Fighting inequality would be the best tribute to him

By Vidyadhar Date. Dated: 4/14/2019 6:18:36 PM

Dr B.R. Ambedkar's birthday

As we celebrate Dr 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- people 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 percent. 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. Similarly, 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.

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".
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, 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 Y S 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 Legislative Council Chairman.
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.
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.
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.
— (Countercurrents)
*Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking democratization of street life and transport)

 

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