Monday, March 14, 2011

Why is the number of bad drivers on our streets increasing every year? Blame rapid economic growth for it!

Every one knows this. With each passing year, the quality of Indian drivers seems to be dropping precipitously. Older people recollect that in their days, car drivers used to be much better and more sensitive (even if the quality of cars are really bad!). In those days, drivers showed more respect to pedestrians, women and old men. Today it’s a jungle out there. Most people would think the obvious reasons: corruption in RTO – so poor drivers also get licenses. Pot holes on the roads which make drivers swerve left and right! Poor quality of vehicles which break down often and which just shouldn’t be on the roads......all these reasons are true, and yet there is a very strong economic reason that often does not strike people that easily. The fact that India is growing so fast is filling its roads with a new bunch of uncouth people......

As India progresses economically, cars are coming within the grasp of many more Indians. Today, buying a car is not difficult. An entry level car costs about Rs 3 lacs or less....and if you are employed, you can get a loan. As a result of low pricing, and easy availability of loans, many more Indians are driving cars today. Including those who shouldn’t be!

These people have grown economically, but not sociologically. They have never learnt basic manners and never acquired common sense! They don’t even understand that throwing litter on the streets is not their birthright.....even in a democracy! This new bunch of responsible for many road accidents in our country. It goes further. Road rage is attributable directly to this new bunch. As is the habit of honking. And spitting and throwing litter from the cars.

Basically, these people should never have been given the permission to drive. But rapid economic growth has given them wheels in their hands:

College kids: They used to create havoc on bikes (they still do!). Now they do so with cars! For them, nothing can go wrong. They are on a escalator that’s taking them to higher life. Life’s a constant picnic and for them, driving like it’s your grandfather’s personal road is a matter of right!

The literate illiterates: Many more people today hire drivers than used to 2 decades back. In part, this is because of a higher ability to afford drivers. In part also, it is because of the amount of time taken on the roads and hence a desire to relax or work from the back seats. I don’t mean this as a swipe against the entire driver community; but it’s certainly true that most of them are illiterate (not literally (!)....but sociologically) and really don’t care for road manners.

The “Bharat” brigade: The urban rustics. Sociologically like villagers but economically like the urbanites. People who earlier used public transport are now driving their own vehicles. This is a terrific sign of economic progress, but is a disaster from a road manners perspective! “Pehle aap” is not something that comes naturally to many. Being polite to women and the elderly is not something they do at homes; why would they do it on the roads?! For many of them, this is the first wave of true independence; surely they are not going to be held back by driving rules!

The “jugaadus”: Have you noticed the way many people go past you right to the front of the huge pile of cars that you are stuck in? Those are the jugaadus. They will drive on the wrong side.....cause a nuisance on that side also....and then push their way into the pile again.....right at the front. They are the over-smart types; those who believe that the ones who wait patiently in the queue are idiots!

This is a pattern that is not unique to India. As any country progresses, many more  people become economically strong enough to enter the mainstream. They ruin the hitherto pristine culture that existed in the past. They show up in many different places. You see them in international they board flights to go abroad for work. They are seldom seen at domestic airports; so domestic airports look beautiful. You see the hordes in the shopping malls.....loitering around enjoying the AC....but unable and unwilling to buy much. You see them in restaurants yapping also see them at 5 star hotels during the shaadi season. I once saw a Maadu (marwari) shaadi in the Hyatt in Kolkata.....the party carried on into the rooms they had booked by the dozens....and by the time it ended, they had food strewn all around the corridors. These wealthy but uncouth people are seen in all fast growing countries.

So how long will this continue? Since basic manners are learnt at the time of growing school and at home.....the problem will continue for at least two generations. The 1st generation will learn at school (hopefully) but will not see it at their homes. The 2nd generation will learn at school and also see some of it at home (hopefully!). They will hopefully display better behavior. So for the next 40 years or so, we will continue seeing such behavior on our streets. We see the same thing in other countries also. Countries which developed in the 1980s (the Far East for instance; or China) are now seeing better public behavior. We would be lucky if we could do this in 40 years. My worry is that it could take longer.....because of rural migration into urban areas. If rural migration continues for another two generations, then by the time they learn and practice, it would be 80 years. Now that’s depressing!

The real truth is that we (the ones reading this post) have forgotten that this is the “real India”. The “Bharat”.  Many of us represent a very small microcosm of India....we live in an exalted world.....and we tend to forget this fact. Unfortunately, it’s going to remain like this for a long long time.....

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