Several years back, there was a car sticker doing the rounds that read ‘you toucha my car and I’ll smasha ur face’. That pretty much sums up the mindset of many of those who hit the roads on a daily basis.
In a country where time is not seen as a major priority, it is surprising that people seem to be in maximum hurry once they get into their vehicles. The sheer desire to get ahead of the vehicle ahead or not to allow the vehicle behind to overtake, overrides all sense of logic and road courtesy. And that’s the red zone when ‘ego’ over takes all sensibilities.
This is what happened when Dr Pankaj Narang, a 40-year-old dentist living in Vikaspuri in West Delhi was playing an innocent game of cricket in his own drive-in with his 8-year-old son one evening. It so happened that the son hit the ball over the gate and as he went to retrieve it, two youths riding a motorcycle brushed him. One 23-year-old Naseer was riding the bike with a juvenile sitting behind.
An argument broke out between the two boys on the motorcycle and Dr Pankaj’s son. Soon the argument turned into a scuffle. On seeing this, Dr Pankaj rushed to the aid of his young son and broke the scuffle. This further enraged the two youths whose ‘ego’ happened to be trampled.
Not to let the matter rest, they threatened to return and immediately left the area only to return with a group of boys and men, all armed with lathis and hockey sticks, and then went on a rampage on the hapless doctor. Dr Pankaj stood no chance and died in the hospital from grievous injuries.
The police were called and initially 2 persons, one a juvenile and one an adult were arrested, while the others remained at large. It so happened that the names announced by the media were those belonging to the Muslim community.
What happened next was a usual story of vested interests taking to social media with all kinds of claims ranging from the assaulters being Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, to the attackers being from the butcher community and thus habitually violent.
The incident began to take a communal turn when certain people began calling for action against these ‘outsiders’. Fortunately, quick action and response from Delhi Police quickly scotched rumours, as they announced that 9 persons were arrested, of which 5 were Hindu and 4 were juveniles. They also clarified that the Muslims arrested belonged to UP and were not Bangladeshi migrants. This was a case of road rage gone out of control and not a communal incident, as was being reported in social media.
Prompt action backed with a stern warning from Delhi Police seemed to have the desired effect and the situation remained under control. This time the capital was lucky and further bloodshed contained. But how does one control similar situations from turning into another Dadri or Muzzafarnagar? Too many vested political interests are waiting for such moments and unless the nation can come up with a solution to contain such incidents from flaring up, innocent lives will continue to be lost.
Why are people on a short fuse?
The answer lies in evolving social economic structures that are resulting in deeper social divide and therefore increasing reasons for social conflict. This is further compounded by increasing professional pressures and stressed personal relationships that are increasing people’s stress to dangerous levels. Most are able to deal with it while some are not.
Adding to the social competition of one-upmanship is that fact that road space expansion has not kept proportionate pace with new vehicles entering the roads every day. As a result, traffic jams, road congestion and fight for right of way, all lead to outbursts that end with disastrous consequences.
Fortunately, India does not encourage ownership of weapons, otherwise we would be seeing mayhem on the roads almost on a daily basis. But that hasn’t reduced the number of cases or incidents of conflict on the roads. So where does the answer really lie?
Weak laws with minimal punishment do not act as a deterrent. In any case of road rage, the aggressor, if detained, gets bail the same day and is back home by evening, while the victim and his or her family have to face a lifetime of consequence.
A major problem lies in the fact that the laws don’t clearly define what comprises road rage and therefore the police find it difficult to file cases that will ensure maximum punishment. The punishment itself is minimal as our laws take a lenient view of cases of road accidents and physical violence as a result of an accident.
Moreover, mere stricter laws itself will not ensure a reduction in incidence of violence otherwise the US would not see such high rates of road rage, which means, the root cause and solution must be sought elsewhere in a larger perspective and approach.
Social norms and behaviour patterns of an individual largely get formed at a young age and are influenced by prevailing environment at home, school, neighbourhood and finally the society, to which the individual belongs.
Moral education and coexistence with social harmony have to be the first corner stones of education, much before regular academic curriculum overtakes a student’s attention and priority.
Unless implemented with right earnestness and priority on a countrywide basis, it will be impossible to expect social behaviour to be any different from what we see today.
Road rage and communal hatred are manifestations of social conflict in society but how we deal with them is a result of the education and awareness that we receive early in life. And that is where we need to begin. If we were to do this on a national scale, then by the time the next generation reaches adulthood, we will have a much more tolerant and harmonious society.
In the meantime, stricter laws with steep fines that really hurt, and backed with severe punishment, will act as some deterrence. Is the government listening?