Kanwarias causing jams: Your right to your faith can’t encroach on my right to movement
What was once a quiet pilgrimage of penance and faith has today become a mega-decibel sponsored event, with film songs blaring out of six-foot high speakers, throwing ordinary commuters into disarray and confusionopinion Updated: Jul 23, 2017 18:29 IST
Your right to your faith cannot literally encroach on my right to movement. But this is precisely what happens on large swathes of public roads when the kanwarias make their way to pilgrimage sites across north India. Now that it is over, we can breathe a sigh of relief and once again exercise our right of smooth passage when we are not being held up by other such processions and rallies. Given the fact that theirs is a religious mission, even the authorities seem to quail at telling them that the public thoroughfares cannot be taken over in the name of devotion.
What was once a quiet pilgrimage of penance and faith has today become a mega-decibel sponsored event, with film songs blaring out of six-foot high speakers, throwing ordinary commuters into disarray and confusion. The faithful are housed in makeshift tents, the state governments makes available a host of amenities from ambulances to water and the kanwarias go their merry way leaving mountains of garbage and clogged roads in their wake. But one cannot single out the kanwarias. All faiths today, barring perhaps the Parsis, tend to be aggressive, loud and completely oblivious of public sensibilities. The deities have become muscular and overbearing. The gentle Ganesh at the chaturthi is warrior-like, his angry tusks and visage nothing like the playful god he is meant to be. He has right of way on the roads, even though many may want to get to places and have no interest in the procession. In Kerala, every other day, there are Christian processions to places of worship accompanied by vans fitted with loudspeakers taking over the narrow roads. Across India, come festivals, jagrans or devotional songs – sometimes Hindi film songs -- are belted out at such high decibels are to render one temporarily deaf.
Taking over public roads could mean the difference between life and death if an ambulance is passing. There are no designated times or places for rallies and processions, religious or otherwise. Every so often, the centre of Delhi and other cities is paralysed by farmers, political parties, and various other interest groups. What about my right to get to my destination? This extends to other occasions as well. Wedding parties take over roads with gas lights, horses and wild dancing leading to monster traffic jams. No question of permits or payment, just take over public property and deface it with no penalty at all. Clearly, the concept that public places cannot be usurped by private parties, whether kanwarias or wedding guests, seems alien to us as a society. Loudspeakers set up near residential localities means days of sleep deprivation. In no other civilised country can a private party take over a public space without permission and in the case of roads not at all. I can only imagine that these public displays of faith are part of the one-upmanship that we see among religions. If the azaan is loud, the bhagwati jagran must be louder or vice-versa.
The kanwaria situation is not likely to ease up next year. Already, local politicians have formed welcome parties for them, the kanwarias wear T-shirts bearing the name of one or other chief minister and they have become a law unto themselves. What about the public who has to endure days of suffering? Or have to wait patiently missing hours of work, a doctor’s appointment or an examination as rallies and procession pass through busy roads? They can complain all they like, but no one is listening.