders littered compared with 33% when the walls were clean."

Going by this theory, here is an answer to all those who think that cleaning up the streets of Mumbai is futile. If it were done, people would not see litter and would be that much more reluctant to be the ones who litter it.

It is high time. Lets keep our cities clean, then others will too.

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