Down To Earth : Summary

Table of Contents

  • What’s your view of the road?
  • The media and the republic

What’s your view of the road?

Page – 3


  • In Stockholm, roads are designed first for the people and then for cars.
  • In Delhi, we hesitate stepping on the road even at a zebra-crossing because of the fear that car would not stop and would run down.
  • This insecurity stems from the fact that Indian roads are not made for walking.

Other differences

  • In Stockholm, the pavements are also low. It makes for effortless walking.
  • In Delhi, the pavements are high. It takes some effort to step onto them, making it difficult for all, and not just the old and the disabled, to move on foot.
  • The reason given is if pavements are low, people will park their cars on it.
  • But that is because we do not enforce regulations for illegal parking.

Who has the right of way, cars or pedestrians?

  • This is where there is difference between Stockholm and Washington DC.
  • In Washington, as compared to Delhi, you are in heaven as a walker.
  • From the moment, you get off a train or a bus you will find pavements, mostly accessible and connected, till you walk to your home, office or any other destination.
  • The city is walkable but with a difference.
  • In Washington, one has to wait for long for the traffic signal to change before you can cross the road.
  • If there is no signal and only a zebra-crossing, then cars don’t respect the walker. They let you pass, but with a grimace.
  • Worse, when you cross the road, it is also when cars turning right or left also cross the same road.
  • There is no right; it is a privilege.

How has Delhi changed?

  • In Delhi, when our streets were not roads, we could cross them. There was chaos, mixed traffic, everything on the street, but also safety for women because of numbers.
  • The street was for walking and even talking. But then we moved to roads.
  • The roads were designed for the efficient movement of just one kind of traffic: cars.
  • As cars spilled over more space had to be created. This space came from footpaths. Delhi sacrificed its walking spaces.
  • Same thing is happening all over India.

Width of road

  • Another difference between Stockholm and Washington is the width of the road.
  • In Stockholm, roads are not highways. Cities are meant for easy movement.
  • In Washington, road widths are huge. It feels as if highways cross the cities. This means as the light turns white for pedestrians, it requires running to cross.
  • In Delhi, we are now building in such a manner that highways transect our cities.

Question of public transport

  • If we are not able to walk, we cannot really build a vibrant public transport network.
  • Today, the Delhi metro—efficient and clean—would be a choice of transport.
  • The only part of my city that has footpaths is where nobody walks.
  • In this part of Delhi, called Lutyens’ Delhi, where the government and the powerful live, the footpaths gleam.
  • But just imagine, they are made with granite and polished so that you cannot walk. Or possibly for the powerful people to roll down the windows of their bullet-proof cars and feel good about their modern city.

What is the idea of a road?

  • The trouble is that we are lost between these worlds, where walking works because we are poor and walking works because they are rich.
  • We need to cross this road, and for this we need to rethink our view of the road itself.
  • On the one hand is the road—most frequently captured in photographs from the US or now even China and India—where cars move bumper-to-bumper. There is no diversity of vehicles. Few motorcycles, fewer buses and non-existent cyclists and pedestrians.
  • On the other hand is the picture of a street in African cities or any smaller Indian city, where everything is moving side by side. Here people walk, cycle and take para-transit systems like auto-rickshaws. All side by side. This is seen as the chaos we would like to get rid of as we get rich, modern and successful.
  • But a chaotic road carries more people and is, therefore, a much more cost-efficient instrument for mobility than the car-filled road.

The media and the republic

Page – 66


  • There was a story doing rounds a few days earlier which trajected how many tribal villages are putting out notices at entry points, debarring “outsiders” from entering inside.
  • It gives a message of some kind of collapse of Indian sovereignty and tries to analyse the development in the context of recent lynching of few outsiders as “child lifters” in Jharkhand.
  • There is also a case of a former governor of Maharashtra who was asked by a tribal village to seek permission from the gram sabha before entering its geographical boundary.
  • There are hundreds of such villages in India that have declared themselves as “republics”.

How to view this?

  • This is not to challenge Indian sovereignty but to assert the right to self-governance.
  • The fifth and sixth schedules of the Indian Constitution give tribal communities the right to self-governance.
  • If these provisions are strictly adhered to, these villages would be behaving like powerful republics. And this is central to tribal society and economy.
  • These village republics are a legacy of India’s glorious past of village self-governance that Mahatma Gandhi propagated as models of governance.

Constituent Assembly debates on the matter

  • S Radhakrishnan, while asking for a governance system based on existing village republics, narrated an incident: “When a few merchants from the north went down to the south, one of the princes of the Deccan asked the question: ‘Who is your king?’ The answer was, ‘Some of us are governed by assemblies, some of us by kings.’”

How and Why British destroyed this traditional polity structure?

  • So strong were these republics that the British Empire tried to exclude them from their dominion, after years of effort to control them.
  • “The village communities are little republics, having everything that they can want within themselves, and almost independent of any foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts,” wrote Charles Metcalfe to the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1832.
  • Probably threatened by Metcalfe’s assessment and the humiliation of the 1857 mutiny, the village republics were subjected to systematic dosages of government control till they lost relevance.
  • First, they weakened the institution by taking over villages’ traditional administrative and legal powers.
  • Even then they could not wipe out the traditional institutions. They failed because they had to fight the whole society in each and every village.
  • Ultimately, they withdrew from some tribal areas and called them excluded areas.
  • Later, the Indian Constitution codified these republics and their rights.


  • The news headline dotted is like a reflection of contemporary ignorance of history of natural resources and how it dictated governance models that did justice to locals.
  • Tribal villages continue to be treated like centres of resource procurement to fuel our economy, just like the colonial times.
  • Conflicts over resources in tribal areas are symptomatic of the same exploitative rule prevailing even today.
  • But hundreds of villages sticking to their age-old governance models is a sign that there is hope for ending the continuing British legacy.
  • It is in no way a “nuisance” as the article quoted a police officer. Rather, these villages should be celebrated as right holders of the Indian republic’s impressive constitution.
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