If there is one thing that Indians excel at it is in putting roadblocks in the way of any undertaking or initiative, however innocuous and harmless it may be. Take the simple activity of walking on the roads. In most other countries, this is no big deal, certainly not a matter of life and death, as it can turn out to be in India. You walk on well-maintained pavements or even the side of a road in the absence of pavements. Traffic stops for you at zebra crossings, or at red lights. But not in India.
Take the simple instance of a morning walk from one’s residence to a nearby park, which may not be part of one’s own residential colony. It is a distance which should not take more than 15 minutes at the most, but can take more, if at all one gets there in one piece. The walk adds more to one’s stress than to one’s health, as it involves maneuvering round a number of obstacles.
Ostensibly for reasons of security, almost very residential community in Delhi has chosen to become a gated community — to keep out not only anti-social elements but also perfectly legitimate users of its roads belonging to other areas. These roads made and maintained by the municipal and other authorities have become the property of the colony residents who mandate who shall use them, especially in the case of vehicular traffic.
This is not only to keep a watch on anti-social elements but also to ensure a noise free and peaceful environment for their own residents, no matter how much it may inconvenience other citizens. In order to keep out non-colony users, gates or barriers — in some cases both — are erected at every entrance and exit to the colony. So for a non-colony user who wishes to walk to a park through a gated community, it requires overcoming a gamut of obstacles.
It could, for instance, mean first squeezing through a side gate of the main colony gate, left open for pedestrians, often with a bar raised at least a foot from the ground, and then further squeezing round the narrow space left between the manual barrier and the guards’ cabin. It does not bother anyone that all this often presents problems to senior citizens and schoolchildren with heavy bags. Thereafter, one has to negotiate whatever exists of pavements. One has to encounter manholes, some of which are left open, big stones left on the road either to stop traffic or for other some reason, police barriers in use or left at the side of the road when not and construction debris left on the sides of roads and pavements by building contractors. One also has to run past road sweepers with their long brooms throwing up huge clouds of dust.
The pedestrian is the least privileged when it comes to usage of roads, even though she pays the same taxes as others using the road. Buses, tractors, trucks, e- rickshaws, autos, cars of all sizes, cycles, sometimes bullock carts, and even elephants, in fact every other form of locomotion other than one’s own legs, takes precedence. Cows have full freedom to wander where their will takes them — the middle of roads, pavements or dividers .
And woe betide the pedestrian who is careless enough to get hit by a vehicle. Only recently, a Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal reduced the quantum of compensation claimed by an injured woman after a speeding car ran over her foot on a Mumbai road, on the ground that she did not use the footpath and was therefore accountable for 25 per cent contributory negligence. Pedestrians of India arise and unite! You have nothing to lose but your lousy pavements.