A ‘Swachh Bharat’ Campaign Without Cameras

It was 5:40 pm.

The air was chilly, and it was drizzling slightly. A gathering of nearly 500 people, who had come together to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, slowly started dispersing. The protests for the day had come to an end. Siraj, who stood outside Gate No. 7 of Jamia Millia Islamia, picked up a broom and started cleaning the road.

Siraj is one among the 20-25 volunteers who clean the road post the anti-CAA protests outside Jamia Millia Islamia everyday.

Ever since the police stormed the university campus on December 15, locals and students have been protesting outside Jamia against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens. With nearly 500-1,000 people turning up to voice their dissent on a daily basis, students of Jamia and locals living near the university have taken up the task of ensuring that the protest is conducted smoothly, without any violence.

Protestors are given food and water at the protest site, and this, expectedly, leaves behind a mound of trash littered on the streets.

“I saw a woman cleaning after the protest one day. That is what inspired me to pick up the broom, too”, said Siraj. “While 20-25 people clean the streets on a dedicated basis, more people also offer to volunteer on an on-and-off basis.”

“We try and ensure that the road is litter free and normal movement of traffic is resumed by 6:15 pm”, Siraj said. Image credit: Fateh Veer Singh Guram

The volunteers themselves bear the cost of brooms, gloves, masks and disposable bags. They collect the waste, put them in bags and keep them at one place. Then, a garbage collector from the DDA loads the waste onto his cart. “We also pay the garbage collector Rs 50 everyday for his assistance,” Siraj added.

Cleaning volunteers outside Jamia Millia Islamia. The cost of brooms, gloves, masks and disposable bags is borne by the volunteers themselves.

The volunteers say that they are not receiving any funds from any organisation.

Sarwar, an undergraduate student at Jamia, said that it is necessary to keep the university surroundings clean. One can see many boards inside the university with messages asking students to keep the area clean and green. “Why should there be a dissonance between what we read and what we practice?” Sarwar asks.

Many student volunteers have also taken up cleaning responsibilities, citing the bond they share with the university. In addition, they say that they do not wish to cause any inconvenience to the Delhi Municipal Corporation, and hence try and ensure that the roads are emptied of all waste post protests.

“Jamia is ours, and we are students of Jamia, and that is why we try and keep the university clean”, says Uswan, a B.Tech student at the university. “Our movement is unlike the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, for which there is a lot of hype and drum beating, but hardly any concrete work on the ground.”

Siraj agrees. Recalling the protest outside the former Delhi Police headquarters at ITO, he said, “At the ITO protest, people started dispersing around 3 am. We, however, ensured that we cleaned up after everyone left. Even the police were shocked. Keeping our surroundings clean is our responsibility and we must see it that way.”

Fateh Veer Singh Guram is a student of Journalism at Jamia Millia Islamia

All the photos are provided by the author