Civic Responsibility

Civic responsibility is something that my mind has been returning to again and again in recent times. I haven’t had the time to think about it because of many other things pressing for time. Then I came across this piece that captures some of what I have been thinking. Here is a Quote:

The essential point is this: Those dimwitted, stuck up blue bloods in the old establishment had something we meritocrats lack — a civic consciousness, a sense that we live life embedded in community and nation, that we owe a debt to community and nation and that the essence of the admirable life is community before self.

David is talking about USA. However, it applies even more to India than USA. Civic responsibility is utterly lacking and it is hurting our country more than the politicians and corruption. More on this later.


Why Indians (Don’t!) break traffic law

Today evening, I was involved in an auto accident. A Tata Ace swerved to the left and hit my auto. We were not hurt because both vehicles were going slow due to the traffic. But that also meant that they got stuck to each other. My auto driver cursed the other driver at the top of his voice (which actually wasn’t audible; again due to the traffic) and told him to steer away. The other driver was visibly shaken at the accident and also because he made an error. He raised his hands in apology and then did as my driver has asked him. At the same time, my driver also steered away from the truck ie to our left. And promptly hit a scooter driver by an uncle! It was the turn of the Uncle to scream in anger and it was the auto driver who was folding hands to say sorry and then waving towards the truck driver to blame him. The truck driver played oblivious to the existence of the other two drivers. No real harm done; all three vehicles moved as the traffic moved.

In all this while, I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from screaming at all three of them. I almost pointed out to all three of them that as per traffic rules, overtaking is always from the right. And that they all must be NRIs from USA where overtaking is from the left. If I had said all this, all of them would have looked at me as if I am an idiot and from another country. The Uncle may have even tried to educate me on the correct traffic rules. I am sure because I have been through such situations many times. I know its pointless to tell people about traffic laws in such situations and that is how I have learned to bite my tongue.

But today was different. Today, I realised that most of Indians actually do follow the traffic law. It’s just that its the traffic law they believe in and have been trained in; is not the law that is written down and passed by the Parliament. Most Indians believe that overtaking from left is the correct method and they see everyone doing it. Now everyone can’t be wrong and therefore overtaking from left is the correct way.

While this fits the paradigm of sheep following the flock and the paradigm of social proof; there is more to this. Such behavior is so strong that its actually can be considered a type of law called Custom Law. As per Wikipedia,

Customary law (also, consuetudinary or unofficial law) exists where:

  1. a certain legal practice is observed and

  2. the relevant actors consider it to be law

Overtaking from left satisfies condition 1 clearly as most Indians do it. Almost all of them consider it to be correct and legal. That almost satisfies condition 2 as well. Almost because if the question were to come up before a court, the court would clearly say: overtake from right. Still right because the most relevant actors ie drivers and law enforcement agencies such as traffic police consider it correct. Just think of the many times that a Police vehicle overtook yours from the left side. That is a very “relevant” actor considering it to be a law.

So overtaking from left is customary law of India and Indians abide by it.

As any law graduate will tell you, written law always supersedes the customary law.  The written law says that overtaking is by the right side (Section 4 of The Road Regulation Rules 1989). Also, overtaking by left side attracts a fine of Rs 100. Almost every Indian breaks this law and should be fined. To put things in perspective, if every vehicle breaking this rule was actually fined, Mumbai Traffic Police would earn Rs 20 – 30 Cr on the first day of such an exercise! Delhi could earn Rs 60 – 90 Cr! It would probably pay that month’s salary for every traffic cop!!

But, of course, they don’t do that because they too have come to accept the customary law over written law. They also don’t do it because of obvious logistics problems but that is for senior officials. Junior police men and women accept the customary law over written law because in this they are no different from every other driver.

In short: customary traffic law trumps written traffic law.

This is actually not unusual. There are several other examples: Khap Panchayats, Triple Talaq etc. In some cases, written law is passed to incorporate customary law. For eg, the different Personal Laws on marriage. In some other cases, written law is passed to overwrite the customary law. An example is what is happening with Triple talaq.

What is unusual is that the cost of enforcing the written law in this case doesn’t lead to great measurable benefits. Imagine the efforts that need to be made by the Police. Imagine the cost of accidents and delays as drivers adapt to this “new” rule. Can you imagine any benefits from enforcing this law? I can’t. Indian Parliament might as well change the written law to say overtaking shall be from the right. No one will even notice the change. Some may argue: bus stands would need to move to the right side of the road if this is done. But why?  We have a functioning system. Very few people try to overtake a bus from left when a stand is visible ahead. Similar response would work for almost all objections.

Seriously, let’s just do it. Law should reflect the popular belief.

But while we are at this discussion, let’s also look at why such a custom has come up. I think its because no one has tried to train drivers for overtaking from left side. Most driving license holders don’t even know the traffic rules like this one. It is because they are not really required to. Most got their license from a tout. And then they looked at others to see what is right. What began as the advantage of a smaller vehicle such as a bike over a larger vehicle such as a bus, has become a custom. Bike riders turned car drivers over time and continue the same habit. And now the momentum is too big to stop.

But, there are other patterns of breaking traffic rules that are still emerging and can be stopped before Traffic Rules become something that feature only in whatsapp jokes and standup comic routines.

For eg, look at the vehicles that stop a few meters after passing a Red traffic signal. They do that because the lines that used to show where the first vehicle should stop have disappeared. For some reasons, they are not being drawn on Mumbai roads. So, some vehicle or the other overshoots the signal. Then another nudges ahead until their noses align. Still another is not happy to just match and nudges until its got a few centimeter on the rest. In doing all this, all these vehicles come in the way of incoming traffic. Put a traffic cop there and the extent of misses and nudges reduce but they are still there. Also, for every vehicle missing the line there are many which stop well behind the signal. Its a habit of a few which hasn’t become a custom yet. But if we don’t act, it will become a custom over time. And all it would take is to bring back that line that says S T O P.

Another example is bike riders driving on pavements. A few do it and get away with it. It encourages a few more to do it. Whenever you see it, you see social proof in action. One rider does it. Then another. And then many just follow them. Many more still stay on the road. Some of them are also tempted the next time. After all, who doesn’t want to reach a few mins earlier? In this case, enforcement of law can still stop a menace.

In short: making the rules clear and easy to follow plus enforcing fines on violations can still stop our traffic laws from being irrelevant. They already are when it comes to overtaking.

Image credit: Pristyles



Recovering my Blog

I used to blog at another domain which was a birthday gift from a friend. The friend got busy and didn’t renew his hosting. Net result – I have lost a lot of what I wrote in past few years.

I know I should have pushed him harder to transfer the hosting but I didn’t. Also, I didn’t keep back up on another server.

Doesn’t matter. Water under the bridge. This is what I have.


A forward

We get email forwards each day and most die in the mail box. This one didn’t.

By the time u guys read this news, the body of Major Manish Pitambare, who was shot dead at Anantnag, would have been cremated with full military honors.
On Nov 27, this news swept across all the news channels ‘Sanjay Dutt relieved by court’. ‘Sirf Munna not a bhai’ ’13 saal ka vanvaas khatam’ ‘although found guilty for possession of armory, Sanjay can breath sigh of relief as all the TADA charges against him are withdrawn’ Then many personalities like Salman Khan said ‘He is a good person. We knew he will come out clean’. Mr Big B said “Dutt’s family and our family have relations for years he’s a good kid. He is like elder brother to Abhishek”. His sister Priya Dutt said “we can sleep well tonight. It ‘s a great relief”
In other news, Parliament was mad at Indian team for performing bad; Greg Chappell said something; Shah Rukh Khan replaces Amitabh in KBC and other such stuff. But most of the emphasis was given on Sanjay Dutt’s “phoenix like” comeback from the ashes of terrorist charges. Surfing through the channels, one news on BBC startled me. It read “Hisbul Mujahidin’s most wanted terrorist ‘Sohel Faisal’ killed in Anantnag, India . Indian Major leading the operation lost his life in the process. Four others are injured.
It was past midnight , I started visiting the stupid Indian channels, but Sanjay Dutt was still ruling. They were telling how Sanjay pleaded to the court saying ‘I’m the sole bread earner for my family’, ‘I have a daughter who is studying in US’ and so on. Then they showed how Sanjay was not wearing his lucky blue shirt while he was hearing the verdict and also how he went to every temple and prayed for the last few months. A suspect in Mumbai bomb blasts, convicted under armory act…was being transformed into a hero.
Sure Sanjay Dutt has a daughter; Sure he did not do any terrorist activity. Possessing an AK47 is considered too elementary in terrorist community and also one who possesses an AK47 has a right to possess a pistol so that again is not such a big crime; Sure Sanjay Dutt went to all the temples; Sure he did a lot of Gandhigiri but then………..
Major Manish H Pitambare got the information from his sources about the terrorists’ whereabouts. Wasting no time he attacked the camp, killed Hisbul Mujahidin’s supremo and in the process lost his life to the bullets fired from an AK47. He is survived by a wife and daughter (just like Sanjay Dutt) who’s only 18 months old.
Major Manish never said ‘I have a daughter’ before he took the decision to attack the terrorists in the darkest of nights. He never thought about having a family and he being the bread earner. No news channel covered this since they were too busy hyping a former drug addict, a suspect who’s linked to bomb blasts which killed hundreds. Their aim was to show how he defied the TADA charges and they were so successful that his conviction in possession of armory had no meaning. They also concluded that his parents in heaven must be happy and proud of him.
Parents of Major Manish are still living and they have to live rest of their lives without their beloved son. His daughter won’t ever see her daddy again. Finally Major Manish, to my generation is a greater hero, someone who laid his life in the name of this great nation.
So guys, please forward this message around so that the media knows which news to give importance, as it is a shame for us since this Army Major’s
death news was given by a foreign TV channel!!!

Airlines Comparison Series

I fly both Jet and Kingfisher quite regularly and also have heard a lot from other frequent travelers. A conversation today at Chennai lounge reminded me that even many frequent travelers (he has a platinum on Jet), do not have a good understanding of the pros and cons of the two airlines. So here is my lame attempt in the genre of serial posts. Here is how it looks right now:

1: State of business air travel: pre Kingfisher
2: Kingfisher: A blast of fresh air
3. Kingfisher: The Rampup
4. Jet: The response
5. Jet vs Kingfisher: Does Jet need to fear Kingfisher?