Sunday, 15 August 2010

Take birth on Facebook and die in the pages of mainstream media: The short and irrelevant life of protest movements in urban India

Let me start by saying: I have nothing against “we the people” ensuring that errant citizens are brought to book or forced to comply with the laws of the land. That is worth commending. But I’d just like to add a caveat: Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others.

Meaning, dear fellow citizens first learn to wear the helmet, drive in lanes, not jump traffic lights, not unnecessary blow the horn, not over speed– you know follow basic traffic rules, (that you are required to be aware of to get a driving license) before trying to force autos and taxis out of the roads. That the recent attempt to keep taxis and autos off the road in Mumbai failed miserably, no matter how people like us choose to spin it, is an entirely different matter.

Which brings me to the more important point. Autos and taxis aren’t the "villains” and autowallahs aren’t “chors”. The fact that the problem was framed in these terms is the reason why the solution offered was inappropriate, if not downright silly. In another India, educated (and might I add civil) citizens would first attempt to understand what does public transport mean? Then go on to wonder why don’t we have good public transport and instead have so many autos and taxis on the roads in our cities? Then find out who are these people who drive these autos and taxis, where do they come from, and why do they leave from wherever they have left?

When we have asked and sought answers to these questions we would (I hope) not come up with "protests" that only widen the gap between “us” and “them”. Instead we would concentrate our energies in ensuring that the real errant citizens obey the laws of the land and the real “chors” are bought to book. Okay, maybe simply start a social media campaign and get enough “likes” to make it to the pages of the mainstream media. But at least then it wouldn’t all have been so vain.

Meanwhile an educated and enlightened take on auto-rickshaws and the life of those who drive them can be found here.

15 comments:

blogaloorgirl said...

Very interesting link. Thanks for writing about this.

Medieval Or Modern said...

Good Anvita.
Change is society and attitudes can happen only if we change ourselves. Not talk on and on in A/C cabins and on TV channels.
How many of us choose to find a dustbin while disposing litter, and how many of us do not blow the horn the exact nanosecond that the streetlight turns green.

Anvita Lakhera said...

Thank you. Seems we are only full of bluster when confronted with (what we assume is) a weak target. Unfortunately all enthusiasm vanishes when it comes to protesting against greater injustices and much bigger instances of "chori".

Interestingly, I have also come to know that people feel auto drivers lack basic curtsey and demonstrate bad behaviour. That's reason enough to boycott them, isn't it? Not surprisingly, no mention was made of the bad behaviour demonstrated on a much larger scale by our elected representatives, media personalities, celebrities and even general people like us.

But then the sense of entitlement is a right for only a select few.

AD said...

I Love You. No, really.

I mean, what else can i say after watching helplessly how outrageously middle-class activism played itself in the middle-class media.

I must know, i am a part of it. And, i guess, i could say with some delight that in spite of being a part of that self-centered, unimaginative, petty-bourgeois media, i managed to publish two stories that were openly skeptical of the campaign. (Though, i must acknowledge the fact that, curiously, the paper i work for was not gung-ho about the campaign. This helped. ;) )

I loved this part from your very short, but very clear-headed piece:
"Autos and taxis aren’t the "villains” and autowallahs aren’t “chors”. The fact that the problem was framed in these terms is the reason why the solution offered was inappropriate, if not downright silly. In another India, educated (and might I add civil) citizens would first attempt to understand what does public transport mean? Then go on to wonder why don’t we have good public transport and instead have so many autos and taxis on the roads in our cities? Then find out who are these people who drive these autos and taxis, where do they come from, and why do they leave from wherever they have left?"
It articulates what i felt about the campaign precisely.

Um...and, if i can be a little vain, these are the links to the two stories that i wrote for the paper:

a)An interview with Anthony Quadros, before the campaign. Um...you'll find a small edit-of-sorts before the interview, courtesy: desk. :-|

http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/interview_public-campaign-is-politically-motivated-anthony-quadros_1420731


b)A story about the campaign day:
http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_meter-jam-had-no-effect-drivers_1422683

The Yossarian said...

Succinct and smart!
I am so glad someone brought this up, Anvita. Thank you!
Here in Bangalore, the BMTC tries to encourage people to travel by bus on the 4th of every month by running more buses along more routes on that day. Annoyingly never has the response for that been as much as the online response to this meterjam thing. I'm glad to hear it went with only a whimper.

Anvita Lakhera said...

Thanks for the kind comments.
@AD thanks for the links. Nice they got to print T-shirts and make badges. So, from their POV the campaign was a success. Meanwhile the world carries on.

@The Yossarian maybe BMTC should approach some advertising professionals and utter the magic words “Cannes Gold”. Even in Delhi a big hue and cry was made against the BRT corridor. Not surprisingly, it was lead by the same media houses that are creating this false hysteria over the “Meter Jam” campaign. How do they benefit by time and again ruining our chance to have a reasonable debate on public transport is a question worth asking.

AD said...

I think this extract from an essay (Blowing bubbles. And living inside them, Shoma Chaudhary, Seminar Mag, 'Republic of Ideas' special issue), tells us why their POV is so divorced from the reality: "There was a time when the middle class – educated, enlightened – led these conversations about a just and sustainable society. The giants who wrested our freedom for us may have argued over the course, but they rarely disagreed over the destination. The gift of instant and universal adult suffrage at the midnight hour was a promissory note: India was to be structured as a nation where every citizen would have a chance at a better life... If you talked about striving for a more equal world – not just in material terms but one in which everyone had equal access to the state – you might have been a hypocrite but you weren’t a bore. Human greed was a factor in public life, it wasn’t the altar.

Now, anything that impedes the pleasure of People Like Us is deemed anti-national. Or the rant of a nag. Or the archaic rhetoric of doctrinaire liberals. Or plain anti-progress. At the heart of this short circuit in contemporary middle class imagination is a cynical sabotage: the birth of a new idea of aspiration. This aspiration is no longer the product – in itself fierce, competitive, often unequal – of natural and differing human want. It is a homogenous dream manufactured by the massive engines of massive money. India’s middle class is not only being programmed into a certain kind of aspiration; it is imprisoned in it. Like some giant Truman Show that stretches across the globe, without knowing it, we have been herded into a sound-proof, stimuli-proof set, and our arteries to the world outside the studio have slowly been choked off."


(Ok, i love quoting this piece every time this discussion about middle-class attitudes comes up, because it articulates my outrage much, much better...so...)

Anvita Lakhera said...

@AD Shoma Chaudhary articulates every thinking persons frustration with "popular" middle class attitudes. The question is can there be any real or sustainable progress without social justice. To answer that I suppose many bubbles will have to burst.
Another interesting one is Rana Dasgupta's essay for Granta– Capital Gains (if you haven't read it already) http://www.granta.com/Magazine/107/Capital-Gains/1
The essay isn't so much about the middle class (which itself has become so hard to define...can bankers and factory workers both be considered as part of the same class?) but about India's new elites. Among other things it explores this almost manic obsession with wealth (never mind how it was earned) and more importantly flaunting it that has become a part of our national character in recent years. In fact, it was considered vulgar and uncultured even in the early 1990's. Now it seems to be the only distinguishing character of a certain kind of urban Indian– the kind people like us aspire to be.

AD said...

Of course, i have read Dasgupta's essay. It is quite good. I love the interview with MC. It's so revealing!
The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie on display. :P

To be serious, though, i share your view about the bursting of bubbles.
What's happening to a considerable number of Latin American countries could probably be a good indicator.

(But, then, look at where the discourse-if there really was any-about social justice is going post-crisis. The imaginatively bankrupt elite of all countries simply cannot go beyond binaries! It's distressing, really.As Roy, perhaps correctly, writes, we should learn to "divorce hope from reason.")

Anvita Lakhera said...

@AD wrt discreet charms– Only difference is now the bourgeoisie not only manage to finish their meal but eat other people's share too. Though it still beats me: what is the mysterious destination they are walking towards? :)
I think the world probably needs reindustrialisation. An entirely new way of 'life'. It has happened in the past, it will happen again (especially now that climate change is an undeniable reality). Many scientists, theorists...are already discussing it. But the problem is there are no leaders brave enough to take the first step. And the 'well to do' people don't realize the 'sacrifices' that they'll have to inevitably make. So 'reason' says things will get much worse before they start to get better (though I hope not).

Thanks for taking the time to share great links and your thoughts. Much appreciated.

AD said...

"Though it still beats me: what is the mysterious destination they are walking towards? :)"

haha...awesome!
:D

Your ideas, concerns and, well, the blog seem interesting.

Thank you for bothering to discuss "boring", "pointless", and "abstract" issues; working in the...um, i am too tired now to think of appropriate adjectives, kind of media that i do, craving for such conversations increases astronomically!

p.s: Keep writing! :)

Anvita Lakhera said...

The feeling regarding stimulating conversations is mutual...seems to be a dearth all around. Hope to see more of your articles in the future. Can't let the "Arnab style of journalism" be the norm. Good luck!

AD said...

http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_mr-rr-patil-we-can-t-work-24x7-taxi-auto-drivers_1429256

...thought this story might interest you. :-)

rama said...

I love the way you write, there is so much power and strength in your words. I am glad I came by your blog by chance.

Anvita Lakhera said...

Thanks for the encouragement Rama. You are very kind.