Editorial: Awaiting Collaborations

If people don’t network, their issues will get hijacked

Gangtok is cleaner than most State capitals in India, much cleaner than any other hill station. And the Gangtokians appear happy with that much because one is yet to see any community-level initiative to improve civic conditions any further. For instance, it had to be the State Government which gave the nod to a proposal which came from a foreign funding agency to declare MG Marg a “litter & spit free zone”. The declaration was easy, it was the implementation that tested the patience of the enforcers. It has succeeded, but again as a top-down initiative, and with it, much before the rest of India was told to go swachch, Sikkim had added another USP to its appeal. Of course, no tourist is going to come to Gangtok only to see a litter & spit free zone (which, admittedly, is under some stress already), but it will be initiatives like this that will add up to provide that larger argument which will convince visitors to choose Gangtok over, say a Shimla for their summer vacations. It would, however, have been so much more palatable and welcome if such a “zone” had come about on public initiative. Why did it have to be the State which had to enforce the new stipulations? Why couldn’t a local NGO have pursued the concept and convinced the locals to stop littering and spitting at MG Marg? The problem lies with the fact that Gangtok, although it is the most urban of spaces in the State, is still also closed and uninvolved, populated by Gangtokians who are isolated not only in their lifestyles, but also their thinking. They complain that the UD&HD garbage collection trucks do not detour to their residences often enough, but will never come together to work out a solution for locality garbage disposal problems on their own. They will be scandalised when reports of a fire in a school in South India hits the headlines and will worry about the safety of their children, but will wait for the State Government to draw up a legislation to make the schools safer. And then they will forget to keep track. They will not come together as parents and pressure the respective school managements to install the safety mechanisms. They will complain of drunken driving on weekends until one of their own gets challaned for driving under the influence of alcohol and then it will be about how overbearing the cops have become. And through all this, they will not convince their neighborhood bars to collect car keys and refuse to hand them over to inebriated drivers or unless the group has a sober hand for the wheels. They know that substance abuse is a problem as is juvenile delinquency and also suicides, but remain cocooned in the belief that all that is happening to someone else until the hammer hits home and then they will convince themselves it was an aberration. What Gangtokians do not realize is that it does not take a rocket scientist to identify the problem areas and suggest remedial measures when it comes to working out how communities can work together to make living better. The oft-expressed need for a civil society in Gangtok is not misplaced, the problem is, it does not appear to be forming; not until Gangtokians stop reacting only to personal discomforts and ignoring community issues. The problem with such an attitude is that when real issues crop-up, because the people are not interested in understanding them in their entirety, they get hijacked by people we all know commonly as “vested interests.” When this happens, there is a lot of noise, but no resolution. It is for the people to decide whether they want to continue living in this cacophony or opt for saner collaborations.