Ulrich Beck in his much-acclaimed book Risk Society: Toward a New Modernity throws light on the consequences of a wide range of hazardous and deadly risks of a highly industrialized and urbanized society. He further elaborates that modern risks are not restricted to place or time, rather these risks are ever compounding and are multiplying exponentially thereby putting the entire world on high alert. Not surprising then that the new generation represented by Greta Thunberg dares to reprimand the world leaders for being unabashedly lackadaisical in their approach to tackle environmental risks. This insincerity on the part of the respective governments of nations across the globe towards ill management of environmental risks is something that has forced young children to intervene in ringing the alarm loud and clear. Ankur Bisen’s book Wasted: The Messy Story of Sanitation in India, A Manifesto for Change, packed with information (sans tables and charts) makes it readable for all concerned global citizens.
The cover illustration of Wasted is as captivating as is the book itself. The picture of a child rag-picker on a mound of urban garbage hopping in a wanton mood, unmindful of the risk it involves, and how the garbage dumps become the treasure-troves of the doubly underprivileged, speaks volumes about ‘the messy story of sanitation in India’.
The book under review problematizes waste management in India in a manner where the author tries to disentangle the intertwining of caste, sanitation, attitude towards hygiene and the deep-rooted apathy towards filth. Despite the entire landscape of India being dotted with untended mounds of garbage, overflowing open sewers, men urinating shamelessly in public places, open defecation being enjoyed as a group event, and poor children sieving garbage mound for sustenance, neither the state in particular nor the citizens in general show any concern about the havoc that such ‘Waste’ creates for the entire society. Why are Indians so stubbornly undisciplined in keeping their surroundings clean? Why is it that Indians keep their homes relatively clean while on the other hand they treat the public space as their rightfully owned dumping ground for all kinds of garbage? This book provides an insight into the psyche of Indian society at large as far as waste disposal and treatment of public space is concerned.