There’s a new normal on our roads, which leaves a certain group of road users highly vulnerable. It could be someone you know.
It’s a regular scene on our roads, yet it was disturbing when I saw it in a tweet posted by a Bangalore journalist sometime in mid-June. It was a short video of an old couple holding homemade placards and stopping a two-wheeler user from riding on the pavement. The two senior citizens were requesting him to get off the pavement and ride on the road like any civilised person should, but that numbskull still tried to dodge them. Though they managed to block his way and get him to return to the road, it was shocking to see the shamelessness with which he was still trying to escape them and continue riding on the pavement. He was so intent on breaking the law, inconveniencing everyone else and potentially harming the two seniors that it didn’t even strike him that he was in the wrong. Total, absolute shamelessness, which comes from some self-bestowed fundamental right that grants you absolute right-of-way if you’re riding a two-wheeler. (Why single out two-wheelers? I’m sure that if autorickshaws and cars could do it, they too would start driving on footpaths. We are uniformly ‘civilised,’ that way.)
It would have gone viral by the time you are reading this, while Bangalore Mirror has also put out a story about this daring, socially conscious senior couple. Many people responded to my retweet, saying that this is not unique to Bangalore and Mumbai, but is commonplace in Delhi, Pune and other cities as well. Riding on footpaths and pavements has taken on the proportions of an epidemic, and it’s now the new normal.
So why should I be disturbed? I should be used to this. This is how we Indians are, right? Forget mere queues, we take pride in blatantly breaking the law so that it benefits us. We are all individually selfish and have no conception – or give a damn about – the consequences of our actions. ‘We are like this only’, no?
The reason I’m disturbed is because of the complete indifference of the traffic police to this complete disregard of the law. The police, it seems, don’t simply care. It’s not that they don’t know about it, but they will not do anything because they are too understaffed to handle a problem this endemic. However, that’s not the main reason.
The real reason is that upholding pedestrian rights is at the bottom of the list of priorities for the traffic police. They are primarily trained to manage traffic, to push more vehicles through the roads, from one signal to the next. Their main objective is to keep vehicular movement smooth and unhindered. If there’s a traffic jam at a spot, immediately each one of us starts complaining, whining and tweeting – which makes their Control Room take action to keep the traffic flowing. So, what happens to pedestrians then? Do you think it even enters the humble traffic constable’s consciousness that pedestrians too are road users and have an equal right of way? Plus, of course, we all ‘know’ that pavements are meant for anyone but pedestrians – they are encumbrance-free real estate solutions granted by municipalities for micro businesses or no-cost housing. Or for two-wheeler riders to use as national or state highways.
Our road systems are designed to keep vehicles moving as quickly as possible. Everything around us seems to be designed with the vehicle user in mind, and yet as drivers or riders, we complain that we are stuck in traffic jams – all the while not realising that We Are The Traffic Jam! In our impatience, we break the law by riding on pavements or driving in the opposite direction, proving to others that we are smarter than them. Ultimately this makes our roads more dangerous to others, especially the most vulnerable road users.
So, bear in mind that there are other road users who are infinitely worse off than you – and some of them may not even return home safely because of the irresponsible actions of drivers and riders. Don’t think of pedestrians as some unknown faces – it could be you, your child or your parents. Which leads me to another thought – what if one of those amazing senior citizens was the Bangalore top traffic cop’s mother or father? Would he allow this utter shamelessness to continue?
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Srinivas Krishnan writes about classic and vintage cars for various publications. He is the former Editor of Business Standard Motoring & former Head of Press, Porsche India.