Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Segregation vs. Social Justice in Democracy: The India Case

New York City
September 16th, 2009
4:23 am
My NYT Comment #75.
New York City
September 16th, 2009
8:39 am

Segregation vs. Social Justice in Democracy: The India Case

\"New Peace in commute\" for India's women? Your article illustrates the axiom -- No Justice No Peace.

Women-only commuter trains are an integral part of an adhoc, unequal, inadequate and functionally inequitable public transportation policy in Indian Democracy.

Gender segregation on public transportation reinforces the most negative aspects of India's powerfully entrenched patriarchy. Sequestered travel on a train to work is predictively unlikely to increase women's safety, or equal participation in India's democracy.

India's public transportation systems are grossly underfunded. This inequity punishes the poor, especially the poorest women. The nation's poorest women, don't get to ride these commuter trains. That structural inequity is the crux of the problem. In a nation-state that should be providing adequate public transportation for ALL, while making every attempt at a smaller carbon footprint, regardless of what the West does.

Finger-pointing at the West will not help Indians become more ecologically responsible or more socially just, as they attempt to meet their expanding transportation needs.

An Indian policy implementation of relentless attrition in funding, blatantly devalues PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION as a universal social good that should be intentionally deployed, through policy, by both the Centre and the States, as a powerful social leveler, in our unprecedented democratic civil society.

I travel to India twice a year every year (since 1999), spending a total of 5 months, every visit. Over this past summer, I traveled in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, logging thousands of miles and several days on trains and buses. That's democracy on wheels.

A woman, I travel alone in India, entirely by State public buses, state-run commuter trains and the Indian railways ((Second Class sleeper), refusing to use cars proffered by my middle class relatives. Any form of PUBLIC transport is acceptable to me.

Now that may appear eccentric or overly zealous but I am attempting, always in flawed fashion, to sincerely develop ethical practices of civic participation, in myself (no one else), within Indian democracy.

In my view, India cannot afford to produce, much less dispose, a paper cup, as millions carelessly do daily on the Indian trains, any more than India can afford to promote PRIVATE transportation over PUBLIC transportation. Mass Public Transit is a core social justice issue in India's current stage of development, right up there with food/water security, shelter, universal healthcare, universal primary/ secondary education, employment.

My Indian women and men co-travelers in Democracy, especially the burgeoning, heavily subsidized and bribegiving/bribetaking, complicit-in-corruption middle class, who are the main beneficiaries of the women-only commuter trains, can fight JOINTLY for adequate affordable PUBLIC transportation for ALL, instead of cynically choosing cars over buses and/or riding separately in trains.

Such vigorous civic participation would likely advance the Greater Collective Good (GCG), a wholly attainable ideal of ethical democracy.

Satyameva Jayate!

Chithra KarunaKaran

Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice
New York Times copyright
On India’s Railways, Women Find New Peace in Commute

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