“Dandas” and Etiquette!

Last week’s piece brought in a large number of reader responses. Many wrote in just to say how they had thought they were the only ones and perhaps therefore abnormal for not being affected by the proceedings currently on in Delhi. The common refrain was that it has become impossible to rationally discuss with most people, the pros and cons of the Lokpal bill. The moment you start questioning anything related to team Anna, you are labeled “pro-corruption” and all rational talk goes down the drain. It is as if, to be against corruption, you have to be pro-Anna, with no middle ground acceptable.
Sandhya asked why is it that there is better traffic sense in the Western countries. Is it the fear of punishment, a better civic sense, or something cultural and inbred?
Sandeep on Google + coincidentally came up with an answer “I recall that when I was staying at The Hilton Garden Inn in Downtown Chicago, I used to look out of the window at even 3 am or later and find cars patiently waiting at the red light. Apparently cameras, deterrent fines and better civic sense make people more law-abiding. Also if a pedestrian crosses a road even when the walk signal is red, cars will brake hard and stop to let the person go first – that’s etiquette.”
We need to be stricter with traffic offences. There should be closed circuit cameras everywhere and anyone breaking traffic rules should be severely fined. The fines should start at Rs. 5000 or even higher. And to prevent people from escaping by bribing their way through, perhaps even the bribe amounts should be escalated so that they pinch. And then, those who don’t pay up in the timeframes given should have their licenses suspended for long periods of time.
Significant punishment will serve as a natural deterrence. We have seen this work with drinking and driving. Last year, the police along with the media made sure that people got the message that if you were caught driving while drunk, you could be put into jail. The incidence of drunk driving has significantly plummeted since then. The same goes for talking on the phone and wearing seatbelts. Because the police can take away your cellphone, which is something most of us can’t live without even for ten minutes, by and large we are very careful about using the phone when driving. And everyone in the front-seats wears seatbelts these days.
Perhaps all that we really need is to make sure that everyone stops at the white line before the zebra crossing. If this is implemented strictly with severe fines, almost everything else will fall into place. Well…almost everything. Even if all of us start obeying all the traffic rules and make driving in Mumbai a better experience, it is unlikely that we will brake in the middle of the road to let a pedestrian cross.
Etiquette cannot be enforced and has to come from the fabric of our society. We are a rude nation, with no concept of politeness and individual space. Which is why we don’t hold doors for others, we rush into elevators without letting those inside get out first and constantly break queues everywhere (last week at Hamley’s two mothers, one after the other, broke the queue at check-out and had to be admonished to get in line). In this context, to expect people to actually stop their cars to let people cross or to give way is asking for the moon.
The “danda” will work. Etiquette is another two generations away.

2 Comments

  • Our people do follow all the rules when abroad.
    But here they do not think it is necessary. It has to change and it will. Meanwhile the danda perhaps will help till we actually learn the etiquette

  • Jaeysh Desai wrote:

    When I objected to BEST bus driver for obstructing pedestrians by halting on zebra crossing, he spat out of window on the road to show his contempt for my protest and and as I escalated the issue people in bus advised me to let the matter be. You see this is why India needs second freedom struggle. People of our country do not understand their rights, they still have slave mindset and pleads to powerful for alms. If you ask them to fight for their rights response is why bother?

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