Every other day now, the press carries some news of more and more examples of road rage in urban India. For a very long time, road rage was something Indians heard about, as happening in America or Europe, and discussed at length. There were discussions about the possible causes, the pressures and stress of their “lifestyle” versus the Indian family strength, and so on. And now, road rage is here in a big way and looks all set to stay!
Recent months and weeks have seen escalating incidents and examples of this international phenomenon, right here at home. From cases of people yelling and honking like maniacs, to young men dragging older people out of their cars and beating them, finally to recent cases in Delhi of people being shot for overtaking the wrong car, things have been getting progressively uglier. And there seems to be no hope, at all, of anything getting better in a hurry. On the contrary, things seem all set to get much, much worse.
What is causing this, many people seem to wonder. If you really think about it though, there are no surprises here. This is expected and easily explainable. There are many layers to this issue, some of which are easy to understand, and some a little more complex, especially for Indians. For example, the concept of personal space is difficult to grasp in a country like this. Since, traditionally, Indians are used to large families in small spaces, and since the per square mile population density is so high, most people just don’t understand that everyone needs a certain amount of personal physical space to be really comfortable and happy.
One of the primary theories explaining road rage, the world over, draws from this basic human need. When you drive, your personal space expands to include the vehicle, car, bus, scooter, cycle, whatever, and any invasion into this, like another driver cutting in front of you, is as horrible for the psyche as someone crowding you physically or trying to hit you. As a result, what should just be a “shrug it off” minor traffic infraction turns into a “how dare the so-and-so” kind of personal insult. People have a visceral reaction to such incidents. This reaction is only worsened by the consciousness that it could have become a life-threatening situation if one of the parties had lost control or concentration for a moment.
But the invasion and danger angle is just one of the forces that drive road rage. The increasing levels of stress are another major contributing agent behind the phenomenon. People have become angrier and less patient in all fields and facets of their life. Life itself is becoming more of an irritant on a daily basis. Most people don’t have healthy outlets for all the frustration and anger that they accumulate all day, every day, and they carry it around like a burden, emotional as well as physical. A small incident on the road can often cause all this anger, frustration, and irritation to spill over in the form of vocal or physical violence.
There are other issues too. Families and friend circles have become smaller, less supportive, and more superficial in their interactions. Not only does this take away the vital emotional support that enables people to deal with frustrations, but it also takes away the regular interactions that teach people how to deal with each other socially. Youngsters these days are not being taught to respect elders, be patient, deal with things, or let small irritants slide. On the contrary, instant gratification is the mantra of the hour. Kids are spoilt, get everything they want, when they want it, learning no patience or understanding. They grow up aggressive and impatient. Add to this all the new kinds of stressors and all the angst that they have to deal with, daily, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.
And there seems to be no solution in sight until there is a sea change in the way people handle frustrations and anger. However, anger management classes, laughter clubs, yoga centers, and lifestyle management gurus are all making an effort. Even small dents are a beginning, and small steps a good way to begin a long and difficult journey.