'Fixers' inspire change in India

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am

As the two policemen approached the young men digging in the dead of night on Velachery Road in Chennai, their suspicions were roused.

'Are they hiding a bomb or burying a body?' was the first thought. It was neither. They were smart, clean-cut professionals repairing potholes on a road they used every day.

The group were taking civic matters into their own hands - a bold approach in India, where people generally expect the government to do everything and refuse to lift a finger themselves, even to throw away the rubbish outside their door.

That is the attitude that 'iFixers', the brainchild of entrepreneur Vijay Anand, 27, seeks to change by inspiring Indians to have a 'can do' approach to the civic problems that bedevil every city. Parks, buildings, pathways, open spaces and markets are often dirty and neglected.

When the young men - engineers, software professionals, bankers and managers - explained what they were doing, the policemen smiled and gave them their flashlights to make their work easier.

'Democracy is not just for the people, it's also by the people,' said Mr Anand, who returned to Chennai after living in Canada for six years. 'We have to start doing things ourselves. Indians tend to lack social consciousness but as their lives start improving, they will want to start improving their surroundings.'

Many members of iFixers (which has now spread to New Delhi and Bangalore), have lived abroad where they have absorbed a more 'activist' approach to solving civic problems.

Their enthusiasm has proved infectious in the neighbourhoods where they have repaired potholes. Curious residents emerge late at night, offer cups of coffee, start chatting and promise to maintain the repaired road.

Apart from roads, the group plans to clean up slums, paint the classrooms of decrepit government schools, repair the faulty taps in public places, remove the grime and graffiti at bus stops and dig up the weeds that disfigure public monuments.

The roadwork in Chennai was sparked off by Mr Anand getting fed up with plunging into the same potholes every day as he drove to work.

'Our parents' generation was focused on surviving. We're better off. We've got the resources and time to give more to society. Given that 60 per cent of Chennai's population is under 25, we think this generation can make a huge difference,' said Tushan Singh, 28, software professional and a member of the Delhi group.

When Mr Singh or his friends identify a problem that needs fixing, they spread the message through blogs, text-messaging and e-mails.