Saturday, July 18, 2009

Civil Disobedience or Public Nuisance?

We are a nation that is in love with it's history yet mystifyingly ignorant of it. We're great on the names, not so good on the details. For e.g. We know the main ruling dynasties – the Mauryas, The Guptas, The Mughals etc. Some naughty people would also include the Nehru Gandhi family in this category. Yet ask any college going (Non History obviously) student to name all the rulers in succession and you'll hit a stone wall 9 times out of 10.

There was an auto strike called yesterday, to protest the rise in oil prices. While i appreciate the fine samaritans that the auto wallahs of Chennai are (after all, it's not like they fleece their customers , or demand non standard fares, or tamper with non functioning meters, or anything), what drew my ire was the lack of uniformity in their protest.

Now, being currently domiciled in the northern parts of the city, i had to rush to the western side pretty urgently. As i neared the bus stand, i saw a large crowd, which was explained by a bystander – Auto strike Saar! Naturally this meant an unusually tense struggle, trying to get into the bus. That was fine. However, when i reached my destination, to my surprise, i found various autos plying. When i asked one guy why this was so, all he said was – those guys belong to a different union sir. We dont have any issues.

Here's my gripe. On what basis, or authority, does one bloc of public service decide to suspend activities, restricted to one part of a city? What were they protesting really? Didn't we have a severe hike in oil prices last year too? And isn't it the government itself which is fixing the prices, and not some shady private company?

Our civic authorities have not designated areas for bus stops in most of the city. So, elderly and sick citizens often have to stand in the heat and wait for a bus, or as a recourse, employ the services of an auto. Never mind the fact that our buses are extremely hazardous for any senior citizen, right from the steep steps, to the lack of adequate support while standing, or the impatient driver, who just can't wait to get out of the bus stand.

When i quizzed a protester after returning, he claimed to be a follower of the glittering example set by our father of the nation. “Sir, Gandhiji launched a civil disobedience movement to protest injustice. We are also protesting the harsh raise in price.”

To cut a long story short, i was so astounded, shell shocked and overcome upon seeing such accurate understanding of our founding fathers' beliefs, that i silently muttered a prayer. A prayer to save us from such stalwarts of public order. Jai Hind!