In eastern Indian state, Meghalaya, a remote village, Mawlynnong, has made headlines around the world. In this village, tidying up is a ritual that everyone – from tiny toddlers to toothless grannies – takes very seriously. This small, 600-odd person town in the Meghalaya region is renowned as the cleanest village in India.
Mawlynnong was first declared the cleanest village in Asia in 2003 and the cleanest in India in 2005 by Discover India magazine. More recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged Mawlynnong as the cleanest village in Meghalaya and a model for the rest of the county in a 2015.
This claim to fame stuck, and the village has become a regional legend and source of pride. Walk in, and all the typical rubbish is mysteriously, miraculously absent. So how do you get a community to become a model of cleanliness and sanitation in a country where this has long been a problem? The answer, it seems, is to start them young.
There’s normal daily cleaning for children and adults, then extra on Saturdays when the village leader assigns out “social work” to be completed for the good of the town. Eleven-year-old Deity Bakordor starts her day around 6:30 am. Her chore, shared with all the village kids, is the beautification of the town. Teasel brooms in hand, the children storm the streets, sweeping up dead leaves and garbage before school. The children are also responsible for emptying the rubbish bins – which are surprisingly pretty, hand-woven, cone-shaped baskets scattered throughout town – and separating organic waste from burnable trash. Leaves and other biodegradable waste are buried (and eventually used as fertilizer); everything else is driven far from the village and burned. There are also dedicated town gardeners who maintain riots of public plants and flowers that line the footpaths, making a walk here incredibly pleasant.
The villagers are of the Khasi people, a traditionally matrilineal society. Perhaps, with women in dominant roles in society, keeping the home and environment orderly also takes on a greater role, Adhikari and I speculated. “We are Christians from more than 100 years back, and cleaning is learned from our elders,” said housewife Sara Kharrymba. “We pass on these skills, from me to my children, from them to their children.” In other words, this isn’t habit, it’s a long-time tradition. Kharrymba’s own day begins by cleaning their entire compound, she said.