Sunday mornings have been ‘light-a-cycle’ mornings, “Light-a-cycle/Save a life” being an an initiative by some concerned citizens. This group has leveraged the Raahgiri initiative to mobilize both individual donations and putting reflective tapes free of charge on cycles and rickshaws. It is fairly widely known that, India is the accident capital of the world with the majority of fatalities being of pedestrians and cyclists. So, this is a good initiative, which hopefully would make it safer for these vulnerable groups on our lethal roads.
I have been at this stall for the last few Sundays and mostly I have been making the entries of those who get the reflectors put and those who donate. Very few details are asked of them – name, make of the cycle, cell phone number. And I often end up having a bit of a chat with these mostly young men (a very few women) – the majority come from Bengal, followed by Odisha and Bihar, with few from Jharkand. Hardly any, except the younger boys are local. Many are not sure how old they are and give you the required information with a sense of hesitation. Of course, there is a the small group of brash, confident youngsters as well – but not often from amongst the rickshaw pullers. And, almost across the board, the literacy levels (by their self admission) are low. But what has been disturbing is the number of young men often of 18 years or so, who cannot sign their name even in Bengali. I have not collected any statistics, but these encounters on Sunday mornings leave me wondering how these young Indians will negotiate the future decades. I are aware that there are many who have overcome their disadvantaged positions, be it inadequate schooling or unfortunate physical handicaps, and achieved much. But will it be even possible for the larger numbers to negotiate the hostile ecosystems with zero literacy? I can only say that, as an Indian, I feel that much smaller after each such encounter …..