Just five years ago, Thapathali’s Panchayan Marg was a foul garbage dump—the entire road lined with stinking trash. Frustrated and disgusted, locals put up a sign that forbade throwing trash on the street, but to no avail. Then, they came up with an innovative idea. Carved marble images of various deities like Ganesh, Shiva, Laxmi, Saraswati, Bishnu and Bhagawati were placed on a wall along the entire road section. Now, the Panchayan Marg is free of trash, as no one dares disrespect the gods by throwing garbage in front of their images.
“Earlier, people would come to defecate during the night time and urinate during the day. But after locals put up images of Hindu deities, elderly women have started coming to worship in the morning and people have stopped such habits,” said 45-year-old Sunita Tamang, who has been operating a small eatery on Panchayan Marg for over seven years.
The use of images of gods and goddesses to dissuade people from urinating on walls or throwing garbage has been adopted by communities across the Valley. And it’s worked. Places that were once notorious for their ammonia stench of urine and garbage have turned pristine after the placement of gods staring sternly at any misbehaviour.
In Lalitpur’s Daubaha, Dhurba Govinda Amatya has placed Ganesh and Shiva idols to stop people from throwing garbage or urinating outside his home.
“It’s been over five years now that the space is clean,” said Amatya, a retired Nepal Army official.
According to anthropologists and city planners, this method appears to have been more successful in keeping the city clean than the initiatives of municipalities. The road outside the Passport Department leading to Lainchaur is perhaps one of the most visible examples of this method working. Once, that entire line was lined with pools of urine and piles of faeces. After images of gods were placed strategically along that stretch, there is no more faecal matter.
“People have lost their sense and sensibility,” said Dambar Chemjong, head of the anthropology department at Tribhuvan University. “It shows the hypocrisy and stark reality of our society. People are only concerned about the inner beauty of their houses, but they don’t care about their surroundings and the impact of their actions.”
The example of one alley in Bakhundole is emblematic of how much such images have an effect on the health of any space. Until six months ago, a 100-metre-long narrow alleyway attached to former Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha’s home was trash free as the alley had pictures of Hindu deities along with rudraksha garlands strung up. Now, the pictures have been removed and the alley looks like a dumping ground.
“I think those posters were removed by drug addicts, and now people have started to dump garbage in the alley,” said Nirajan Adhikari, who runs a corner store near the alley. “Earlier, when Shrestha was chief justice, the Nepal Police would take care of the alley. But now that his tenure is over, there aren’t any security force looking after the alley and rowdy boys, and it has started to become filthy again.”
Every day, Kathmandu Valley generates around 1,000 metric tonnes of solid waste, but much of this waste ends up on the roads, with the municipalities doing little to clean up or clear road-side garbage.
“The local initiative of putting up Hindu gods and goddesses in their toles to curb littering is commendable, but we are not thinking of promoting that,” said Hari Bahadur Shrestha, chief of the environment division at Kathmandu Metropolitan City. “We are trying our best to change people’s psyches, for which the city has already organised a campaign to segregate solid waste.”
Although Kathmandu started a waste segregation drive for three wards—Wards 12 (Teku area), 18 (Naradevi area) and 21 (Lagan tole)—in late August this year, the campaign has not worked due to a lack of proactiveness and people's indifference, according to Asmita Nainabasti, a resident of Naradevi in Ward-18.
According to Chemjong, the belief in god and re-birth is so strong in Kathmandu because a lot of people are morally or socially corrupt.
“They are living with the fear of god but they do not seem to fear the diseases that could arise from litter and faeces,” said Chemjong.