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THE MARK ON THE WALL

Driving through the capital city, one is compelled to witness many signs of societal breakdown, which has begun to suffocate us all. In the comparatively pampered area of New Delhi that is referred to as Lutyens’ Delhi, there is no semblance of traffic regulation. The policemen who are posted at the rotaries to ensure a smooth flow of vehicles, particularly at rush hours, are invariably standing under the shade of an old and leafy tree, chatting on their cell phones. Cars and three-wheelers, buses and cycles, all jostle with one another trying to overtake on the wrong side, hitting the sides of cars, toppling over on the road, and then the same people who break the rules turn abusive. Then enters the cop who prefers to settle the dispute in situ by accepting money from both the ‘attacker’ and the ‘victim’.

I was speaking to a young visitor from overseas who grew up in Delhi, loves the country and returns regularly on work and to meet friends. Her response to this great emerging economic power is that when you arrive at the Delhi airport, you switch gears and change persona — you become a different animal if you want to bypass the ogling men salivating on seeing a woman. It is a creepy sensation that is totally unwarranted. Small wonder that more people visit the Metropolitan and British Museums than they do the entire nation state of India! No one — male or female, old or young — wants to be molested, teased, mocked or ogled at.

One possible way of correcting this dreadful reality could be to use the television screen to bombard viewers with images showing how disgusting this kind of behaviour is for all those who have to deal with it. If, for example, Shah Rukh Khan were to speak to the ‘Indian male’ and ask them to refrain from urinating at every street corner, in full public view, telling them how unclean that act is, how disgraceful and insulting to this great civilization, then the men may stop in their tracks. The argument of a dearth of public lavatories is a faulty one because most men urinate against the wall, standing outside the lavatories in Connaught Place. And, you never see a woman squatting to urinate on the streets of this city. Why?

Degraded ethos

One of the reasons is that our cities and towns are so pathetically maintained — strewn with rubbish, paper, plastic and other such horrors — that people feel no compunction about adding to the dirty environs they inhabit. If the municipal corporation were to keep the city spotless, like the underground Metro and the airport, the Indian citizen may not dare to muck up the public space. The government has to lead the movement ‘Clean up’, with the voices of contemporary heroes, national stars and celebrities, forcing change. Sachin Tendulkar could be requested to lead the charge and make a commitment to reforming the unpleasant habits of the Indian male. The fact that people put ceramic tiles depicting gods and goddesses on the outer walls of their compounds to prevent men from urinating against them, gives one an insight into the psyche of the Indian male. The time is ripe to take this ‘attempt’ one step further by making advertisements and jingles with the face or voice of an icon.

The police force, the municipal officers and the VIPs who people this megacity seem to have closed their eyes. They make no person or department accountable for the degradation of our public domains. Illegalities are encouraged. Bribes rule. Till stringent accountability for government employees, ranging from the seniormost secretaries to junior section officers, traffic cops and the like, does not kick in, this country will wallow in a degraded ethos that has pulled us down to the lowest rungs of civilized living.