This paper carried news of the launch of a campaign to make the city Gurgaon a no-honking zone by an NGO – Earth Saviour’s Foundation and the members of a major horn manufacturing company. They went a step too far and tied a dog onto a post at the busy Shankar Chowk and wrote a mighty offensive line with the cartoon of a dog on a poster – ‘Kutta bhi bina vajah nahin bhonkta. Horn nahi bajayen’.
While the initiative is laudable, assuming and generalising that ‘Hum horn bina vajah bajate hain’ is erroneous.
Why do we honk so much? I recently put up this question on my show ‘Hum Aise Kyun Hain?’ to two men who know best – Shakeel Akhtar and Qamar Ahmed. Both as cops have held the charge of Traffic Police Commissioner for many years.
The answers were illuminating:
1. Maximum number of honks get blared while overtaking. This as we are apprehensive the vehicle in front of us might without any visible warning turn towards our vehicle when we are just in the process of overtaking. We do this to warn the person ahead of us, of our intent to go past him.
2. We honk when there are vehicles that block the path or a free way unnecessarily.
3. We honk when a pedestrian is about to cross the road in front of us and we don’t want him to do so. In some western and even middle-eastern countries, if a pedestrian has put his foot on the road to cross, the on coming vehicle comes to a standstill. Because the pedestrian has the primary right of way. But we honk and make him retrace his steps for his own welfare. It is also true that jay walking is so common in India that if we were to stop for every pedestrian who wishes to cross the road we will never reach our destination. On the other hand if we halt mid-way on a busy road, the drivers of the cars following us will curse us no end and might even bang in to us, could even overtake us and take the pedestrian under their wheels.
4. We honk when the light goes green and the car driver ahead of us is day dreaming or busy on his mobile unaware of the fact that the light has turned green.
So Honking is not for ‘no reason’. Honking tells people that we too are on the road, it tells them to remove their vehicles from nuisance points, it tells them not to risk their lives trying to jaywalk across busy roads, and it is done sometimes to jerk drivers out of their day dreams.
In fact, I can vouch for the fact that if my car collides with another vehicle or a pedestrian because I don’t or won’t honk, the first question the first cop would hurl at me would be, “Horn bajana nahi aata to cycle ki ghanti lagwa doon aapki car mein?”. There is no gainsaying the fact that honking reduces the number of accidents on the roads.
Honking is indeed a symptom of poor traffic and driving sense. It does signify a complete lack of civic sense on the part of people who throng the streets – with or without vehicles. But the answer is not to clamp down upon motorists that honk. The answer lies in teaching people responsible driving, responsible movement on streets. Honking will automatically go down.
The NGO educated people about the ill effects of honking, noise pollution and how horn cacophony caused stress, severe headache, high blood pressure and hearing problems. Good. And it simultaneously tied a dog to the poster at Shankar Chowk to make a visual point. Bad. What about the dog’s stress, headache, hypertension and hearing loss? This was plain and clear cruelty to the animal. Is Menaka Gandhi listening?
Having said all this I still find what the NGO is trying to achieve laudable. My objection is to its message and its method. Its idea of filing a PIL in the Delhi HC for implementing the SC ruling that prohibits honking near hospitals, traffic signals, schools and other no honking zones makes a lot of sense. And I wish it all the best. Just don’t think that we honk needlessly and please leave that dog alone.