Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s birthday. Fighting inequality  would be the best tribute to him.

br ambedkar

As we celebrateDr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, we need to imbibe his important motto-  Educate, Organise. Agitate.  As Karl Marx said philosophers have interpreted the world in different ways. The  point is to change it.

This is the most important heritage of Dr Ambedkar, changing the world. One of the great advantages of  Dr Ambedkar’s teachings  was the tremendous awakening he created among Dalits, especially in Maharashtra. It  led to a  creation of very vibrant  dalit writing. I notice that  Dalits  are very well read, much better read than people from many communities, they have a real hunger for knowledge, they read, analyse. This is all because of the heritage of  Dr Ambedkar.

He had a vision for a better world. We too need to fight to achieve that kind of a society. The capitalists have  created their own vision for their advancement. They are powerful, they have planners and money to buy people, land. We have to create expertise to challenge this anti  p;eople vision of capitalists.For example we can create an alternative transport system , it can be done at very little expense.We don’t need those fancy, expensive schemes at all.

Mahatma  Gandhi was essentially an activist, agitationist like Dr Ambedkar. Gandhi has been confined  by the establishment to the safe custody of Gandhi Bhavans.  Dr Ambedkar’s legacy is more active. What the Ambedkarite movement needs to do now take up other issues along with issues of caste discrimination. Like Dadasaheb Gaikwad took up the issue of land allotment for Dalits. .

When I was in  Times of India  it was full of very talented people in the Times group including Kumar Ketkar in Economic Times, , he is now a Rajya sabha member,  Arun Sadhu in TOI and Ashok Jain and Dinkar Gangal in Maharashtra Times. Sadhu later wrote the script for the film on Dr Ambedkar directed by  Jabbar Patel.  All of them and other activists started the Granthali non profit  publishing organisation which produced the first major dalit autobiography of Daya Pawar called Balute which became a big hit. Those were the days of a strong  Marxist and dalit , Ambedkarite, movement including Dalit Panther of  Namdeo  Dhasal which was inspired by  the black panther movement of blacks of the U.S.

Granthali  also published an  autobiography by  Laxman Mane called Upra . He was from the nomadic tribes. He strongly criticised  Marathi culture as the culture of 3.5 per cent. Upper class people. The Granthali activists were mostly non Dalits but  there was a good bond in those days between dalit activists and progressive, Marxist  activists.And still there is  fairly good coordination in these sections.

The agitational path of Dr Ambedkar is very important today when  inequalities are rising, common people are under attack and there is strong need for resistance.Many of dalit leaders are too involved in  Parliamentary politics. Which is o.k. But it is also  important to build politics by   fighting for people’s basic problems through mass struggles.

Look at the current  transport crisis in Mumbai.  Pedestrian and railway bridges are falling or are likely to fall, several are being  closed for repairs This causes extreme hardship to people.   New York declared emergency in public transport  two years ago.  The authorities neglected public transport so badly. Had our authorities any self respect, they would have suspended work on such fancy schemes like the bullet train, coastal road and helipad at bandra kurla complex  considering the  crisis in public transport.

The pedestrian, bus user, train commuter needs more respect, more priority than a motorist because the ordinary commuter uses no fuel, no pollution, causes no congestion and saves so much of foreign exchange which we  spend in thousands of crores because of our import bill for cars. We need serious reforms in the transport sector to give priority to the commuter. This will  confer so many benefits, confer dignity to the common commuter who is constantly humiliated in today’s system. It will reduce congestion, pollution and help fight climate change and  save tonnes of money. India is committed to reducing  pollution under an international  obligation.  providing an affordable, quick public transport  will be a win win situation.

The anti people policies are visible everywhere.. I was walking by the bungalow of the chief justice of Mumbai high court at Narayan Dabholkar road on Malabar hill recently.

On the other side of the road is the bungalow of the state transport minister Diwakar Raote and further beyond is the bungalow of the legislative council chairperson Ramraje Nimbalkar.

So here we have senior figures of the three pillars of the Indian State, the judiciary, the executive and the legislature. And yet, though the transport minister himself lives here, there is no footpath on this road which gives one an idea of the extreme contempt with which the whole system treats ordinary people. This is an example of  violation of  fundamental rights and everything Dr Ambedkar stood for.

If a pedestrian is killed on the road, it won’t be suprising if our heartless system treats the victim as the offender, never mind the absence of a footpath.

Rutger Bregman, dutch historian, made a sharp speech at the Davos economic conference, an elite preserve, in Switzerland earlier this year. He said the rich must pay taxes and more taxes should be collected from them. Those funds will be vital for  spending on real needs of people, creating  assets for them. But the issue is being avoided, it is like not talking about water when you are fighting a fire. Simiarly, funds from motorists imposing such heavy social, environmental costs on society, should be used for public transport..

Also there is a serious need to change the mindset of people.  Look at the recent CSMT  pedestrian bridge collapse, in Mumbai, near the former Victoria Terminus station.  We think bridge was  needed for smooth traffic.. We forget that such bridges are  meant for the convenience of cars, causing inconvenience to pedestrians.They are  an insult to pedestrians. We pay the price for the system’s slavishness to the motor car.. Pedestrians are far more in number. They should get priority on the street. If necessary, the car should go up on  flyover or down  through an underpass.

Like the civil rights movement which  grew out of the  resistance put up by  Rosa Parks, public transport is  the source  of another major  civil rights movement  with  Mahatma Gandhi’s  resistance to being thrown out of a first class compartment by a white man in  South Africa in 1893.

rosa parks

A train station in Paris is named after  Rosa Parks..

Rosa  Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. The United States Congress has called her “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”.[1]

On December 1, 1955, in MontgomeryAlabama, Parks rejected bus driver James F. Blake‘s order to relinquish her seat in the “colored section” to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled.

In public transport people come together, they socialize, they can forge solidarity. The  potential is there. That is  one reason  the ruling class is  afraid of public transport.

Clearly, there is a need for strong organisations of commuters which are totally lacking. In Los Angeles The Bus Riders Unions, mainly of  coloured, discriminated communities, scored an important victory in 1994. It  asserted that a dense network of bus routes is a higher priority for most working people than high-profile rail lines in the city and  some of the funds for Metro lines be diverted for bus travel. The same argument can be made in Mumbai  with relation to the Metro system. Some of its funds should be diverted to the BEST service.

Dalits in India could be considered to have similar problems as blacks and they  could be in the forefront of agitations for basic amenities, as  they suffer most when  bus services are reduced and inadequate. They need  the  heightened political consciousness about public transport as the blacks in the U.S. showed.  Last year   during the Bhima Koregaon agitation   BEST and ST buses were burnt.  We need these public transport services most, so they should not be the target of attack. If Dalits and other sections become more aware, more active it would be possible to make the authorities to change their priorities in favour of people, away from motor cars

There is an inter-connection between the lives of African Americans in the US and the Dalits in India, prominent US thinker and political activist Angela Davis said in Mumbai some time ago.

She gave the 8th Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Lecture on ‘Black lives, Dalit lives: Histories and Solidarities.

“I would like to link the collective predicament of black people in the US and the Dalits in India,” she said.

“We in the US can learn from the long struggles of Dalit people in India,” Davis said.

She recalled that Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, the pioneering social reformer from 19th century Maharashtra, dedicated his book ‘Gulamgiri’ to the anti-slavery activists in the US.

She also referred to Dr B R Ambedkar’s statement that he had been a student of the Negro problem.

Many black people in the US encountered the black struggle through Dr Martin Luther King. King wrote about his trip to the land of Gandhi, she added.

The Dalit Panthers was formed in India in 1972, six years after Black Panthers.

The quality of public bus transport has not improved in the past five years, gone down sharply . In September, Union transport secretary YS Malik acknowledged that India needs at least 30 lakh public transport buses but has barely 2.8 lakh buses run by state agencies. Not much has been done to discourage the use of private transport. In Mumbai, for example, metro lines are being laid for public transport but the Maharashtra government’s push for the Rs 12,700-crore coastal road will further encourage the car lobby…

Janette Sadik-Khan served as New York City’s transportation commissioner from 2007 to 2013 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In these six years, she was responsible for removing cars from Times Square, building 400 miles of bike lanes and introducing the bus rapid transit (BRT) system in her city.

“Cities around the world are changing their mobility playbooks,” says Sadik-Khan, who is now Principal at Bloomberg Associates, adding there is no reason why Delhi can’t do the same.

The World Health Organisation  points out that transport provides access to jobs, education, services, and recreational activities – critical social determinants of health. Many vulnerable groups, such as women, children and youth, disabled persons, low-income groups, and the elderly, have less access to a personal vehicle;, to a car,  they rely on walking, cycling, and public transport.
Therefore, improving public and non-motorized transport can improve health equity in two ways: directly reducing air pollution, noise, and injury risks in poor neighbourhoods, and secondly, by increasing mobility and accessibility for the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society.

K.R. Narayanan, in his Republic day address on golden jubilee of independence, said that our three-way fast lane of liberalization, privatization and globalization must provide safe pedestrian crossings for the unempowered India also so that it too can move towards ‘Equality of Status and Opportunity’. Beware of the fury of the patient man says the old adage. One could say beware of the fury of the patient and long-suffering people.

Aspiration for car. What about aspiration for ordinary people to get bus, train, walking space. No footpath on Malabar hill, near chief justice house, trans mini and legi council chairman.

We suffer injustice in many ways. But one on the street is most visible to us all the time,  to see other injustices we may have to visit particular sites. But here we constantly see injustice. And that is why we must fight it to start with it.  If we don’t have democracy on roads we may not have it in other spheres of like. The streets should be accessible to all, they cannot be monopolized by the motor car and motorists.  As  political science thinker James c  Scott said   little acts of resistance prepare for us for a bigger fight ahead.

Geographer Ronald Horvath in his  essay machine space argues that we are now devoting much more space to the car machine than to human beings and  the car is the holy cow of  the U.S.  Similarly,  it is also the holy cow in india.   In the minds of many Westerners, India’s sacred COW has come to symbolize the lengths to which people will go to preserve a nonfunctional culture trait. But India’s sacred cow is dowright rational in comparison to ours, he said.. Could an Indian imagine devoting 70 percent of downtown Delhi to cow trails and pasturage, as we do for our automobiles in Detroit and Los Angeles?, he asked.

The Jalianwala Bagh massacre centenary took place on April 13. But massacre on roads  on a much bigger magnitude goes on and there is no revolt. The car culture is most responsible for this massacre of the innocents.India tops the list of numbers of people killed in road crashes in the world. This is shameful. Our vehicle culture is that bad. Los angeles is to  create permanent memorials for bicyclists killed in crashes. We need to show similar sensitivity . We need to be as sensitive to deaths of innocents as about soldiers killed in insurgency or war.

Considering the constant fatalities, rampant pollution, and exorbitant costs of ownership, there is no better word to characterize the car’s dominance than insane, experts point out.

If U.S. roads were a war zone, they would be the most dangerous battlefield the American military has ever encountered. Seriously: Annual U.S. highway fatalities outnumber the yearly war dead during each Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution. When all of the injuries from car wrecks are also taken into account, one year of American driving is more dangerous than all those wars put together, said an observer. Yet, the car remains to many the star of modern life.

The Jammu and Kashmir highway has been blocked  for civilian vehicles since earlier this month during election time  under the pretext of  security from terror..This is a severe curb  on civil liberties in the name of preventing terror attack.  By the same logic  people could demand a  ban cars as they are a terror, proven terror, according to so many studies.Also because cars are rashly driven,  we are afraid to go on roads and the State does nothing about it thus violating our fundamental right to freedom.

The problem is not lack of money, the authorities do not want to allot money for public transport. Enough resources can also be created through various means.

“Tax the Rich. Save America. Yes, it really is that simple.” So said the organizers of the first-ever “Tax the Rich!” conference, hosted by Patriotic Millionaires and a coalition of other groups in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, April, 2019. We can easily raise resources for public transport  by taxing the rich, the motorists.

Instead of taxing the rich, the Maharashtra government is in a way plundering public resources to finance schemes that will help boost the car lobby. Making  MHADA, housing authority, to pay some Rs. 800 crore for the Dharavi redevelopment scheme is a case in point. Plus MHADA itself is giving away  grounds reserved as recreational spaces to big builders.

Mode shift to public transport, walking, and cycling can yield cost-effective CO2 emission reduction. The most cost-effective urban mobility improvements are typically improvements in bus operations, replacing inefficiently run small buses in mixed traffic with high  capacity buses operated on rights-of-way that give priority to these vehicles, bus stations, and improving conditions for walking and cycling in public transport corridors. These lead to more efficient utilization of scarce street space in terms of person-movements per meter of roadway. Such approaches especially benefit low and moderate income households and reduce CO2, while delivering more person-movement capacity for a given amount of investment capital when compared with higher carbon transport investments.OECD study revealed. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”The transport sector now contributes 13% of global  green house gas emissions and 23% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Three-fourths of transportation-related emissions are from road traffic. Emissions from transportation are rising faster than from other energy-using sectors.

The absurdity of the expensive  Metro rail system is being noticed in Pakistan as well.  Imran Khan, the  Prime Minister, referred to the  huge debt incurred by the nation  because of such fancy schemes.

Earlier, the daily Dawn had observed that the  government has been misleading everyone consistently on all components of the Orange Line train project: cost, number of affectees, their economic and social plight and compensation. An official said once the Orange Train gets operational, it would cost a subsidy of around Rs 1,000 for each passenger which no government could afford for a long time. Calling Nawaz Sharif King, he said  the king has left  us in heavy debts.

As for  the car culture. The most significant change to our environment has not been the physical territory that has been won by the automobile, although these territories are vast. Instead, the most significant change is the dominant position that the automobile has won over our psychological territory. This process has occurred so gradually that few have noticed, but the depth of change over the past 100 years is profound. Without the dominance of the automobile in our psychological territory, it would be impossible to overlook the negative externalities imposed by automobiles on society,and their  dominance in our physical territory, as the site Streetblog has observed.

Make people conscious of the fact that they are slaves, only then they will revolt. We have become slaves of the motor car, both psychologically and in real life in our day to day lives. In our minds we give it a higher status, we automatically yield right of way to a car on the road even when there is no need to do so. Our minds are conditioned by ceaseless propaganda created by the car lobby for  over a hundred years.

The problem is our adminstrators  lack innovation and commitment and still remain slavish to the motor car. Even in car-dominated U.S. New York city has just decided to charge a fee from cars entering the business district as in London, Stockholm and Singapore. The money will help raise funds for the  underground rail system which has been underfunded and neglected for years.

Far from charging a levy on cars, the  authorities in Maharashtra  are encouraging cars with extremely retrograde decisions like not charging  toll for the proposed coastal road and providing  free parking for cars using the coastal road.

Measures like congestion pricing can easily  raise resources for the BEST Undertaking. The authorities in Mumbai need to learn the basics from Western countries and not expose themselves to extreme ridicule with their  display of slavishness to the car.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking democratization of  street  life and transport



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