Hues of DelhiDelhi is a cacophony of sounds and problems
Just as almost everything in this fast paced capital, my four decade of residence in Delhi flew by very fast. One of the most polluted and populated cities in the world today, whoever comes to this city will always repent and those who have not visited will too repent. This is the charm and attraction of this city. My first visit to Delhi was in 1978 when I represented St Joseph’s College in Darjeeling as a college member of the National Cadet Core for the Republic Day Parade in the contingent of West Bengal, Sikkim and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Subsequent to joining India’s most prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1980 to undertake my post graduation in economics firmly rooted me in this capital city. We witnessed political events, sports grandeurs, social upheavals, communal riots and steady growth and change in demography. Under the rubric of National Capital Region, Delhi expanded to the neighbouring states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh with massive modern infrastructure.
Countless issues, projects, events and institutions attract people to this ubiquitous geography dotted with so many historic monuments and modern landmarks. The existence of India’s top and core trio institutions namely, legislature (Parliament), executive (Union Government) and judiciary (Supreme Court) and the various key decision-making bodies and sources of finance make this city converging points for all the 29 states, seven union territories, and also the global governments and international agencies.
If one stands at a central point of Delhi, within its surrounding 25-km perimeter, one will be able to quickly realise that all the best-known institutions are located in the vicinity—including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Sapru House, India Habitat Centre, Teen Murti Library, Delhi University, Sahitya Academy, National Archives and Museum, All India Radio and Embassies and newspaper houses on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg.
Unlike the British architect Edwin Lutyens’ Delhi, the heritage dotted Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, Nai Sadak, Sadar Bazar and Khadi Baoli are deeply contrasting and are a buyers’ paradise for books, food, wedding clothes, machines and anything in wholesale. Over the decades, Delhi has become the most sought after destination for employment and livelihood. Patronisation of all hues and pretension of all varieties form the political culture of Delhi.
You have the exclusive Saturday Discussion Group at the India International Centre deliberating on China’s Belt and Road Initiative over mulligatawny soup and garlic toast. A few kilometres away in Jantar Mantar, farmers make a long debilitating protest march to get out of incessant debt amidst cacophony inside the nearby Parliament. Cows, buffaloes and stray dogs casually loiter within the periphery of railway stations and airports—as if to say ‘Atithi Deva Bhava’.
A city of pain
In a geography where the summer is horrible and winter is terrible, the dark side of Delhi with its 18 million people is painfully frightening. Though Hindi (81 percent), Punjabi (7 percent) and Urdu (6 percent) are the most commonly used language amidst the demographic composition of Aryan (72 percent), Dravidian (25 percent), and Mongoloid and other groups (3 percent), the ongoing violence cuts across all communities.
With a sex ratio of less than 600 women for every 1000 men in some localities, the violence especially affects women. Delhi is decorated with condemnable titles like ‘rape capital of India’ and ‘female foeticide centre’—which exsist for a reason. In 2016, Delhi reported 33 per cent (13,803 cases out of total 41,761 cases in 19 cities) of total crimes against women. Three years later, these figures have not experienced any substantial change. The traumatic accounts of women who have to face unimaginable abuse on a daily basis are chilling.
Theft is also rampant across the city. Accident victims are ripped off of their ornaments, wallets and other belongings by passersbys. Crime victims lay in pools of blood only to be photographed and ‘youtubed’. The most recent example in the latter case is the recorded scene of a personal security staff of a Judge who shot dead his wife and son at a busy shopping mall in broad day light. People around watched—while many others filmed—this body guard as he was helplessly carried the bodies into the judge’s car.
There are criminals in every twist and turn including quacks and godmen. And yet, the complaints to police are relegated into a botomless pit of other unaddressed concerns.
With the contrasting socio-economic structures, 22 slums and more than 1800 unauthorised colonies with millions of residents from all over the country, Delhi could be the most ideal testing labs for any governmental projects. The utter failure of Prime Minister Modi’s revolutionary initiative Swach Bharat in Delhi itself showed that at least the overwhelming majority in the existing generation would prefer filth to better hygiene and enjoy living an undisciplined civic life. One has to travel by Satabdi Train from Delhi to Dehradun or Chandigarh to catch a glimpse of how filth loving we are and the lack of proactiveness
of the municipalities and panchayat administration. Schools and colleges, NGOs and community bodies would actually have been more effective in this enviable venture than the orthodox resource sucking unaccountable and hackneyed governmental and health care bodies.
Aside from a few, both print and electronic media in the capital are highly Delhi-centric and too often resort to sensationalist tendencies. For them, the global world veers around the United States, China, the United Kingdom and Pakistan.
Racial discrimination is rampant at the deepest and the highest levels. And the racial slurs are everywhere: Mongoloids are ‘Chinese’, Africans are ‘Kallus’, South Indians are all ‘Madrashis’ and what not in a place that belongs to no one, yet everyone tries to own it. Sometimes criminals are also subject to racial and castist slurs. Though in practical terms, pluralism and multi-culturalism is at the heart of Delhi, show of wealth, snooty attitudes and over imposing consciousness about social status tend to sway anything that is human and humane.
Lama hails from Darjeeling and is a senior professor at JNU, New Delhi.