Somebody shot another body over a parking right in what would pass off as a posh Delhi colony. Presumably both the parties involved possessed a degree of education, or should we say a Rs.degree’ only. The fight was for a space neither of them owned, nor had any tenancy rights over. It was public land, but because it abutted a privately owned house, so by extension, the public space became the exclusive space of the occupants.
Going out to visit your friends and relatives in this city is now fraught with life threatening situations. If you have parked in the space habitually used by a resident of the area, you may end up facing the wrong end of a gun. If you are lucky and encounter someone of a mild disposition, you may find the air of your tyres squeezed out for your temerity.
Being on the roads is no fun either. It is the race for survival being played on the streets in an urban jungle where only one law prevails – capture the space you need. This civilizational about turn of every one for himself is an emerging phenomenon, perhaps borne out of climate change and global warming and the pervading rule of law in the country which says that if you can get away with it, you are not guilty.
Yes, you guessed it right, we are passing through a phase akin to the Wild West in our present stage of development. Our ‘road rights’ are not determined by an archaic set of constitutional laws which lays down on which side we must drive, at what speed we should drive, whether to stop at red lights and if we must allow pedestrians the right of the way etc. No, our rights are directly proportional to the shape, size and colour of the vehicle we happen to navigate in the lanes and by-laws of our urban jungle.
Size always matters and naturally the bigger vehicle will transgress your space, with or without notice. We are a colour conscious people, hence the fair and white gets precedence, particularly if it carries the emblem of our state sovereignty. And if it bears the enhanced majesty of a flag staff, suitably embellished with a flashing red light, then it is all yours, the road along with the allied spaces.
No mortal can question or regulate this pallbearer of state pride for it ranks higher in demanding respect than even the national anthem. It can stop, turn, reverse and park anywhere without notice. There are, of course, other users and abusers with rich looking cars, average looking cars and Rs.aam admis’ asserting their perceived right to pre eminent road and allied space use, as per their need of the moment, not as per any airy-fairy laws that may have been promulgated by any authority or affirmed by a court of law.
The exhibition of our ebullience on the roads is only one dimension of our assertive nature. Let us not even speak of waiting for our turn and forming queues because that is the prerogative of those who have nothing else to do but wait. The ingenuity lies in getting ahead every which way.
“If in my homeland I cannot have my way in public spaces then it amounts to an unreasonable restraint on my freedom”, is the overt notion of nationalism which every Rs.good’ Indian citizen believes in. Shift your gaze to any form of participation in assemblies of seven or more persons and see for yourself that it is the guy who shouts the loudest, who wins the argument. Many times the shouting is not about putting across a point of view, rather it is only about shouting others down.
In this land of perennial shortages, where the economy is cantering at a racy 9%, it is innate human decency that seems to have really come short. What is the brand of equity we have engendered in our society where we have created preference shareholders without preferential obligations and nobody carries the onus of having to comply with the laws?
A law for the majority, exceptions for the privileged, affirmative action for some, but no action against transgressors; laws for women and children, laws for labour but justice for none. Perhaps our twist to the universal connotation of the Rule of Law should be where a cheap shot in a posh colony can entertain the idea that public space in front of the owner’s residence is his for the taking.
Raj Liberhan is Director of the India Habitat Centre at New Delhi. Send your reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org