Saturday, September 26, 2009


The surprise for many is not that Home Minister Chidambaram has stated the obvious but that there has been no violent reaction, considering he is a Tamilian. Delhiites have for long been known to be rude and lawless. But with the Commonwealth Games around the corner, Chidambaram wants the citizens of India's capital to undergo an "attitude makeover". “Vehicles jump red lights. People cross roads where they should not,” he says, “We are not living in a countryside; we are not living in a pastoral area. We are living in a city. Therefore, we must behave as the citizens of a big city”.

Last year, when Delhi's Lieutenant Governor Tejinder Khanna had said that “North Indians feel it is a matter of pride to break the law and get away without getting penalized,” there were loud protests from politicians belonging to UP, Bihar and Bengal. There is little doubt that, like Chidambaram, the guys he had in mind were only Punjabis and their closely related brethren of Haryana and Western UP, whose loud and aggressive psyche defines Delhi. Little has changed in over a year; they remain proud of the manner in which they act and speak. In fact if Khanna made them feel an inch taller by his statement, Chidambaram has probably added another!

There was a time when it used to be acknowledged without any trace of embarrassment that the only culture in North India was agriculture! Can’t blame them because ever since Alexander paid a visit to India well before Jesus was born, people of the region have virtually lived in what has been India’s permanent war zone where many famous and decisive battles have been fought for more than 2000 years.

For centuries, the focus has been on survival. That is why the spoken language, the body language and the overall behaviour have all developed to be aggressive, even offensive. As a matter of fact if someone is not aware of the tonal nuances of some dialects spoken in Delhi, he would be perfectly justified in apprehending that a guy is about to assault a woman when in fact he is telling her that he loves her!

Try speaking to policemen in Delhi and in areas around it. They take even greater pride in showing off their power and above-the-law attitude. For outsiders used to more ‘civilized’ inter-personal interactions, the experience can actually be traumatic. In the Army too, officers joining regiments having troops from areas around and to the west of Delhi have to be prepared for the ‘culture shock’ that they will be exposed to when interacting with their men who need a ‘different’ approach to remain on the right side of discipline. Needless to say, their fighting abilities are naturally inborn.

They have learnt the hard way that they have to get ahead, whatever it takes. Anything that can be taken, is theirs to take by right. Any rule or law that holds them up, be it a queue or a red light or any such, is theirs to break by right.

Delhiites are not rude and arrogant because they still live in a pastoral society as Chidambaram thinks. Nor can their behaviour be explained by copy-pasting the concept of 'amoral familism' from Italy like Ashish Nandy has done. If the objective is to get them to effect real changes in their behaviour, Commonwealth Games or not, 'soft' solutions based on such premises will not yield desired results.

It is the misdirected "pride" of Delhiites that has to worked on and channelised. Once that is successfully done, their transformation will be rapid.