Sunday, September 27, 2009

Proud to be urban, but why can’t we be urbane

Proud to be urban, but why can’t we be urbane?
H S BALRAM


Two years ago around this time, Beijing was busy with preparations to host the 2008 Olympics. The city’s infrastructure was being substantially improved and state-of-the-art stadia were being built. Alongside, the authorities launched an interesting drive. Teaching civility to citizens to portray a better image of the city. Volunteers went around educating people against boorish behaviour in public — littering, nose-picking, urinating, needless honking, jumping signals, overtaking, etc. They were told to smile, stand in orderly queues, and generally be more polite. Policemen were asked to be more efficient, more courteous and better dressed. Touts who routinely harangued foreigners were given a stern warning. The campaign worked. And the world was witness to it.
India wants to do some such thing ahead of Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The authorities have warned Delhiites to behave. Stuck with tags like ‘boorish’ and ‘uncouth’, they have been given a rude wake-up call by home minister P Chidambaram to change their mindset. “We must behave as citizens of a big, good international city... We cannot expect a mega city’s policing to function properly if people do not change their behaviour. We still find vehicles jumping red lights... There are vehicles running without registration plates. Some cross roads where they shouldn’t. Pedestrians avoid using overground bridges or underground passes...,” says the minister. Will the people of Delhi heed his advice? Will they do a Beijing? Difficult to say.
Not just Delhi, every other city in India is witness to boorish behaviour by its citizens. A survey conducted in Mumbai shows urinating in public is the biggest offence among its citizens. The second biggest offence is spitting — the red paan stains that mark the city’s pavements and streets are testimony to this habit. The rest of the offences like littering, dumping debris and bio-medical waste all add to make the city one of the most unhygienic metros in the country and the world. Try to question the offenders. They are either shameless or quick to blame it on lack of clean toilets and bins.
The story is the same, be it in Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad or Bangalore. Surprisingly, we are well-behaved when we step out of the country. We observe road rules on foreign land, do not spit or urinate in public places, throw garbage only in dedicated bins, take skywalks/underpasses to cross roads... But as soon as we step into our land, we lose all civic sense. And we are good at blaming everyone but ourselves. Why do we behave so?
Take our own ‘high tech’, ‘happening city’ Bangalore. While it has emerged as the fastest-growing metropolis, we as citizens haven’t done anything good to match it. We lack civic sense. Our behaviour in public is anything but graceful.
We spit and urinate unabashedly in public
We use our streets as garbage bins. Throw waste into storm water drains, choking them
We have utter contempt for road rules. Engage in racing on roads. Get into a rage at the slightest provocation
We derive sadistic pleasure in honking while driving
We have least regard for pedestrians
We prefer to walk across a busy road even where there is a skywalk or subway
We are quick at pointing fingers at others
The world is seeing India rise as a superpower slowly and steadily. We as citizens, particularly in cities, must match this by imbibing good civic sense and shunning uncouth behaviour. If the Chinese can do it, why not us?

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