Learning to Complain
By Gayatri Sahgal, 01 Sep 2010

Honk…. Splash…. Flooding…. Crawl… Blank…..Neon amiss….Frustration…. Underlining despair… Belied...Forgotten.

These are just some of the sights and emotions that we all encounter the moment we step out of that little island of comfort we call home. Whether it’s the frustrating and wholly unforeseeable traffic jams or the debiliting condition of roads which lend a whole new meaning to the term wear and tear, or even the whimsical traffic light whose temperamental nature inspires a host of caricatures (or maybe that’s just me!).

Such conditions appear to surround us all, but how we have been shaped by it? If our surroundings are governed by chaos then what is it most suitably captures our mental state… apathy, frustration, confusion or just plain helplessness? My many musings have led me to conclude that while we might experience different shades of these emotions what we really are is incapacitated. We appear to lack the basic capacity/ability to act, to change the very situation we find ourselves in. Academics classify this as a lack of agency but in my opinion its not just agency that we lack-we are stuck in this state of impotence, in which we are fundamentally attuned to the belief that things cannot change. The system or the lack of one is assumed to be so much more powerful than the individuals who comprise it; is imagined that it will never bend to their will. So while the so called powerless sections in our societies (farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Tribal’s in Orissa) launch protest marches and clash with repressive forces in staking their claims - we the  privileged educated class sit back, circumventing on most occasions any and every direct engagement with the powers that be.


Can we do something to demand what is classically and most nebulously defined as accountability? I believe we can.


But if we aren’t revelling in this situation then the question arises whether we can actually do something to change it? Can we do something to demand what is classically and most nebulously defined as accountability? I believe we can. I don’t say this because of my innate idealism but out of some amount of experience in trying a variety of strategies, which despite not being entirely successful have been instrumental in shaking off that feeling of utter inertia. I realize that a lot of the strategies that I have tried are not entirely revolutionary but sometimes even the most basic attempts can make a difference. So try the following when you find yourselves confronting the maddening and the inconceivable, even if it seems lame and entirely uninspiring.

1) Stuck in a frustrating traffic light- call the traffic police just dial 100 and report the place of the jam. I have tried this and some times it has yielded surprising results.

2) Traffic lights not working- call the traffic police in this situation as well. I have found them to be extremely polite on some occasions. Sometimes they are just as lost as us.

3) Dilapidated roads- File an RTI with the concerned authority. In Delhi you can file it with the Department of Road Transport and Highways, Ministry of Shipping Road Transport and Highways, or with the Urban Development Department of the Delhi government. This is extremely easy as it costs only Rs 10 and the RTI can be posted through speed post.

4) Garbage piling up on the streets- File a complaint with the designated MCD office, if that doesn’t work file an RTI on the status of your complaint.

Its time we learnt to complain!

Gayatri Sahgal is a Research Analyst with the Accountability Initaitive.