From discarded plastic bottles and wrappers to the cow dung littering the streets of major cities like Delhi, trash is a big problem in India, but not in the small village of Mawlynnong. People here have zero tolerance for garbage and spend a lot of their time making sure every square inch of their village is spotless.
Mawlynnong first made news headlines in 2003, when a journalist from Discover Magazine dubbed it “Asia’s cleanest village”. After hearing about this place where everyone, from young children to the elderly, was dedicated to maintaining a state of complete cleanliness, he decided to investigate, and was so impressed by what he witnessed during his stay that he deemed Mawlynnong worthy of the title of cleanest village in all of Asia. His article drew a lot of attention to the community of around 600 people in the Indian state of Meghalaya, and people from all over the world started traveling there to see this example of cleanliness for themselves.
Photo: Arjun Suresh
It all sounds like a clever marketing gimmick to attract tourism, but Mawlynnong is much more than that. For as long as the locals can remember, keeping their village squeaky clean and beautiful has been everyone’s top priority. No one knows exactly how this obsession with cleanliness began. Some believe that it was an outbreak of cholera, some 130 years ago, when cleanliness was encouraged to stop the disease from spreading, while others credit the traditionally matrilineal society of the local Khasi people, with the dominant role of women as the main driver for cleanliness and sanitation. One thing is for sure, though, these values have been passed down from the elderly to the young, for generations.
You’re probably wondering how clean Mawlynnong really is, right? It’s really, really clean, thanks to a very simple yet effective system that involves everyone in the community. Every morning, all the children in the village pick up their teasel brooms and sweep the streets of dirt and fallen leaves – there’s not much else – before going to school. They are also responsible for emptying the bamboo trash baskets and separating the waste into organic matter, reusable plastic and burnable garbage.
Collected leaves are buried in a large pit and turned into compost, most of the plastic is repurposed within the community, and the rest is burned on the outskirts of the village. Smoking and the use of plastic are actually banned in the village, but some plastic does end up in the collected trash, from tourists. They are also the ones who sometimes litter, but the locals never scold them for it. Instead, they just pick up after them, making sure that their home remains as pristine as ever.
Mawlynnong is one of the very few Indian communities where every household has its own toilet, making open defecation a non-issue.
The whole village runs almost exclusively on clean energy, mostly solar, and employs teams of dedicated gardeners that ensure that the beautiful flowers and plants lining the roads and alleys are well taken care of.
And it’s not just the public areas of Mawlynnong that are incredibly clean and tidy. The same can be said for every household in the village, as this BBC article points out. The importance of cleanliness is so deeply embedded in the culture of this place that you can see it in everything and everyone.