Urban Naxalism and Pedestrian Safety

The accident on Airport road near HAL served us with two note-worthy lessons.

1) The obvious one. Bangalore roads are unsafe for pedestrians. Drive down on Outer Ring Road any late evening, and risk running someone over yourself if you don’t believe me. A nice road does not mean 3 tarred lanes going one way and 3 tarred lanes going another. Roadwork includes doing good and usable, footpaths, adequate measures for pedestrians to cross over (ped only traffic lights, or pedstrian bridges over roads) and where appropriate, usable service roads to take care of slow moving or local traffic.

As I said, have a look at Outer Ring Ring, often touted as the showpiece infrastructure work carried out during the S M Krishna years to realize what I say – when we say ‘road’, we only think four or six lanes for cars and trucks.

2) It is one thing to blame mob fury on “oh these stupid people who don’t know what is public property”. And another to think a bit deep as to why these accidents invariably lead to mob violence. These incidents happen a lot often in Bangalore these days, and the underlying reason in my opinion is unbalanced growth and resultant dissatisfaction amongst the common citizen.

Yes, Bangalore has the jobs, posh apartments, malls and everything else. But all of that recent IT development has created a divide between those who benefited a lot from the IT boom, and those who got only a little. Yes, most residents have gained, however indirectly. But the money hasn’t trickled down as evenly. The most visible example is public amenities. All the talk has been focused on Roads and flyovers and Volvos to get techies office and back home in quickest time possible. But there has been a lot less noise about the fact that most citizens get water supplied to them only every alternate day. That housing is out of reach of most commoners. That public transport for commoners plain-and-simple sucks. That you-tell-me-more.

I call this phenomena – burning down of Volvo that we witnessed today – the “urban naxalism“. And I predict it is only going to grow.

Note: Written in a rush as I am traveling. So pardon the grammar, spellings and all that. After a review later when I find time, I might just delete this post.

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28 Responses

  1. Not only Banaalore but the capital of India also suffers from infrastructure problems. A week and a half ago, we got stuck in a trafiic jam because some residents resorted to Dharna and blocked traffic because their demands of proper water supply were not met for more than a month. Delhi also has pathetic road and traffic sitation in certain areas.

    All this talk of economic development seems very hollow when one considers problems of infrastructure and labor reforms.

  2. I totally agree with you on this. Its pathatic to see the condition of Silicon Valley of India ..Its a joke ..no one to really think of what’s going to happen down the road & who is going to suffer, its the same people who burnt the Volvo …I feel sad about the entire episode of burning public property on any event like this ..I was stuck at the Kempegowda Bus station for 8 hours during Raj Kumar’s demise :( …

    BMTC started good project by introducing volvo buses, but I see that it is hardly occupied(for various reaons) & now that it is getting victimised by mobs like this, the service might be stopped too ..Imagine people burning Namma Metro when it comes :)

  3. the volvo bus driver apparently fled the scene; luckily he escaped the mob’s fury i guess.

    the ‘urban divide’is widening and ‘such an out burst are to increase’ sounds as a stern warning.

    Could the administration do anything to prevent such anger out of deprivation.

    the real issues that affect day to day life of the common man are not being addressed by our elected representatives. is destroying public properties the only means to demand attention / justice.

    nice to see your perspective sir

  4. You’re right. The Urban Naxalism will only grow.

    Here TOO MUCH importance has been given to Software. (i admit i gained a lot from it). That’s why we always talk about flyovers and expressways to electronics city when we DO NOT have proper roads near our homes.

    If we’re a democracy, then why should a truck driver park and wait for 3 hours so that you and me (i’m a software preofessional) can reach our offices in Electronics City. Is he a lesser chap? All that truck driver wants is to reach his destination after driving 100s or may be even 1000s of kms…and he has to wait for us to reach office. A software professional is GREATER THAN a truck driver. Bull Shit! If we have to apply this rule everywhere, then a software guy can jump any queue anywhere if he finds LESSER people in front of him!

    Ever thought where all our TAX money goes? Do we pay our taxes so that BMTC can buy volvo buses each worth 75 lakh to carry 5 passengers? NO NO NO. I PAY MY TAXES so that BMTC can buy 5 ORDINARY buses for 75 lakh which is what we need. Because VOLVO buses are NOT what bangalore needs. We haven’t matured yet for that. When 100s of ORDINARY people wait for buses, it’s a SHAME to drive around a 75 lakh bus with 5 passengers.

    What do you think?

  5. i am apalled at our arrogance. ‘Me first’ syndrome has crept in everywhere. Biju is absolutely bang on – i need to get home/office/wherever first – rest can rot away. The truck drivers are really harassed and i see ‘glee’ on the cop’s face when they spot a truck ( ‘Rs.’ on their mind ) and signal him to stop. We all want to get away first, jump the signal if possible, drive on the pavement, occupy the right side of the road, in short : look for short cuts.

    On the HAL incident, have you seen (BMP) corporation bus stop (towards mission road)? Commuters occupy about 50% of the road space waiting for buses in the peak evening hours. I have never seen a cop trying to do anything about it. I shudder to think the consequences if brakes fail on a bus here. Scores of people would be simply crushed. Why dont we understand and follow basic rules. What are the cops doing. Why cant they come down with an iron hand? We are doddering towards complete chaos. Who set the bus on fire? Take very strict action against them. Just because i have not ‘benefitted’ from the IT boom, i cannot vent my anger against everybody/everything. Its high time, the IT industry did something for the society (highly debatable, i agree — my personal opinion only).

  6. Many Many Locals have actually tremendously benefited from IT Boom here.

    – Every company employs, a large number of support staff (Office Boys, Security etc)
    – the land/house owners are minting money.
    – An average BPO Worker comes from lower middle class family – and each working person is often supporting a family behind him.
    – There are far more jobs available (see the construction boom) in bangalore even for the poorest than most cities across india today.
    – Innumerable Transport/Taxi services have started.
    – Auto Drivers in the city are probably among the richest of their clan compared to other cities.
    – The water and electricity conditions have been much better than in Kolkata for eg. for decades.

    So, whats the fuss?
    The fuss really is ‘Resentment’. I didn’t get enough attitude. Mix it with rhetoric from politicians about urban vs rural – you have just the right mixture that local goon ordered.
    Some of this you vs me is unique to the city.

    IT Engineers, and so called successful people can hardly take blame for this situation. It is the GOVERNMENT (therefore it’s myriad Politicians and Babu’s) who are to be blamed for this mess.

    If the bus was not VOLVO, it might not have been torched(resentment?). Volvo buses would be a resounding success if they are run on routes like ITPL to Majestic, Electronics City to MG Road, with appropriate feeder services.
    (There was post to this effect in this blog).

  7. “If the bus was not VOLVO, it might not have been torched”
    If I am not wrong, a normal BMTC bus was also stoned (not torched) somewhere near RT Nagar when it ran over a pedestrian and killed him. Well I don’t think the anger was because of the urban divide. I agree that the IT boom is the cause of the traffic problems, but it is not the IT guys who are responsible for all the problems. It IS the government. It was the government which seduced (even better than a Bollywood item girl) the IT companies and offered them attractive incentives. But it just doesnt end there..it should have developed infrastucture parallelly. Even now the growth of the infrastrucure is at snail’s pace and the Government is just busy with petty politics.

  8. Traffic is problem. But also problem is that local people act like goonda especially at anything they think is non-kannada. Bus is not displaying anything in english, purposefully.

  9. IT folks cant be blamed really. We all came here to make our careers, and dont break big-time laws as such in our day to day lives to make our money. But there definitely is some discontentment around with IT riches. More than that, there is bound to be some frustration amongst the poor or lower middle class folks about the increasingly “uneven” world ever so apparent in our cities. I mean, don’t you feel guilty when you hand out salaries to your domestic helps? At least when you compare that to how much you spend to eat a pizza dinner (Rs 200-300).

    The “range” of prosperity in our country is getting bigger and bigger. People are getting left behind, and the bad thing is, the ones left behind can see the a lot more glitter around them today than say 10 years ago – malls, cars, posh colonies etc.

    I am not saying all this justifies vandalism etc. But, these ‘feelings’ boil over in our still-under-policed country to create these “urban naxalism” situations – anger against the rich and establishment. And since I don’t see any effort in the cities yet to help the urban poor (low cost housing, better public transport, reservations in good schools, higher “minimum wages” and more), I feel that “urban naxalism” is only going to grow.

    More later.

  10. Lack of awareness is the BIGGEST issue here. Does anybody bother why the government “DOESN’T HAVE MONEY” for the essential stuff? Why don’t we have money for schools in rural areas? Why don’t we have money to pave our roads? Why do we dig our roads everyday?

    Ever wondered what happens to the money (the tax you and me paid) involved in UNCOVERED SCAMS? Nothing! That money might’ve been meant for schools/roads/public welfare etc. Now that the money is gone, govt says it DOESN’T HAVE MONEY for all these. You and me start paying additional/cess tax! Beautiful, isn’t it?

    If LAW and ORDER is important, why don’t we have enough “QUALIFIED” police personnel? Why can’t we pay them enough to boost their self-esteem? Do you think a family can survive in Bangalore with their salary? If we treat them good, they’ll treat us good, I’m sure. You gotta give respect to get respect.

    Too many questions! What can we do? Any ideas?

  11. Biju > Very well said.

    SilkBoard> “don’t you feel guilty when you hand out salaries to your domestic helps?”

    At this rate Bill Gates must the guiltiest man on earth. :).

    Well: The government is squandering away the taxes it collects. Some quick examples: Rs 300 Crores on the dud Trishul Project, Rs ??? Crores on Arjun Tank, LCA, What-Not.. all with zero accountability.

    The Food Crop India buys Hundreds of crores of food grains every year to be distributed to those BelowPovertyLine… but NDTV expose shows, it is actually exported or sold, by its very caretakers ! And declared that the food was eaten away by rats !!!! Poor don’t get it.

    For the poor govt. is faceless. So, lets pick on visible targets.. this is what is happening.

  12. bill gates must be a very guilty man indeed but in this age and indeed in any age of crass selfishness where denial moves from mere habit to a vain indulgence it would be foolish to expect him or any of us to feel guilty if anything. The instance that SB writes of here is a commonplace incident- a bus- a symbol of prosperity -is torched when it runs over under-priveleged by-standers. Would it have touched the raw nerves of outraged bloggers if it was a mere Tata or Leyland bus of the BMTC. Lets face it – this is again not a situation of apportioning blame. This is no reason for the IT gang to get all hot under the collar. Governments are to blame but like the fat constitution book says ‘ We, the people ‘ are the goverment. Therefore we are to blame as well. While the IT industry might have thrown a few crumbs down the table they – employees and the head honchos of the said industry have contributed to much of the misery in bangalore including the town’s real estate in the hands of sharks and the monstrosity of the ring road with 4 lanes and no decent pavement or service roads. Well i’d be the forst to acknowledge that we NRIs have been a major bane as well in this regard.

    SB its fine to call this as mere ‘urban naxalism’- but I am sure you would have called Danton and his friends ( remember the French Revolution) as Naxalites of Paris.

  13. This is the first time that a Volvo bus has been torched, but many buses have been stoned and/or burned before as well. I am completely lost as to what do people gain by destroying other’s property (BMTC in this case).

    I am not sure if this is naxalism, or something else. I would call it a mix of jealousy and anger. And we have a group of people with this mindset who cannot tolerate anything nice. “Oh, I don’t/can’t use the Volvo buses and since I got this opportunity at destroying it, let me make sure that no one else can use this”, this must have been what people were thinking when they torched the bus.

    As for the inequality, I would say inequality is prevalent in any society. You cannot have a society where everyone is equal except in your dreams. And I would say that the local population has actually benefitted from IT and related services. Land and house owners have been able to command prices and rents that would have been unimaginable a few years back and of course a lot of people are employed by IT industry. I would say IT has only enriched the life and not degraded it in any way.

    SB, I agree with you that the roads are unsafe for pedestrians and yes, something needs to improve that. But The fact that a bus ran over a few people does not give anyone the rights to burn it. You say that this is urban naxalism, and only likely to grow. I say this is a law and order problem and needs to be dealt with an iron hand.

  14. Does anybody have any idea how this accident took place? Speeding bus?, crowded streets, etc.

    BMTC crew in the past were not noted for their courtesy. Are Volvo crew any better – rumour has it that the drivers are supposed to be trained not only in driving but also good road practices – is this true?

    Mob fury in Kolkata was and is a common practice, and is probably slowly penetrating places like Bangalore too.

  15. Ram, Volvo crew is definitely much better than the rest.
    Never had a problem with the crew behavior (V500D), and yes they are courteous.

  16. Why people are burning the public bus? This is heights of craziness. There is Police and authority to handle such scenarios. People should not take law into their hands. I call them “GOONDAS” and “ANTI-SOCIAL”. They don’t have right to burn a government bus.
    Those goondas probably don’t know the fact that with their own tax money the bus was purchased by government. This is shameful act and I’m very unhappy that these things are happening in Bangalore. Great IT capital of the world!!!! I’m sure I’m not coming back to India..GOD BLESS BANGALORE GOONDAS!!

  17. Ram/Sajith, the spot where this happened has seen accidents before. In fact more than 10 accidents happen there every month. Those who know HAL shift timings (like me) avoid that stretch of airport road at 3 – 3:15 PM to keep away from the battle for space – buses taking on other buses and pedestrians (HAL employees) falling over each other to rush to the bus stand.

    Now that the people have died there, they put up a hard divider and two road humps around that spot, all in a matter of 3 days! Basically, it takes sacrifices to get people to spend the money on right things.

    Sajith, ApunKaDesh – yes, inequality exists in every society. But the range we have is a bit far and wide. When a Bill Gates pays off his domestic helps, he knows they’d go back home in a car, and that their kids get educated in okay schools, and that their kids have a decent shot at becoming Bill Gates themselves.

    Here, I know that the daughter of my maid will most likely go on and do the job her mom does today. Unless, I sponsor her education. Unless, reservation is used where it will help (at class 9-12). Unless blah blah blah.

    Hotgal and others, I am not trying to glorify nor demean anyone by naming  “Urban Naxalists”. These acts can never be justified. But, instead of working on the symptoms (arrest the guy who torched the bus), I bet working on the root cause is both practical (we can’t afford a million policemen in each city) and effective. I was only trying to figure that ‘root cause’.

    BTW, remember, the guy who threw a match into that Volvo’s diesel tank most likely has never paid any taxes. So educating him that way wont work.

    One more thing. In the pseudo-socialist country of ours, in any accident, everyone just assumes the bigger vehicle to be at fault. From what I have seen, Volvo drivers do a very good job. I am more than willing to believe that it was a genuine accident. Driver needs to be punished, yes, but just pardoning pedestrian behavior wouldn’t be right.

    Yes of course, the guy who torched the bus must be punished and made an example of, along with the driver.

    Again, too many things to say, too long a comment and I am getting mixed up. time for a new post perhaps. Till then, Happy Deepavali and Eid folks.

    PS: NRIHopes – if you are actively looking for reasons not to return, you can find a hundred more :)

  18. SB….I’m very optimistic after reading your blog…things are improving..and will improve…after all this is Kaliyug now..Wish you a very Happy Diwali

  19. New Delhi, Mumbai and even Kolkata – FAR FAR Greater Inequality exists in these cities thatn in Bangalore.

    There are hardly any slums in Bangalore, the kind found in these other big cities.

    The real reason for Bangalore’s nightmare is “Jealousy and Hatred” of the local goondas. Nothing more. How dare you drive the car – if you get into accident – me the local will make sure that you are beaten up. And if you do not speak kannada, i will use opportunity to punish you again.

    SilkBoard – A domestic maid’s kid has far far better life in Bangalore, than ANY OTHER CITY IN INDIA TODAY. Please visit Kolkata or Mumbai sometime to figure this out.

    When you select Capitalism, you have to accept some people will be more successful than others by hardwork, opportunity or plain luck. And Socialism has failed everywhere. All should be give Opportunity and Education.

  20. Charu, actually, when I say Bangalore, I mean Indian citie in general. True, Bangalore is better than other metros in terms of slums and life domestic helps lead.

    I am not exactly preaching Socialism here. I am trying to point out something that we need to be aware of as our country develops. It is natural that some people will get pulled “up” sooner, and some people will get “lifted” little late. But, the extreme ‘range’ of prosperity (very poor to very rich) is in greater display in cities than in the rural areas. I am sure that if I google , I will be able to find stats to prove that the “gap” in India is greater than even the ‘more poorer’ countries. While that may be due to our size (1.1 billion ppl), we have little excuse for the rich-poor mix we see in our cities.

    Shortage of jobs in rural areas is the reason people get drawn to the cities and stick here despite what we would call “appalling” conditions. Our cities cant cope with the influx because we are new to modern urban planning (how ironic, the Harappans would be amazed in the heavens), and the urban poor are willing to try stay and “lift” themselves up.

    What you call Goondagiri is what I am referring to as “Urban Naxalism”. Yes, it is a bad thing. But same Goondas wont go around pulling every pedestrians chains or mobiles. Because, only when they burn buses and stone cars, they get some cheering audience.

  21. Biju, how can I forget to acknowledge so very thoughtful comments you left here. I myself think on these lines a lot.

    You are indirectly saying a similar thing as Iamahotgal said above, and is something I fully endorse. This ‘government’ thing is not a third entity. “We” are the government. Its not like our mom who will cleanup our mess and cover for our “disinterest”. “We” are part of it all, and it is all partly ‘our’ fault too.

    But, though I can write and say big things like that, I am at a loss myself on what is it exactly that “we” can do. I haven’t been able to figure any “easy” and instantly gratifying (digital camera types) thing myself. Nothing as yet.

    Can we do ‘something’? A ‘something’ that can tap the ‘collective’ power of these tiny bits of energy so many of us have. A ‘something’ that is not charity for that doesn’t scale. A ‘something’ that is not overly demanding for not all of us can walk out of our personal lives like Gandhi or Buddha. Does it exist?

    Pardon, for I am getting carried away now!

  22. Can we slow down? Can we take more time to look at the dusty trees and birds around us. Just look around you and be aware..

    Make eye contact with people and maybe even smile. One thing more Americans than Indians do, in my experience.

    Of course slowing down means giving up on a lot of things. When everyone around you is working 70 hours a week it takes a *lot* of guts to cut down 10 hours and give it to yourself.

    The Gap between the rich and Poor is just as wide here in Washington , DC. The power of orderliness, the power of unity, the power of organization, uniformity – in other words the power of the rich majority has swept the homeless and poor right out of sight..Everything is clean and orderly..The sidewalks are so safe , and convenient.

    From Utopia.

  23. Sajith/Silkboard, Thank you for clarifying that Volvo crew is much more “civilized” than regular BMTC crew.

    Silkboard, I believe something can and should be done to make a change. As you said, the combined power of all those little bits of energy will make a difference. I have setup my website http://www.transportindia.org exactly for that reason and I invite you and all your contributors to use that forum to come up with a concrete plan for change. Some thoughts here that I am briefly enumerating which you have already mentioned in your blogs, but maybe we can setup a way to address each one of them: Getting the community, govt. and industry involved in safety forums, Casualty statistics and analysis, Licensing norms, Education of all road users, Optimizing usage of current infrastructure considering the needs of the pedestrian, bicyclist and other non motorized forms of transport users, Human factors consideration for drivers (such as automatic transmissions that make a big difference in city vehicles), to mention a few. Anything I can do from my side, please let me know, but I do hope your catalysis for change makes a positive difference.

  24. Vj – well said “Make eye contact with people and maybe even smile. One thing more Americans than Indians do“. BTW, What you refer to as “slowing down”, I call that as being a little less self indulgent.

    Ram – I have been your supporter from the day you mentioned the website idea. I am tracking transportindia.org and will provide all help – moderate the forums, contribute to them, help grow the blog section as a group-blog on Indian Traffic. I will write you a separate email on that.

    Ram, Guys, how about we collect some money to lobby with whoever-matters to influence regulations related to Traffic Infrastructure?

  25. NRIHopes >>
    “Those goondas probably don’t know the fact that with their own tax money the bus was purchased by government”.

    These goondas do not pay any taxes. It is important to identify exactly who is creating trouble, invariably you will find a pattern. Its a law and order problem, far more than a in/equality problem.

    SB>>
    “This ‘government’ thing is not a third entity. “We” are the government…”

    Govt. – with flush funds from taxes, power by position, and an army of bureaucrats. All meant EXACTLY to do – what you and me are forced to do via self-help groups etc. Imagine – if it was this entity that was set right instead of smaller self-help groups. India would be a Japan… :).

    See what India’s MNCs are doing around the world – inspite of the redtape? Imagine if this redtape was duly cut and thrown away ! But oh well…

  26. I went looking for a definition of “naxalism” and found this Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naxalite which defines Naxalism as a political movement derived from certain Indian Communist parties. Are you saying that the people who lash out in ways such as burning buses are actually organized by local Communist groups — or does the use of the term “goondas” suggest that they are, instead, thugs or (to use an Indian term I have learned) rowdy-sheeters?

  27. Mark, I think the term Naxalism was used (in this context) to denote a violent movement that stems from poverty, or the rich-poor divide.

    Its true that Naxalites tend to lean towards communist ideologies because it sounds great on paper – everyone is equal, no rich and no poor etc etc… Though in this case it was probably not a deprived and communism inspired crowd that set the bus on fire. I don’t know for sure, but my take is that you won’t find too many people with communist viewpoint in Bangalore.

    I have mentioned before also, and I think it was the case of (what I would call) some form of jealousy – “we can’t afford to travel by this bus, so let’s burn it so that no one else does”, and had it been an ordinary BMTC bus it would probably have just been stoned and not torched.

    NRIHopes, I don’t think that any of the guys who actually torched the bus have paid any direct tax. So its not their tax money that is getting burnt.

  28. The guy who threw that matchstick need NOT be a GOONDA! He could be a normal guy. He could be a friend/colleague/family of the victim.

    Imagine yourself in that situation with your friend or a family member being the victim. Your feelings/emotions in that situation can be strong enough to burn a Volvo. It takes quite strong and level headed people to think rationally in such situations. It’s very very difficult to do so.

    You and me can take a third party point of view and make the “right judgements” since we were not affected directly. But in situations like this people’s thinking can be very different. Moreover its usually the CROWD that thinks, not the individual…..add to it the frustration and all the disappointments in life. Your entire anger comes out.

    Don’t you think it can be strong enough?

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