I found the theme of a recent workshop held in the city quite fascinating. Organised by the international Charter for Compassion, the workshop brought together change-makers to talk about compassionate initiatives in the city. My mind went a trifle off-tangent and I wondered how would Gurugram rate on compassion. Here are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind.
Is the city serving its workers well? These are the industrial, construction and domestic workers –the people who built this city and are sustaining it. They left their villages to find work opportunities here as shopfloor workers in auto units and their ancillaries, as masons and labourers constructing our homes, buildings and offices; and as maids, drivers and support staff. Aren’t these the ignored, invisible, faceless lot of the city? There are not enough government or private school that cater to them neither enough government hospitals or dispensaries or primary health centres to look after their medical needs. They often live in sub-human conditions, in privately-owned ghetto sites, often exploited by landlords and service providers. There are no low-cost housing or rental facilities catering to them in the city. Besides, they work in highly unsafe work conditions, often leading to injuries and ill-health. Building more government schools and hospitals will certainly help them. But what will really help them get their due is having their voting cards made here, provided they have decided to move to this city for good.
Is the city conserving its natural resources such as water, air and forests? Certainly not. The real estate boom, the weak town and country planning and subsequent land use changes and manipulations has eroded Gurugram of its precious natural resources. Water table in down in the dumps. The air quality has gone from bad to worse and the natural forests of Aravallis that provide the last vestige of hope – being a water recharge zone, our green lungs and are home to bio-diversity – is under constant threat. The pressure on the land, on water resources is so high that the liveability index of the city is on an all-time low. What will we do of the plush malls and condominiums when the air outside becomes too toxic to breathe? Its high time Gurugram is more conscious of and compassionate towards its natural environment. This has to be taken up on a war-footing. We need to monitor our air closely and take stringent steps to bring back healthy air quality levels, revive water bodies, conserve rain water in ponds, homes and buildings, and save the Aravallis by declaring it as a “natural conservation zone” for all times to come.
Is the city designed and structured to cater to needs of all sections of the society? Is it easy for pedestrians and cyclists to move on the roads? Is it comfortable for people to use public transport? Are there enough parks and play-grounds for children? Are there public places that can be used by all in the city? Are our streets, walk paths, streets, buses etc designed for people with disabilities? Are there enough night shelters for the poor and homes for the elderly? Are there enough schools that cater to special needs children? To sum up, can all sections of the society live with greater dignity and comfort in the city? There is a lot that needs to be done in upgrading the quality of life for the disadvantaged.
Are the city authorities compassionate enough in ensuring a hassle-free experience for residents to get basic services done such as renewing driving licences, paying property tax, getting a birth/death certificate issued? These functions as per my personal experience have got streamlined in the city. Is there a thriving civil society in the city, that is constantly monitoring and engaging with the authorities? Here again I can vouch that Gurugram scores decently well.
Gurugram has a fair amount of diversity and intellegensia, and but do people have a sense of belongingness to the city? Gurugram has a diverse set of residents – the original ascendants whose fore-fathers lived here, families that have migrated from cities like Delhi, youngsters who are temporarily living here due to their jobs. The point is how do we develop a “new shared culture” of the city. For this to happen, we need to have more cultural centres and public places where people can converge, express, raise concerns and collaborate.
Finally, are we as individual compassionate? When our maid is in trouble, do we grant her a few compassionate leaves to help her tide over her issues, reach out to a person in distress on the road, forgive someone who has accidently brushed against our car with a smile, or simply start our day with a random act of kindness. In the fast-paced, frantic lives that we lead, we need to make some room for goodness, even if we are not volunteering with any organisation or helping a city cause.
It will need the effort of all, the authorities, NGOs, city planners, citizen groups and residents, to make a city compassionate. A compassionate city will have greater well-being, will respect human values, be smart and sustainable city and perhaps a happier city to live in where everyone feels belonged. So, get, set and go – let’s work together to make Gurugram a more compassionate city.