Millennium Post

Death of a Salesman aka Dentist

About two decades ago, as reporters covering the crime beat, we had gone to the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police of North-East district, which was then located on old GT Road inside Seelampur police station complex. The Metro station, which is now located across the road, did not then exist.

North-East district in those days was considered the city’s underbelly. Sharing his challenges of policing the volatile district under him, the DCP had said that there were certain pockets were beat policing was not possible. According to him, those areas were so deeply entrenched with the anti-social elements that a cop feared to venture out there.

The officer had said that the police had devised a strategy of group patrolling in those areas - a gypsy with a section of cops and few other policemen on half-a-dozen odd motorbikes took rounds of the area to “instil a fear of the law.” North-East district in those days remained least visited till the Delhi Metro brought first signs of development in this back alley.

Talking of slums, I am reminded of another situation - a rather hilarious one. There was to be a slum camp in Kusumpur Pahadi in South-West district close to Vasant Vihar. During one of the demolition drives, the Pahadi residents were shifted to a rehabilitation colony quite far away. I recall a reporter coming with an amusing story the very next day. The bungalows in Vasant Vihar went without cleaning and stoves in the kitchens did not burn as all the maids and cooks had been carted away in the demolition drive.

Coming to the lynching of Dr. Pankaj Narang, the issue of social and economic conflict has once again been illustrated. Though an attempt has been made to give a communal colour to the incident both by the right-wing forces for getting hyper over the religion of the accused, and a vigilant media by underplaying the case. It should not be forgotten that the incident is yet another illustration of prevailing conflict in our society.

Delhi remains the El Dorado for several of us. And in seeking our fortune we are often overcome with frustration. Like in American playwright Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer-winning play “Death of Salesman”, every character in the dentist lynching case must have had their own dreams, and thus, their frustrations too. The American dream was seen as the theme of Miller’s play. The American Dream, going by simple interpretation, means equal opportunity for everyone to prosper.

The large numbers of migrants coming to Delhi come to the megapolis with a dream quite similar to the American dream. Leara D Rhodes, who teaches Journalism at the University of Georgia, makes an interesting interpretation of the American Dream, which can also be replicated in the Indian context. In her book “The Ethnic Press: Shaping the American Dream” (Peter Lang Publishing; 2010), Rhodes says, “The Dream includes the opportunity for one's children to grow up and receive a good education and career without artificial barriers. It is the opportunity to make individual choices without the prior restrictions.”

We have slums inhabited by school dropouts taking to various vocations, not necessarily crime, in search of quick prosperity. When we have young minds in plenty, not properly mentored or educated but looking for prosperity, we also have frustrated souls in equal numbers. Without condoning the crime committed in Vikaspuri, we would have to concede that such frustrated young minds lead to the situations of conflict, mostly social.

A few years back a rough driving taxi had scraped past my vehicle, with my driver just about managing to avoid a crash. We overtook the taxi, brought it to a halt and were taking the driver to task when suddenly a crowd emerged from nowhere in defence of the driver. In fact, we were held hostage before a police van came to rescued us. As I wondered where the crowd came from, my driver pointed to a slum nearby. I was not amazed at the aggression of the slum dwellers but the fellowship of the poor.

The big question facing the society is how to control this social conflict and anger in the slums. 

Certainly not by subsidising the water and power supplies with an eye for easy electoral harvests. The successive governments in the national Capital have followed a flawed policy towards the rehabilitation of these slums. The focus of the policy so far has been to shift people with their habitat from a prime location to a less prime site. Thereafter pamper them with subsidies and create a vote bank.

Such policies have only added to social conflict. Whenever such shoves have come, the biggest casualties have been children who are forced to drop out of their schools. So do we let the slums remain and add to the metropolitan misery? Not the least. The policies should be such that people on their volition move out of the slums leaving these ghettos deserted. Such social empowerment would not come through policies of subsidy but a push to development.

A case in point is Delhi Metro. It has acted as an engine of development. Wherever it has gone it has created social and economic energy. Thanks to the Delhi Metro, Seelampur and Welcome are no more distant god-forsaken colonies. A lot of business activity is visible in the area. Police records could vouch for the shrunken crime graph. The Vikaspuri incident was not about the death of just a dentist but death of several dreams and birth of many more frustrated minds.

(The author is President Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views expressed are personal.)
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