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Our voices and efforts can make a difference: Let’s keep fighting! #Delhirapecase

There has been much banter on social networks, much outrage and genuine frustration, a lot of noise, a multitude of voices reacting to the Delhi gang rape. The incident is being seen as shameful, rightfully so; Dilliwalas are feeling ashamed and angry at having to feel so, people from other identities who reside in Dilli have felt a tad better shrugging and being patronizing about being from elsewhere. And so it goes on.

For many of us, the real point of frustration is that this incident will go off the radar and be relegated to the back of people’s minds. Yes, it will happen. Society and human memory are known to be fickle. However, there is a point to making a hue and cry about things. There is a point to signing petitions and participating in protest marches. For all of us who sit in the comfort of our homes, clicking ‘likes’ on FB and feeling frustrated that our genuine outrage will amount to naught, we should not feel so terrible.

First of all, speaking out and putting yourself out of your comfort zone to think about issues that are not immediately impacting you, but could, is a first step to engagement with social issues. In a new way, this sort of engagement spawns new tools for democracies to function. Strong voices emerge that pressurize authorities to take action. Whatever may be our opinion about the actions taken in the short term, the hue and cry has jolted the government into releasing some rules that could be the beginning of a system of checks and balances. Much more needs to be done and civil society is taking up these aspects vehemently. For instance, today’s reports suggest that schools should verify the drivers and staff for buses and otherwise and report and irregularities to the owners/contractors or police. In my children’s school, we recently had an incidence of drunken driving and made the same suggestion to the school. Clearly, preventive measures and checks to identify repeat offenders and remove malfunctioning individuals from positions of responsibility are one way ahead.

On a larger scale, pressure from civil society can lead to convictions and impact judges to change verdicts to harsher ones. The Jessica Lall case, for instance, set a precedent for influential offenders to be brought to book. In law, as I understand it, precedence is an important aspect. So if someone is given a harsher sentence for a rape for this case, it will pave the way for harsher sentences to be given in the future for similar cases. The point I am making is that every little step goes a long way. We need to believe in the power of our efforts, however small, to create change. We need to protect ourselves from cynical dismissal, we need to not give up the fight. Most vitally, while we continue with efforts that address symptomatic problems, we need to broaden our efforts to impact the root causes, which might appear complex but could generate better results over time. Hence, education and awareness, changes in the law and policy, stronger processes are all essential aspects that we can also contribute to. And should, even after this incident has been buried in public memory, to create better cities for us to live in.

The courts can’t resolve a crisis of faith: #BRT #Delhi #classwars- July 10, 2012

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?

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