When the people hit back

The past few months have given us several examples once again that Bangaloreans do not sit silent beyond a point. Yes, you can push citizens here for some time, but push hard enough and they are likely to hit back.

The message from the backlash against auto rickshaw drivers tampering meters and refusing rides to passengers with runaway impunity is clear: ‘We’ve had enough’. The mere fact that the unions have reportedly met and have started making pronouncements to address citizen fury is indicative that it took a united expression of anger to bring the auto rickshaw driver community to attention.

However, whatever be the reasons for auto drivers behaving the way they do, let’s give them this much: they are forced to work long, stressful hours steering through the city’s roads for relatively small sums of money — hardly enough to take care of their families.

It may take a half hour to cross two kilometers during weekday peak hours and they get paid less than twenty rupees for a lot of sweat and stress.

Still, the mess has assumed such proportions that the very purpose of licensed and regulated transport is getting defeated. To their credit, Bangaloreans, inspired by the Meter Jam initiative in Mumbai, have sounded a clear warning, with a mere threat of boycott causing unions to take note.

Deeper lies another mess citizens have risen up recently and said NO to. Road widening. Citizen Matters has chronicled this saga heavily for you since 2007. We were perhaps the first to report to you that there was indeed, rising unrest. Well-argued criticism on the city’s plans and its thoughtless, cashless compensation policy for property snatched away figured most prominently on our pages recently.

The hardest blow to the government, we believe, came not from NGOs or transportation experts, but from one property owners’ association member (See our interview of 21 June 2010) who argued with such clarity and force of conviction that it blew a hole in the logic-less wall built by officials around their ill-argued positions. The result: a liberated opposition only solidified further. We believe that even journalists are likely to have understood the issue better because of this. With the media picking up on the unrest, the government’s blind drive simply ran aground.

In the past two weeks, a groundswell of opinion against road widening has formed. The Save Bangalore Committee has steered much of the recent outcry.

Still, let this not go unsaid. It is no one’s case that all road widening is bad. It’s the manner in which policy is being applied to the city’s roads and rammed down the throats of citizens that triggered much of the opposition.

There are many more examples. The force in Bangaloreans’ reaction against Lokayukta Justice Santhosh Hegde’s resignation and the media reporting of it had its consequences: the government’s subsequent climb-down. Illegal mining has now become politically difficult to handle within Karnataka’s parties themselves.

None of the issues Bangaloreans are now getting into fighting are settled yet. There will be ups and downs, but overall the tempo has undoubtedly gone up. As monitors of Bengaluru’s public sphere, we can say that much. Administrators and politicans alike will simply have to watch themselves more, at the very least.

The good news is that youth and students are a part of all this. The Save Bangalore Committee’s rally, led by many senior activist figures, witnessed scores of college students signing up, as reported in the press. What’s more, in just a few weeks, students across Bangalore’s colleges have planned a rally of their own against corruption in the city, they say.

Let it not be forgotten that students have a power that is unique. On the other side of the globe, in a nation where thousands of our youngsters flock to each year, it was students at major universities who struck hard and forced global corporations to correct unjust human rights policies in their manufacturing facilities.

If Bangalore’s college students begin to push a public agenda at the level of their own ideals, and if their rallies have widespread turnout, it will be a good thing. This will give a welcome thrust to the current upswing in civic engagement amongst the older citizenry. That can only be good for the city.

1 Comment

  1. I do hope that the students of today, who show commitment towards improvement of the society they live in, do not turn into the apathetic citizens of tomorrow….I feel that if we can fight apathy, the other ills will correct themselves speedily.

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