Civic sense: Towards a better tomorrow

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By Ali Jafri

LAHORE: With the villages still far from being the focus of development while financial woes continue to act as the engine of urbanization, Pakistan is facing an active crisis that no one is currently talking about–virtual absence of ‘Civic Sense’.

Civic sense is all about social ethics. It is consideration by the people for the unspoken norms that uphold a healthy and harmonious society. From personal to community cleanliness (littering), respect for privacy (door-knocking/tone of voice/greetings), tolerance, unsupervised collective discipline (forming a queue) right down to following traffic signs and rules. These apparently minor, yet crucial set of character values set the mood of a society and build an image of the habitat they occupy.

Starting from the urban centers, recreational parks all the way to hilltop getaways and lake-shores, empty trash-bins and loathsome littering everywhere else, have become a sad sight all too familiar. In addition to this, illegal obstructing parking habits, traffic-clogged intersections due to a head-to-head uncompromising intolerant tug-to-the-last-inch with tempers flaring while ambulance sirens scream in the background.

Garbage outside a waste container on a roadside in Lahore.–DS photo

“A lot of people assume that civic sense is just about keeping the roads, streets and public property clean. But civic sense is more than that. It has to do with law-abiding, respect for fellow men and maintaining decorum in public places and these behaviors can be imposed but woven into the personality of individuals,” said Dr Aliya Aftab Prominent Psychologists & Child Counselor, also a former member of the Punjab Assembly, while explaining what the term does and doesn’t encompass.

The government is responsible for municipal services like trash disposal, sewerage, potable water supply and others. However, the lack of civic-sense and the resultant uncivilized behavior makes it virtually impossible to establish and maintain a healthy and harmonious.

“Every day we collect over 5500 tonnes of waste from Lahore. We have over 2500 waste bins installed all over a city of 274 Union Councils (UC)–that’s around 10 in each UC. However, despite such extensive and elaborate spread, our staff has to manually collect trash thrown around the bins instead of in them and in small piles away from the trash collection bin”, complained the Lahore Solid Waste Management Company (LWMC) Acting MD and General Manager Planning and Projects Nusrat Tufail Gill.

LWMC Acting MD and General Manager Planning and Projects Nusrat Tufail Gill.–DS photo

Talking to Data Stories, Nusrat Tufail Gill admitted that the system was by no means optimum and was lacking in resources, while arguing that the actions of the civilians weren’t exactly helping the situation.

That is not all; the company has an extensive awareness plan that is carried out around the year to boost civic-sense in the society. “In the past two years alone, we have conducted around 300 civic-sense awareness activities and drives at educational institutions and commercial areas. However, as the saying goes, you can take a horse to a pond, but you cannot make it drink”, he said.

Former Special Advisor to the Chief Minister Punjab and Former Mayor of the City Khawaja Ahmed Hassan talking to Data Stories explained that the awareness activities at schools, colleges, universities, seminaries and minority centers, commercial markets, recreational places and residential colonies are a part of the operations of all municipal service providing institutions of the government including the LWMC.

Activities like walks, camping, public briefing, door to door leaflets distribution with effective cleanliness awareness message, symbolic waste picking, lectures and seminars are carried out to educate the masses on how play a positive role as a civilian, he added.

Car parked near a “No Parking” sign on a roadside in Lahore.–DS photo

The question, therefore arises that despite thepresence of unambiguous rules and regulations, an elaborate service provision mechanism and extensive awareness campaigns, why isn’t it all working? Where exactly is the system faltering in developing civic sense among the masses?“ You can’t just bring this change in hardened habits of individuals overnight, it has to be a part of the social fabric building institutions of the society”, explained Dr Aliya Aftab while talking to Data Stories.

Vandalism, intolerance, racism, road rage, etc., are all examples of lack of civic sense. People are becoming less and less tolerant of each other, other’s cultures, backgrounds, and other similar traits. Civic sense is the need of the hour, she stressed.

Unless we make civic-sense building a part of the curriculum right at the early school level, we would always struggle trying to drill these ethics into adults who have already gotten comfortable with a different way of life that does not regard the value of civic-sense.–Dr Aliya.

Curriculum expert Nadeem Asghar, who is also member of National Curriculum Council (NCC), said civic sense had been part of curriculum and Civics as a subject was also being taught at secondary level. However, the real problem was that less people went for this subject and perhaps that was because of inflexibility in choosing the subjects.

“In foreign qualifications like O-level, students can combine Civics with Biology and other science subjects but in our subject combination this is not allowed,” he said and added traditionally Pakistani parents wanted their children to study science subjects.

Nadeem Asghar, however, agreed that there was need to focus civic sense in curriculum for early school levels to develop interest of the students.

Mubasher Bukhari, Chairman of Media Foundation 360—a journalism capacity building organization, talking to Data Stories says there is an eminent need for the media to focus more on educating and sensitizing the people regarding civic responsibility in a democratic country. “Democracy is not a spectator’s sport, everyone has a role to play to make a society work,” he adds.

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