Economic prosperity in India fuels bigger traffic jams and shorter fuses
NEW DELHI — On a recent chilly evening, Gaurav Kumar eased his small truck onto a congested road in the Indian capital and accidentally scraped another vehicle in the honking mass of cars, scooters, and motorbikes.
Enraged, the other car’s driver blocked Kumar’s truck and attacked him. He pulled the 24-year-old deliveryman out and shoved him so hard that his head hit the sidewalk. An hour later, Kumar died in a nearby hospital.
“It was a small scratch. For this he lost his life,’’ Kumar’s widow, Prem Latha, said by telephone from the nearby town of Aligarh, where she lives with her infant daughter.
Once rare in India, such cases of road rage are becoming routine in New Delhi, according to O.P. Mandal, the police officer investigating the Dec. 7 attack that led to Kumar’s death.
“This is what we are seeing every day,’’ Mandal said. “A minor quarrel escalates, people take the law into their hands, and a life is snuffed out.’’
While Indian police keep no specific numbers on traffic-related assaults, officers interviewed agree that road rage is on the rise, fueled by the country’s economic boom and the masses of new vehicles it is adding to the already crowded roads.
Roughly 10 million cars, buses, trucks, scooters, and motorbikes crowd New Delhi’s potholed roads every day, causing long traffic jams, gridlock, and frayed tempers.
The city’s roads have not kept up with traffic growth. While the vehicle count has soared 212 percent over the past two decades, the number of miles of road has grown a mere 17 percent, according to the New Delhi Transport Department.
“People are on the road longer, and everyone is on a short fuse,’’ Satyendra Garg, the police official in charge of New Delhi traffic. “The result is a situation which begins verbally, then escalates to physical confrontation.’’
And because vehicles are a powerful symbol of often-newfound wealth, any scratch can feel like an assault on a person’s status, he added. “So if someone scrapes their new car, they find it unacceptable and are ready to hit out.’’
Sociologist Abhilasha Kumari also senses a change in attitude as the country’s new economic wealth makes society more materialistic.
“It’s as if Delhi’s centuries-old culture of graciousness has been wiped off and has been replaced by a frenetic and pushy ‘me first’ ruthlessness,’’ she said.
Migrants from nearby rural areas, some newly rich from selling their land for real estate development, have also helped change the city’s texture from a quiet government town to a thriving commercial hub.
“People are more upfront in their aggressiveness,’’ Kumari added. “They believe if you have the money, you flaunt it, with your big shiny new car, and you assert yourself forcefully on the road.’’
Almost every day, newspapers carry reports of people being assaulted after getting into an argument on the roads.
In one recent incident, a motorist at a crowded toll booth pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot the toll collector if he served another driver who had cut in line, local papers reported.