Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kings of the Road!

The Teesta, from Sevoke

How lucky I am to live near this river. How much luckier I need to be if I want to reach this spot without being held up by road blocks, natural or man-made. Here's one of the man-made variety, below.

Issuing directions all around

These pictures were taken when we were waved down at a place around 50 kilometres away from Siliguri, and almost the same distance from our garden. The mob blocked the road using a favourite shield in the area-- school students. Their 'demand' was for a new 'request bus stop' on the National Highway. The children had to walk to the regular bus stop from their school because the bus drivers wouldn't stop when they waved them down.

Most of the buses on the highway run long distances, and surely the passengers wouldn't want random additional stops. How long did the children have to walk, my husband asked some chatty looking bystanders. He was told the distance was under one kilometre.

A peculiar feature of these roadblocks is that once the mob stops your vehicle, it doesn't allow you to reverse or retreat. The idea is to cause as much nuisance as possible to members of the public. Once you're in, you park your vehicle and sit quietly.

The mob is quick to feed on the mood and is on a power high. Youngsters - little boys who must be in Class 5 or 6- slap the rumps of vehicles and strut around.

If you ask any questions, it is in a soft and quiet voice because you don't want to inflame the already excited 'dada log' or bosses of the moment. In short, you feel you're trying to appease the people who have broken the law. I feel wretched, but I console myself with the thought that when the authorities turn up they will do the same thing and then proceed to negotiate.

Last weekend we were 'caught' again on the road to Siliguri. This time it was at a small settlement near the hills. The road - the National Highway, of course - was blocked by local residents and the children from two nearby schools. The previous night, a couple of children from the busti had been trampled to death by elephants. What a terrible way to die.

We didn't have to ask when the road block would be lifted. From long practice, we knew that it would remain in place until the 'concerned authority' (as we say here, and with no ironic intent) showed up with promises of a hearing, of compensation or redress. In this case the mob was waiting for the forest department officials to declare compensation for the families of the victims. The law is quite clear that every death caused by an elephant has to be compensated. I wonder why the protest had to be staged. Was it because of some past callousness or lapse? That was not the time or the place to find out.

As soon as two or three Forest Department jeeps arrived, we were waved on our way.

Too close for comfort. I wondered whether I was being foolish, taking pictures with my phone! At the first roadblock, someone screamed 'No Press' when a vehicle with a press sticker inched ahead. I heard another person shout that the press would report the roadblock, but write nothing about how the schoolchildren had to walk all the way to the public bus stop on the highway.

Jam on the Sevoke Road in the hill section
With naturally occuring road blocks like this one above, do we need to create more?



A pity that tragedy of such magnitude has to be used for such purposes. Did anyone think of the poor children's families!

Anonymous said...

We see so much of this - is this because there is no other way to get the government to act? Or just a power trip, knowing that those 'trapped' can do nothing about it.