Moving Mountains of Trash: How a Citizens’ Movement is Transforming Mahim Beach

On breezy, lazy and sleep-worthy Saturday mornings, a couple, along with a group of volunteers, cleans up piles of plastic that the sea throws up at Mahim Beach.

Rabia Tewari and Indranil Sengupta, residents of Mahim, started the ‘Mahim Beach Clean Up’ in September 2017.

For the first year, they cleaned on both Saturdays and Sundays because of just how much garbage there was. Didn’t they have any weekend plans? Of course, they did. As the number of volunteers continued to grow, they started doing it once a week to manage to get a day to themselves.

From the two of them in the early days to some 40 volunteers now, they have cleaned more than 850 tonnes of plastic from the beach.

Rabia Tewari and Indranil Sengupta. Image credit: Rabia Tewari.

“It’s tiring and painful, but we can’t stop,” says Sengupta.

During the process, it is not the beach alone that has been undergoing a transformation.

“It has made me more mindful as an individual”, Sengupta says, talking about how the movement has changed him as a person.

He intends to take the project further by launching a platform on the second anniversary of the clean-up on September 14 this year, which will aid in informing and educating people about sustainable lifestyles, celebrating companies which operate sustainably, and answer any and all questions.

Recently, the UN felicitated clean-up movement completed 100 weeks. “We were surprised when some hundred people turned up for the mega clean-up while it was raining heavily,” Tewari says.

The journey to rid the beach of all the trash has hardly been easy. Their biggest challenge has been that Mahim is a low-profile area. Many do not even know about the existence of a beach there. Hence, it lacks acknowledgement and much-needed attention from the authorities. Despite that, armed with dogged will, the duo has got Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on board.

Over the two years, many corporates have reached out to them as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. Unfortunately, the big announcements and tie-ups are stronger on paper than on the ground, Sengupta says.

“With lack of transparency and action, these tie-ups end up as mere marketing exercise”, says Sengupta. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Instagram page for this movement says, ‘Clean before you claim’.

Those who choose to clean, clean anyway.

“There have been instances when CEOs of companies have come to clean with us”, recounts Tewari. Companies like Dow Chemicals, Indian Oil among a few others have supported the cause with gusto.

Support also flows in from Instagram influencers like Pragya Kapoor and Ayesha Billimoria, who take part in such drives and urge their followers to contribute in any way they can.

Volunteers cleaning up the Mahim Beach in Mumbai. Image credit: Rabia Tewari.

While corporates and influencers have lent a helping hand, it’s the volunteers who show up week after week to keep the show going.

Prema Gundewadi, who lives in the building next to the couple, said she didn’t know about the movement till her daughter, who is in the US, told her about it. Her daughter knew Gundewadi’s obsession with cleanliness and thought she would enjoy that.

She was right. Gundewadi has been a volunteer ever since.

Muskaan, a student, who came for the clean-up drive through Internshala, intends to be a regular. “When I saw the amount of plastic coming with each wave, I decided to do as much as I can,” she says.

The cleaner shore gives hope but there is a long way to go. The beach lacks an electricity connection and police patrolling, and turns into a hub for drunkards and addicts at night.

But to those involved in the cause and who are intent on restoring what was lost to negligence and convenience, no hurdle holds water.

Vandita is 22-year-old and is fascinated by stories. She switches between writing articles, making cartoons, performing poetry and making movies on SDGs and other issues that affect people.

Featured image credit: Rabia Tewari