Message aboard the Metro
Samir Nazareth says the best symbol of changing Delhi is also symbolic of the value of responsibility
THE DELHI Metro is a marvel of technology, no doubt about that. However, for a psychologist or a student of psychology, the Delhi Metro is an inveigling conundrum. How has it been to keep people from littering and spitting inside its premises while they do so outside, is a big mystery.
I take my visiting friends for a ride on the Metro to show them the two sides of the Delhites. Their response is always the same ‘it’s like travelling abroad’. There is order, there is cleanliness, there is an acknowledgement of duty of the self towards others and the common responsibility of each individual — things that are the glue of any society. Why then this surprise? Is it that we expect less from each other in some places and are surprised when we find that people have the ability to meet and surpass these expectations?
What has the Delhi Metro done to seemingly bring out the best in most of those travelling in it, in most instances? There are two things that the Delhi Metro does day in and day out — the first is that it provides a benchmark and the second is that it finds ways to ensure that the benchmark is maintained.
Take, for example, the case of cleanliness in the station and in the Metro compartments itself. There is someone constantly cleaning it — the floors, the walls, the stairs. This is a visual representation of the need for cleanliness. There are also the announcements in the train and in the station requesting travellers to maintain cleanliness. The audio messages reinforce the cleanliness aspect while pointing to the responsibility of the Metro users. There are also messages on the walls pointing to the monetary fines for dirtying the place.
The case of passengers asking their fellow travellers to get up from seats designated for women and elderly and in other instances getting up to give place to women and others is another aspect of travelling in the Metro. This form of altruism, if it can be called so, is a result of two things. The first is that seats are designated for certain individuals in a manner that all can understand it. The second is that there are audio announcements and other form of visuals which re-emphasise this. Thus, not only are passengers made aware of their responsibility, but also made to ackowledge when this responsibility is being shirked.
The question that needs to be asked is why don’t people follow what they have learned in the Metro in other spaces? There is no simple answer to this. Many would argue that this is a contained space that is quite unidimensional when compared to the outside world. Others would point out to the small population serviced by it as compared to what is happening outside it. However, these should not blind-side us to the manner in which the Metro has achieved what it has.
Take the case of responsibility. People learn about it by seeing others shoulder responsibility or by bearing the consequences of irresponsible behaviour. A child seeing a parent speaking on the phone whilst driving will learn to do the same. If the parent is stopped by the police and fined, it would teach the child a lesson — if not the parent. However, this does not happen and this habit is passed on to the child endangering himself and other road users.
The fact that police also break traffic and other laws with impunity serves to establish the idea that law has no value within society and therefore it is every person for themselves. Thus not only has responsibility to be assigned it is important that those delegating responsibility be seen as doing their bit too.
Another case is the overflowing bins on our streets. In the Lutyen’s part of Delhi, the bins are so clean that they can be eaten off. However, in other parts of the city one sees the result of apathy. As the garbage pile remains uncollected, its spread also increases. This is not because of the increase in garbage only. To avoid overwhelming their senses people begin throwing their garbage into the bin from greater distances thus spreading the garbage beyond the bin. Uncollected garbage becomes a disincentive for people to throw their garbage into the bin – which in turn leads to a greater sprawl of garbage.
If water is wasted in slums it is not because the residents don’t know the value of water, it is because the system for the maintenance of the tap lies decrepit. The apathy starts with those holding responsible positions not fulfilling their obligations. This antipathy then percolates down to the others.
IT IS human tendency not to take on responsibility where the benefits are either unknown or not accrued to the self. Thus there is need to teach citizens the value of responsibility. More importantly, it is vital that humans believe in the best in each other and the ability to meet and surpass expectations. Thus the Metro has been able to assign responsibility to people successfully and people accept this responsibility because they realise the benefits of shouldering it.
What the Metro teaches us is that people are capable to do more than what is expected off them. The first step to achieve this is to tell people what is expected of them by providing benchmarks. Then it is necessary to chart a way to meet these expectations with incentives and disincentives guiding them. And finally, and most importantly, those delegating responsibility should also be seen behaving responsibly.
Samir Nazareth writes on environment issues.