Deadly road rage escalates in overcrowded Indian capital

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Deadly road rage escalates in overcrowded Indian capital
15 April 2015
By Sunrita Sen

New Delhi (dpa) - Mohammad Shahnawaz's 14-year-old son Fahad watched in horror as his father was brutally beaten by five men on a main street in India's capital in broad daylight.

Shahnawaz, 38, was riding on his motorbike with his two sons on pillion when it collided with a car. "There were five men in the car and an accompanying scooter. They were all drunk and started abusing and then beating up my father," Fahad told police. The boy rushed to the nearest police post, then back to his grandparents' place nearby, but by the time he returned with help it was too late. Shahnawaz was taken to the nearest hospital where he died of his injuries.

It was just one example of the increasing frequency of road rage on Delhi's congested streets, where at any time of the day cars and buses are bumper to bumper with two-wheelers weaving through. There are no lanes for cycles, parking spaces are hard to find, pedestrians cross wherever they want, hawkers sell goods at traffic lights - all adding to the stress. Drivers overtake from the wrong side, jump traffic lights, talk on mobile phones while driving and tailgate.

"It's always me first and my right of way," says Delhi's joint commissioner of police in charge of traffic Anil Shukla. Shukla says road rage is a common phenomenon in many cities across the world, and the situation in New Delhi is not exceptional. "It's not the just the frustration of dealing with traffic, it's also about attitudes, the stress of modern life, the anxieties, the anger, our hot climate, and so we cannot tackle road rage with policing alone," Shukla adds. Thirty-four cases of road rage were reported in 2011 which went up to 93 in 2014 including three deaths. Many more cases were likely not reported at all, Shukla says.

Delhi's road traffic has grown more than 100 per cent over the past decade, while the number of streets increased by a little over 15 per cent, according to a 2013 survey of the local government. Each day, commuting time gets longer, drives are more stressful and tempers flare with minor accidents leading to quarrels that quickly degenerate into physical fights. Sometimes weapons are used, sometimes the vehicle itself is used as a means of retaliation.

In February, two brothers were gunned down in Bawana in the outskirts of Delhi when they got into an argument with some men over a parking space. In December, two Delhi policemen were run over and died of their injuries after they tried to stop a speeding taxi. An accountant and his wife were beaten up by two men near their home in south Delhi when their car bumped into another while backing up in June.

Psychologist Mandakini Roy says road rage - an outburst of violent anger, often irrational and disproportionate - is also an indication of a society on edge. "People spend hours on the road, they feel they are being pushed around, the boss complains they are late, their families complain they are late, parking is a huge issue in commercial areas and residential ones." A small incident - where a car is scratched or gets a small dent - evokes a totally disproportional reaction born out of simmering frustration, Roy says.

Sociologist Sanjay Srivastava says the increasing instances of road rage are the result of social mobility. "There are large numbers of first-generation car owners within very few years," he says, noting that they have not picked up the formal rules or basic driving manners. "The car for them is a status symbol as well, and a scratch on it is an an attack on their self-esteem," Srivastava says. "Road rage is also an expression of aggressive male masculinity."

Shukla says it is similar to the law of the jungle on the roads. Roy adds that it is not just about the size of the vehicles, but also about social hierarchies, where a scooter bumping into a car or a courier boy scratching a businessman's SUV invite retaliation. Systemic interventions have to be made, Shukla says, from more stringent checks and pre-licence lessons and refresher courses for drivers, to inculcating values of patience at an early age. "We have to teach right from school what is proportionate behaviour. If someone bumps into you, do you smash his jaw? Kill him?"

Shukla feels Delhi's residents need to be taught early not to get provoked or overly excited by minor things, and that if no one is hurt it may be best to move on to ensure there are fewer irrational deadly outbursts on the streets.

Source: dpa.