In 1984, Subhash Nagar protected Sikhs; in 2016, it left a man to die

What we're seeing today is a dreadful selfie of this digital age.

 |  3-minute read |   14-08-2016
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I live in the same neighbourhood that shot from obscurity to national fame - or notoriety - after a man was left to die there by the roadside on Wednesday.

Hundreds of people walked and drove past Matibool, including a police van, as he lay bleeding near a gutter in Subhash Nagar, one of West Delhi's middle class localities that became the new home of millions of people who came from what became Pakistan exactly 69 years ago.

Subhash Nagar had not always been what it exhibited itself to be on Aug 10.

Also read: When Delhi stole the phone of a man bleeding to death on the streets

I was 10-year-old in 1984 when my Hindu neighbours erected makeshift barricades to protect a handful of Sikh families living in our street. I saw that.

They mounted overnight community patrols for almost a month after marauding mobs rampaged through the city starting Oct 31, when then prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated.

Subhash Nagar and few other neighborhoods came through all the orgy of anarchy in 1984 unscathed.

Also read: Since 1984: 30 years of horror and neglect

Fast forward to Aug 10, 2016: An overhead surveillance camera records what precisely has been the degeneration of a well-knit community into stray, self-centered, mindless zombies.

Imagine, no one from 140 cars, 80 rickshaws, 180 bikers and almost 50 pedestrians stopped to save a life hit by a reckless freight carrier.

It's possible many of them overlooked Matibool because the sight of men lying drunk on walkaways is a bit too horribly common in our cities.

But it's quite likely that most of those who heartlessly drove past him would have shared the CCTV video and expressed their angst on Facebook and Twitter -- very much like a mechanical "R.I.P." we now post with as much alacrity as we say "Happy Birthday" in the comment threads.

But if I have to draw an analogy, I'd say the surveillance video of Matibool's death in fact encapsulates a selfie of modern, urban India.

subhash-embed_081416054821.jpg Screen grab shows a rickshaw driver stealing Matibool's phone as the latter lay bleeding on the road.

I am not sure such a display of depraved insensitivity would have unfolded in villages.

The Subhash Nagar footage also evinced how a large population of humans in the cities of rising economies presided over virtually by oligarchic capitalism have turned into remotely-guided drones.

Many of the pedestrians you spot in the clip appear to have come to the national capital from villages. The rickshaw driver, who stole Matibool's cellphone, in all likelihood isn't a city man either.

Clearly, they are infected by the harsh rat race of the life in urban India.

And mind you, they aren't in a race for high-end jobs, startups or high-profile business enterprises. It's a sheer struggle for survival.

Like many other zones outside of the VIP circuits of the NDMCs of our country, Subhash Nagar has always remained relatively abandoned. We didn't see police in 1984. And we saw how police responded on the morning of Aug 10, 2016. Just two days before the hit-and-run, I wrote an article about the law-enforcement in the area as a macro picture of policing in India almost 70 years after independence.

In 1984 though, there was a community around as one saving grace. By 2016, that's also gone. And that's a dreadful selfie of this digital age.


Harmeet Shah Singh Harmeet Shah Singh @harmeetss

The writer is Editor with India Today TV.

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