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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dilli Dilwalon Ki

What explains Delhi’s neurosis? Let’s face it, what happened on that bus is just a reflection of the city’s social structure. Discussions around laws and punishments and all that are great but if anybody thinks those rapists on the bus rationally considered what they did (“Sirf saath saal ki saza hai, rape kartein hai” vs “Oye, yeh sab mat kar. Capital punishment hai. Inko next stop par utaar dete hai”) they are deluded.

Anybody who’s been in Delhi for even a little while knows how it treats its women. And it’s not just confined to its women: Delhi is angry towards everyone. It’s an angry, rude city teetering on the brink. And this behavior cuts across classes. The same rage that drove those people (poor, Hindi medium types to gang rape and torture the woman saw a Jet Airways pilot (rich, English-medium type) purposely run over a restaurant manager in the middle of Khan Market, last year.

 Historically, Delhi hasn’t been a city so much as large cantonment. Francois Bernier, Aurangzeb’s French physician recorded that when the Mughal emperor moved out from Delhi, the city’s population reduced to a quarter of its original. So much so that Urdu—meaning cantonment in Farsi—was used as a metonym for Delhi, a fact that eventually gave the language its name—the language of Delhi. . Rana Dasgupta says, in his Granta essay on Delhi, “Delhi is a city of traumas”. Nadir Shah, 1857, Partition, 1984, historically, Delhi is used to violence like perhaps no other Indian city.

Of course to connect today’s Delhi to any sort of historical Delhi might be a mistake. Or rather, using the plural “traumas” is a mistake. Delhi is a city of one trauma: Partition. Maybe a large part of Delhi’s neurosis stems from the fact that almost all of its population has, at best, spent one and a half generations in the city. The history of Delhi might be a 1,000 years old but the history of Delhi-ites is only 66 years old. It’s unfair that Bombay is called a city of immigrants—Delhi is. Also, people migrated to Bombay for money. It was a leisurely migration. You boarded a train, disembarked and then started your job. You maybe still had family back in the village who then gradually moved as well and you became a Bambayya family. Delhi’s, on the other hand, was an instant wholesale migration under the threat of death. Within months, the entire population of Delhi had been changed. Could this have somehow seared itself into Delhi’s consciousness? Could the violent uprooting have engendered a violent society?

What about Delhi’s disconnectedness? Delhi is unique as an Indian city in as much large swathes of the city have no slums. Go to a Calcutta or a Bombay and the slums and five-star hotels rub up against each other. Not so in Delhi. This of course does not mean Delhi does not have slums. The city has managed to preserve its colonial character in as much there is a sharp spatial distribution of population by class. The slums are there is East Delhi neatly hidden away from the South and West Delhi-ites. That’s where the drivers and maalis live. This disconnectedness married to Delhi’s rootlessness makes for an explosive cocktail.

Maybe these factors, at some subconscious level, make every man in Delhi feel he can randomly comment on a girl's breasts, mow down a pedestrian or just be plain rude to the next guy who asks him road directions. Or maybe not. Delhi does certainly have a problem. That much is easy to see. Finding out why it has the problem: not so easy.

1 comment:

Deepak Sharma said...


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