Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Between Knowing and Unknowing

Tonight's (18th December) 'India Decides @ 9' on NDTV has been very interesting.
I highly recommend watching it once it's uploaded to the website. (Also, catch today's parliament proceedings if you can. I was riveted.)

When it comes to rape & India, anger, outrage and a deep sense of violation is pervasive.

But what stands out is the general state of confusion, how little we understand about violent crimes against women and how schizophrenic we are when it comes to codes of conduct between the two sexes.

The Indian news cycle in the last 24 hrs has gone thusly: Society point fingers at politicians. Politicians point fingers at policemen. Policemen point fingers at sick mindsets. Bollywood stars make statements of how the 'time has come' for change yet continue to feed off the sick stereotypes in the name of entertainment. Meanwhile us average joes & jills get our daily exercise pointing fingers at just about everybody. None of us seem to have a clue how we're contributing to the sickness. None of us seem very ready to look it straight in the face.


Things are simpler on international news channels like BBC World News, where the (Indian) reporter points out the irony of a burgeoning economy like India simultaneously treating its women with such disrespect. The report seems to pivot on the assumption that women are actually valuable and that a high incidence of crime against them speaks of an ailing society.
It does what no Indian channel does: air an interview of a Delhi citizen who breaks down while talking about being groped in a DTC bus and describing it as the 'worst moment' of her life.

I wonder if this type of shaming of India on a global scale will have an impact: to be disqualified from being a world player until we stop saying that rape is caused by Chinese noodles.

I won't lie. There's a part of me that would be very gleeful if that happened. Not gleeful...maybe just relieved that it's all out in the open now.


For some strange reason, I keep rewinding to 7-10 years ago, when Delhi's traffic system was transitioning from just another chaotic urban mess of inadequate roadways, boorish driving culture and a shocking disregard for the lives of not just others on the road but one's own safety. Then, very slowly - but perceptibly - things began to change. Things began to change in this 'north-Indian, immigrant infested' corrupt metropolis that everyone had associated with a deep-rooted aversion to order.

First, the government started to get serious about building decent roadways, immense flyovers and wider pavements. They started building the metro. Even before that they instituted the seat-belt law. I remember when that happened. We scoffed: "That'll never work. Can you imagine a Delhi cab driver wearing a seat belt? Who do we think we are? White people?" But then the thing took on a life of its own. Because at every street corner, there was a cop waiting to challan your ass if you didn't. Rinse & repeat with helmets, pollution checks, speeding.

I'm not saying Delhi's traffic has done a 180. Nothing as drastic as all that. But there's been a tangible transition effected by strict implementation of smart policy. And now most drivers in Delhi automatically strap on their belts when they get into a car. I'm not sure if most of us are doing it out of any deeper sense of our safety - we just don't want to get pulled over by a thulla.

The other day I returned to Delhi after a week in Hyderabad. It had been an intense week of being stuck in the most bizarre traffic situations I've ever been in. People rushing red lights right from under a cop's nose, drivers driving on the wrong side of the road as a matter of course, helmetless two-wheeler riders with death wishes and pointless traffic jams created just because people won't stick to the rules. Yes, the same stuff happens in Delhi too. But over the last decade, it's gotten much better. Now it's a relief to return home from cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai & Kolkata etc. & go for a drive here. Somehow the city's managed something even the widest eyed idealist had been cynical about.

I'm not saying there's a direct comparison between Delhi's traffic & its culture of violence - especially involving women. But there's a lesson here of some sort, isn't there?


  1. Q: Who did it? Who brought about the changes that you described?

    Why the disclaimer at the end? It's true. Give people a better quality of life (which includes better infrastructure like roads) and they'll spend less time struggling to live or just being generally irritated and depressed.

    The question that follows is who is supposed to give us that?

  2. Like I wrote, it was a combination of policy, enforcement and then gradually, compliance by the public. So therefore, policy-makers, law enforcers and general junta.

    Disclaimer, because I'm as confused as the rest of the country. I have an emotional response and I have an opinion - but is it an opinion without loopholes? I'm not sure. Can one accurately make the kind of comparison I've made in the post? I'm not sure.

  3. There is a direct relation between welfare, economic progress and social progress. It may not be linear or even proportional, but its definitely positive.

    To quote - “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” ~ Charles Bukowski

    At some point, all us doubters ought to believe in something, to form an opinion and to take it to the next logical level.

  4. Why did the roads of Delhi change? The government who made the policy and did the enforcement (before compliance by the public happened) had some motivations at that point - Delhi being a capital city had to be portrayed as one. You couldn't have a Bill Clinton landing in a heap of garbage and pollution. We need excuses of that sort to drive development in this country. Only things that were directly visible to a foreign delegate were worked on. Hey, George Bush is coming, we gotta clean the roads, widen them some, reduce traffic (Metro has been a blessing), reduce pollution (use CNG).

    Does the government have that kind of motivation for social change? Probably. India's ratings in various welfare indices are dismal and plunging by the day. It depends on the people and the government how seriously they take that. But the fact is crime rates don't change by just asking people not to commit crimes and change their mindset.

    Try to uplift people's lives and they will change socially. If I don't have to fight for my living everyday, I might think of the plight of the homeless, dirty kids doing acrobatics on the sidewalks. Bring in good labour laws; ensure that our maids and workers and rikshawallas get a fair price for their toil and sweat, give them the hope that their children can also be as educated as their employer's children, that they can actually mould their life in a direction they want rather than being slaves of the fate they were born into.

    The problem is we change when others want us to change. Probably just human nature. I guess we are waiting for the world to do more than just give us bad human index ratings; we'll change when they stop dealing and trading with us altogether. Looking at the world around though, I doubt that is going to happen soon.

  5. While non-adherence to traffic rules is a major problem, harassment and assaulting of women is a much bigger one, and you're right in determining that the latter situation is similarly amenable to improvement with a concerted, conscious effort from the executive and law enforcement. I think you've written a very insightful post. I too think it is realistic to hope that a determined push by law enforcement will drag potential offenders towards civil behavior, if not by affecting their conscience then by creating an ever-present fear in their minds. The need for this change easily trumps the need to reduce traffic violations, if there is any question about resource limits.

    Each of us gets one life to live, and it is such a tragedy when one is deprived of simple freedom from fear in daily life.

    In other news, you have sorely disappointed me by informing me that there has been improvement in traffic behavior in Delhi. I have taken much cynical comfort in my belief that civic behavior in India is pervasively broken beyond significant repair in the timespan of my lifetime. Your revelation that there has in fact been improvement will not help me sleep well tonight. One of my sacred cows just died.

    1. Thanks for your comment (and sorry?...what had you named her?)