Can signatures, likes and follows make the right kind of noise and bring back autorikshaw meters in Chennai?
I despise auto travel just as much as the average non-vehicle-owning Chennaiite. I try my best to minimise auto travel by using the MTC and more recently the trains and I quite enjoy them so I manage. Still, I succumb to auto travel at times; more so now than ever before since I’ve recently started getting some income. However the comfort of having no sweaty bodies press up against you is usually negated by haggling-induced depression. It’s inescapable. Consider this.
Me: Anna, Park Station. How much?
Me: 50 no more
Automan: What ma, for 10 rupees you are making so much fuss.(OR) What ma, you will go drink Rs 100 coffee in coffee shop but you won’t pay us for our livelihood.(OR) What ma, petrol prices… (note that autos run on LPG)
Me: (sheepish)Fine 60.
Note that this usually happens after two or three unsuccessful attempts so by now I’m pretty bummed and feeling pretty shitty about my spending habits (I’d rather overpay for a cup of coffee than his daughter’s education? What kind of monster does that make me…)
Needless to say the rest of the trip goes on punctuated with miserable muttering by either or both party. If you get your way, he’s unhappy (and in my case I’m guilty). If he gets his way, you’re unhappy. If neither of you get your way, which is the most you can hope for in this city, then you’re both unhappy.
So you see, it’s this easy to stir up anti-auto sentiments in an inhabitant of Chennai. Everybody loves to hate the autoguy. Auto rants are the number one ice-breaker in this city. First-date awkwardness, dinner with the boss, elevator with the neighbor aunty -- you’d have to be a complete sociopath not to relate to an auto rant.
It’s only natural thus, that a leading newspaper chose this topic to arouse the vulnerable sentiments of its readers. And what a grand way too! Pretty neat designs, chuckle-worthy headlines, memorable stats, and some nice relate-able victims of auto theft – the Bring back Auto meters campaign had all signs of being a sure-shot success with its readers.
Unless of course you really wanted to solve the problem. I hope it struck more people how appallingly one-sided the entire campaign seems to be. Is it really that simple? Can a bunch of signatures, likes and follows make the right kind of noise? Bully the bullies. Concerned parties get publicity, we get our meters – it’s a win-win situation, no?
But what about the auto guys? Let me not insult the newspaper’s intelligence and believe that what they intend to do is put pressure on the government to update the fare structure to make sure “the driver gets his due and the passenger doesn’t get looted,” as they explain in the introduction. That is a perfectly rational approach to the issue. The problem is that throughout their almost 2-page launch of the campaign today, the abovesaid rational approach tends to get completely washed over by anti-auto-man sentiments.
I have more than a strong feeling that this entire campaign is going to end up just a glorified ranting session by adding fuel to our discontent. Except for that introduction piece, what the paper has done is nothing but tell us (sometimes exaggerated versions of) what we already know, albiet using more colorful methods. Statistics, cartoons, anecdotes, analogies, all telling us the same damn thing. But nobody’s complaining because it’s something we all love to hear – we are being looted.
Not once in my reading did I come across one mention, one question regarding why are they this way? If they are looting us the way we insist they are, shouldn’t the auto guys be at least somewhat well off by now? Why do they still live in dingy slums and crowded houses? Or are all of them wifebeaters who drink off all the money they loot from us? Surely there is a missing piece in the puzzle. I think the guys at the paper should have been a little more responsible in highlighting that aspect at least as much as they did the stating of the obvious.
I hope at least that people show some restraint in the meaningless cribbing that we indulge in everyday and use this campaign as a medium to pressure the government, instead of the autorikshaw driver. The last update on the Missing Meter Facebook page was early in November. And they I don't see any response to repeated requests for the current status of the campaign. I really wish this works. But I don't dare to hope.
[Disclaimer: I work for The Hindu. We like disclaimers here.]