Civil Disobedience Comes to Life in Traffic-Infested Bombay

Those of us who have lived in an urban area in India know how traumatizing (and potentially life-threatening) the pedestrian’s experience can be. Horns blaring, buses hurtling towards intersections at breakneck speed, motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, ineffectual traffic lights (at times flashing both red and green), debris littering pedestrian pathways (if they exist at all), unpredictable (and often volatile) traffic patterns. The list is never-ending. I, myself, fear for my life as I cross the main road on a daily basis to get to work. Why shouldn’t I be fearful, when I actually know of people who have been hit by cars before (including me)?

Clearly, just complaining about it (which all of us, including yours truly, seem to be especially adept at doing), isn’t going to get us anywhere. Well, Krishnaraj Rao, a resident of Bombay who has grown tired of the daily indignities suffered by pedestrians, isn’t just complaining – he’s actually doing something about it. He is the head of “Sahasi Padayatri”, a grassroots campaign on behalf of pedestrian rights in Bombay. Through this movement, people are starting to speak up and demand their rights, not through violence, but through peaceful demonstration.

Does any of this sound familiar? Well, it should. The movement draws upon Gandhiji’s principles of “Satyagraha” , which Rao defines as the following:

At a philosophical level, Satyagraha means SATYA + AGRAHA, which roughly translates as “Truth Force” or “Truth Command”. Indians believe in the saying that “Truth shall Prevail” (Satyam Eva Jayate) in a rather literal way. We believe that the Truth, if clearly stated without any personal agendas, has a force on the human psyche that exceeds the force of threat and violence.

It is necessary for such agitation to be easy for people to directly relate to, and also for the agitation to inflict some hardships on those who agitate. A key part of the non-violent approach is to avoid evoking negative emotions such as fear and anger in those against whom the agitation is aimed…Please note, a Satyagraha is never against a person or group of persons; it is only against faulty systems and continuing injustices.

The campaign itself is composed of three parts: 1) Pedestrian Satyagraha, 2) Debris Satyagraha, and 3) Letter Satyagraha. All three are described in detail below, after the break:

1) Pedestrian Satyagraha: This method of agitation consists of a large number of citizens forming a half-kilometre long human chain at the road centre with a wide strip of khadi cloth, while a 6-foot lane is demarcated with white paint along this human chain. This, accompanied with picketing and distribution of pamphlets, forms our “Pedestrian Satyagraha”.

2) Debris Satyagraha: The municipal corporation has no mechanism for clearing stony debris and left-over concrete pipe sections from roadsides, and therefore it has not done so for years and even decades! This rubble and stony debris lying around from years of construction work degrades the quality of roads, pavements and our city as a whole. It hinders pedestrians and vehicular traffic, endangers motorcyclists and assists encroachers and anti-social elements. Therefore Sahasi Padyatri has made it a point to lift the stony debris, and peacefully deposit it in front of the gates of city offices with placards urging the city to clear the debris. We believe that by doing so, we are doing half the job of the city, that is, lifting debris from the road. Therefore, the city is required to do only the other half of the work by disposing of it.

3) Letter Satyagraha: We continue to inundate the authorities with large numbers of letters and signatures by sending letters and collecting signatures on trains and in public places. All these letters – written in four languages, English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati – ask for six feet of road space exclusively for pedestrians.

Since the 17th of March, Rao has led 8 satyagrahas – one at Bombay Central, four in Bandra, and three in Borivili. The last protest took place at Bombay Central (debris satyagraha) on April 20th.

This is especially inspiring for me, because after several discussions with young people around Ahmedabad, I got the impression that we, as Indians, still continue to rely on the government to fix our problems. The time has come for Indian citizens to take responsibility for their own communities, their own roads, their own waste management systems – their own country! The government can’t do everything, and neither is it capable of doing so. TC-I commends Krishnaraj Rao for taking the problem into his own hands, and harnessing the potential of the Indian population to get something done – this, after all, is the spirit of social entrepreneurship.

[Source for article: Jordan Bower, Indicorps Ultimate Frisbee intern]

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2 Responses

  1. I would like to join this pedestrian movement. Can you tell me how I could contact Mr Krishna Raj?

  2. You can email Sahasi Padyatri at sahasipadyatri@gmail.com, or call the following numbers – 9821588114, 22922147.

    Hope this helps – please inform us if you do get involved, as we would also like to learn more about what is happening on the ground in Mumbai!

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