Two years ago, when a right-wing outfit attacked “western-attired” women, my wife declared that Bangalore was unsafe. For good reason, because not long before that a BPO employee had been raped and murdered by a cabbie. I took umbrage because the comment came from a new emigrant to my city. I snapped: “What about your Delhi?”
Moving to Bangalore six years ago, my wife delighted to see women commuting by bus at 10 PM. No sane woman would try that in New Delhi, she said, where buses are playgrounds for perverts. In 2008, after a journalist was shot on her way home from work, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit insinuated that the victim had been “adventurous” for driving at 3 AM. More alarming than her insensitive remark was its tone of hand-wringing futility and defeat.
Bangalore is not exactly Disneyland in comparison. Driving at night along Outer Ring Road, I roll up my window and worry about muggers who might pelt my windscreen with eggs. I have local police stations on speed-dial. And I speak in loud, drawling Kannada to emphasise that I am no gullible outsider.
The last part bothers me.
My outburst at my wife’s remark enlightened me to the resentment we harbour for immigrants. Some of us blame them for our city’s declining safety standards. But what of our representatives who profit from migration but drag their feet while addressing its challenges?
Think about it – suburbs burgeoning faster than they can be named, unlit and unpaved roads in interior housing layouts, no zoning regulations to stop bars from operating in residential areas, inadequate amenities for late-night public transport users… Add to that a police department that whines about manpower while delegating duties to untrained skeleton staff. Why, half of them are protecting our netas from each other.
Some old-timers fondly recall that much-reviled historic event, the Emergency, for a dictatorial government’s efficacy at enforcing law and order. “Trains ran on time, even criminals were shot at sight,” they reminisce with wistful pride. Sure, but why does a democratic society need a schoolmaster to rap our errant knuckles?
When it comes to safety, citizens have boldly initiated change. Neighbourhood watches to check dacoities and burglaries have been around for decades. The Blank Noise Project and the Pink Chaddi Campaign have drawn attention to women’s safety in public places. That said, it’s not their responsibility to make the streetlights work.
In a 1970s study of police beat patrols in New York, researchers George Kelling and James Wilson learned that “one unrepaired broken window” was enough to invite unwanted attention.
Well-lit streets, regulated parking, respect for speed limits and pedestrian crossings, and non-negotiable penalties for jumping red lights may do more to deter crime and foster a feeling of public safety than flag marches by machine-gun toting commandos.
Talking of which, it takes 36 NSG commandos to protect a VIP with Z+ security cover. If our cities were safe, we could dispense with that exorbitant expense. Our friends in Delhi will celebrate.
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