Jumping red lights, have we degenerated beyond hope?

I am in the Swiss Alps enjoying what should be a cool and relaxing holiday. I woke up to the news that Gopinath Munde, a cabinet minister and a BJP stalwart died in a car accident on the road. He was headed to the airport.

I head to the airport multiple times a month; sometimes at odd hours.

I sometimes wonder about the safety of airplanes. The thought of dying on Delhi roads is frightening too. But to die in an accident because of someone jumping a red light, is not frightening, it’s appalling.

I am reminded of a recent trip to Delhi’s railway station. I had gone to pick up my parents. My 10-year old daughter was seated in the front seat with me. The time was, eerily around 6:30 am too. As we drove past Pragati Maidan, we encountered multiple red lights. I stopped my car at every single one of them. But there were others that kept speeding past it, sometimes dangerously crossing intersections. After the first 3 or 4 lights my daughter asked me why I stopped at the red lights while others drove through them. I explained that one must obey traffic lights since they are designed to give everyone a chance to drive safely across intersections. She reasoned that there was no one on the road, and no one was watching us break the law. I repeated myself and stated that the law must be respected whether someone is watching or not. She remained unconvinced. There was a particular red VW polo that zoomed past all red lights. It was soon ahead of us but on the open road leading to the railway station, we soon caught up. The intersection on the Ajmeri Gate side of New Delhi Railway station is always busy. The red VW, for once stopped on our left.

The light turned to green signalling it was our turn to drive through the intersection. The VW raced ahead and because I was on his blind side, he didn’t see a Tata Indica break the red light. I saw it and stood still. The Indica crashed into the side of the VW. The fault was of the Indica driver; he had jumped the red light. The VW for once was obeying the law. The VW driver and his passenger were ready to fight with the Indica. I stopped near them and spoke to the driver of the VW. I told him not to fight simply because all along he (the driver of the VW) had been jumping red lights. He had absolutely no reason to argue with someone else who has behaved exactly as he had just done. The driver smiled at me and knew I was right. I left the scene but not before I got the lesson across to my daughter too. The quick succession of crime and punishment got the message home I am sure.

I once closed my account with a bank in Greater Kailash 2, M Block Market. The reason? I repeatedly saw the branch manager and other employees of the bank enter the M block market from the wrong side. I asked them to desist but they thought it was ok if no one was watching. In my letter seeking closure the bank account I stated that I didn’t want to bank with an institution that supported a culture of breaking the law if no one was watching. I reasoned that I wasn’t in the bank to watch over my money; I trust the bank officials to handle that for me. If they couldn’t handle their personal lives with trust and honesty, how could I trust them to handle my money? As expected not a single person from the bank called me up to even give me a semblance of an explanation. They were probably happy a cantankerous client had closed the account; a sort of good riddance to bad rubbish.

I worry about what we are becoming. Road rage takes many lives on Delhi streets but the rage stems from our changing DNA. We are OK with even small lapses and shrug our shoulders when we see the law being broken. So much so, we don’t seem to see anything wrong with jumping a red light, or wearing a seat belt or worse, driving on the wrong side of the road. This has even percolated to the upholders of the law. I was driving through a narrow road once; there was room for just one lane of cars coming in from either direction. The road ended at a busy intersection where a policeman was trying hard to control traffic. A car driver came in from the wrong side and stood in front of me. He wanted me to move further left to give him space to get on to the right side of the road. I refused to budge. The policeman saw 2 cars face-to-face, one clearly in the wrong but because I was closer to him, he came and asked me to move and give the guy clearly in the wrong, the right of way. I refused. I chided the policeman of working with a law-breaker. He reasoned he had to get the traffic moving and he was just a single policeman trying to do his job. I was shocked.

Some of my stories and actions might sound extreme. I am perhaps a cantankerous old man but it is the degeneration of our own value system that makes me angry. We don’t respect the law and thus don’t respect ourselves. The slightest indiscretion or violation of our rights is met with howls of protest, but not a whimper of a protest is made if someone else’s are violated. We turn a blind eye or worse, shrug our shoulders.

Gopinath Munde died more of shock than physical injury. It’s best we take a lesson from that and set our own house in order. Stop at traffic lights even if there is no policeman watching. Obey the law just because it is the right thing to do. Don’t wait to be scared into not breaking the law, like Singapore or the Middle East.

We should do it for being better citizens but the truth is we should do it just for being better human beings. This is the only true legacy we leave for generations to come.

About Vivek Mehra

I am currently the MD & CEO of SAGE Publications India. But I wear many hats that make me the person I am. Between the (public) professional life and the very deep and private recesses of my brain lies a universe of thoughts, actions and beliefs. These have been shaped by events, people and perhaps Karma. It's this universe I seek to put in words. When everything else failed me professionally, it was the power of my words that not just resurrected a career but brought back life to life. It is with these words that I continue to make a difference with those whose karma connects mine. Sometimes it's direct and most times it's not. But the essence of who I am never changes and I remain a person searching for himself. Update: In 2014 I published my first book on Kindle. It was written in 1999 and it never saw the light of day. Reader input welcome... http://tinyurl.com/7shadesofgrey
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1 Response to Jumping red lights, have we degenerated beyond hope?

  1. When I landed in Salzburg way back in late 2008 to pursue my PhD at the University of Salzburg, it was an unbelievable scenario where I saw on my initial day that over a small street crossing (not even a main road), people were just standing and not going to the other side. No vehicle on the road and no police around! So why? Then I saw that it was the pedestrian red light that stopped or better say instruct them from doing so!

    Immediately it was clear to me that I was now in a totally different world. It is not just about jumping red lights, it is actually about everything! It is again not just the lack of proper policing or law enforcement but it is the fast diminishing part of the population which is nearing extinction here around, who will instruct and educate their sons and daughters that “irrespective of anybody watching or not, you are not going to break laws” as such.

    Besides that, if the population of a country is growing in an exponential rate, even if such kind of a species who properly educate and moralize their children continue to survive, they will remain under represented and unnoticed. So what is the solution? I guess in the hindsight nothing but strong control of population and improvement of overall education for all.


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