I’ve wanted to write about the BRT corridor in Delhi for the longest time, but have refrained as I have little technical knowledge on matters of transportation. In that sense, this isn’t really written from a professional perspective, but rather as a citizen. Mihir Sharma’s piece in the Business Standard says it all.
For background’s sake, one stretch of Delhi’s BRT corridor is permitting cars in the bus lanes because of a petition filed in court by an NGO called NyayaBhoomi. The BRT benefits those who use public transport and I view the shutting down of the BRT as a clear indication that upper class car users are being appeased and the needs of the larger public disregarded.
I put this entire episode down to poor governance. How? The lack of governance in India is a huge problem not just because it means poorer quality of life for us citizens, but because it means we no longer have faith in the systems and processes of democracy; we link it to the failure of governance. The article points to the grave error of letting courts decide on issues of governance….”policy of this sort should be decided by governments elected by and accountable to all Indians. There’s an additional reason: if a mistake is made by the executive, it can be swiftly corrected………unintended consequences of court judgments aren’t so easy to fix” and I agree.
Working in the housing space, I know many slum demolitions have been ordered by courts reacting to petitions filed by RWAs. These petitions typically cite hygiene, safety, unclean environs as reasons for why slums should be removed. They are concerned with their specific neighborhood getting ‘cleaned up’. Photographs of overflowing sewers and garbage dumps, even kabaadi (waste recycling) shops located in slums are shown as evidence…..never mind the shop recycles the enormous amount of wastes being generated in middle class homes. The same sort of middle class homes that want the slums out!
The court verdicts, in the case of slum evictions, are not concerned with issues of urban planning, like supply of affordable housing stock that can accommodate displaced slum dwellers or other interstitial urban spaces nearby where the squatters will move to if their slum is demolished, or the impact of the eviction on the livelihoods of slum dwellers, the list goes on. The court looks at the issue almost in isolation; it is not their job to look at the much larger context. However, it is the job of local governments to do so and when issues like housing, transport and basic services get hijacked by vested interests and taken out of the purview of governance and into the courts, it harms the democratic fiber of our cities, dis-empowering us citizens in the long run. I agree, we have no other recourse as of now. And that’s why planning needs to be done using a participative approach and local government need to rise to the challenges of governance on an urgent basis. If we are to control damages in this war.
Yes, it is a war of the classes out there. A war in which the privileged see only their point of view and the poor theirs. One in which we take sides too easily and all those empathetic with the other side are increasingly being regarded as enemies (liberals, NGO types, reds, wierdos). Which is why basic services, transportation, education and health facilities, all the good stuff that keeps us going and that only be delivered by efficient governance is so important. We need to address this crisis of faith (on governance and government) first, so that the war can at least be fought on level ground. Or alternately, and I’m being a desperate romantic here, consensus can be built to accommodate for plurality, diversity and a right to dignified living for all?
My family has been through a strange experience this past week. We’ve had the same driver for near on five years. He’s from Pataudi, a tall, wiry young man, always smiling and enthusiastic, resourceful and agile. He started working for us as a bachelor and we’ve seen his ups and downs and shared them, in a sense- his marriage, two kids, run-ins with his parents and his brother, the usual travails of life! Just as he has seen ours, my daughter’s birth, moving house, panicky drives to hospitals, birthday celebrations and the like. It’s been a relationship. We’ve always trusted him, even with our children, and to be fair, he’s never really broken that trust.
Why am I telling you all this? Because one fine day, about a week ago, things changed all of a sudden. He had an altercation with a security person in the apartment complex. There were fisticuffs, I had to intervene and talk to the security supervisor, who agreed to sort the matter out if the driver apologized. Well, he simply refused to do so!
Not just that. He lay outside the gate in wait and, aided by some friends, beat up the opponent after working hours the same evening! We heard of all this the next morning and of course, we had to consider him fired, since there was no way he would be allowed to work in our complex again.
If you thought the matter ended there, you’re wrong. While we were trying to make sense of his unexpected behavior (we actually thought he staged all this to escape paying us back the money we had loaned him; someone even told us he had landed a better job with Reliance and had nothing to lose, etc), he did the even more unexpected. He stole a bike from a neighboring apartment complex and tried to frame someone else by entering a faux name and number in the register. Unfortunately for him, CCTV cameras caught him in the act of driving out the bike and now he is on the run from the police!
Of course, we are carrying on as usual. There is a new driver in place and life goes on, but it shakes me up to think someone I trusted so much and who played a significant role in our lives ended up being a criminal! What had driven him to do this, I wonder? A fit of madness, a vendetta of some some sort, desperate need for money….could be anything! And us? We’re getting visits from the police, we’re being told to be careful..of what, I have no idea!
I wonder if the guy had been a friend or colleague and not a driver, would I so easily have dropped him from my life, not called, not tried to find out what drove him to this? ‘Don’t mess with the locals’, they say, here in Gurgaon, Haryana. This is a city where a 16-year old boy got kidnapped and sodomized in broad daylight two days ago! Where women get raped and assaulted and the police make absurd statements about their character instead of making the city safer. This is a city where its hard to trust…Yet, I feel bad for giving up on him…yet, I know there is precious little I can do here, but let things go…..and forget he existed.
And you know what, we do not have a single picture of him…after knowing him for five years…such are the manifestations of the class divides we practice, knowingly and unknowingly every day…..
Are we reinforcing inequality in our homes? Examining my attitudes towards my domestic help- Feb 02, 2012
Hindu’s op-ed about domestic help makes a few hard-hitting points that forced me to examine the following questions for myself:
Why do I employ domestic help? Is it because of what the article suggests- I need to work outside the house, so in employing domestic servants, am I using my class advantage to minimize my gender disadvantage? In my case, the latter isn’t so much about my husband not being willing to be a caregiver to my children or taking on housekeeping responsibilities (which is what the article outlines as the typical situation), but simply because of the nature of his job, when he may not be in town for long periods of time!
Do I think its unskilled labor and do I devalue it? Certainly not. I have gone with little or no domestic help for short periods of time and I think I (and most of us) employ domestic help because housework is tedious work and not intellectually stimulating, NOT because we think it is unskilled work. In fact, many domestic workers have excellent skills and many more need training, which unfortunately needs to be given by us who are relatively unskilled in this department!
What is my attitude towards my domestic help? Do I treat them with dignity? How does my behavior towards them affect my children?
Now this these are tough questions to answer honestly. Let me say I try and be fair to my help, in exchange for a sense of responsibility from their side. I do not go as far as asking them to sit and dine with me. To that extent, the class differences are ingrained, on both sides. But I do not ask them to constantly run errands for my children and certainly not my son, who is old enough to clear his toys and get himself a glass of water. My help eats what we eat and participates normally in conversations between us as far as it involves her. Fortunately, I haven’t needed full time domestic help in the past several months, so we have adequate privacy once the maids leave. Yes, I think I treat them with dignity. They get pulled up for mistakes, just like any team worker at work would get, though I admit I do raise my voice with my help, which I would never do at work.
What are my children learning? Here, I’m thinking back to an incident from my childhood. The only time by father hit me in my life was when I mistakenly said something rude to our domestic help Manda, who I treated as family and very much still keep in touch with. I must have been seven or eight, about as old as Udai is now. My father’s reaction taught me to measure my attitude towards those who help us early in life. I urge my children to form a bond of some sort with anyone who works at my place. Often that does not happen because the domestic worker rejects their affection and I have seen how deeply that affects the kids. Sometimes the kids tend to get violent, over criticize and tattle on the help. I treat that the same way I treat their friendships with their peers- ignore and intervene when I must.
I hope these are the right things to do. Undoubtedly, our children lead a life of privilege and class distinctions are deeply ingrained. I can only hope to teach them to be empathetic, by example. Even in that, I can only try!