Paving the way

I enjoy reading Sameera Khan’s insightful articles in the Hindu. However, her last published on 14 Nov ’17 left me feeling so unsatisfied that I’m compelled to air my counter point.

Her article was about hawkers rights on pavements. Which is ok but the article just seemed to talk about hawkers rights like the point of view to push, regardless of any merit.

I’ll take her point by point:

S.K: Firstly, hawkers are not the only ones sullying our pavements. But they are far easier to target as villains than the middle-class who use pavements for car parking and shops/restaurants who unabashedly extend their shopfronts onto footpaths.
Ans: This is hardly an argument – they are doing it – so we will do it back! There is no getting away from the fact that hawkers create a lot of filth -unless you are considering only pretty hawkers, the kind who sell fruits, flowers and vegetables. All the others who cook, create such a stink, you have to give that section of the pavement a wide berth.

S.K: Secondly, hawking is also an employment issue. It provides the urban poor a means to earn a legitimate livelihood, and in fact, many sell goods produced in small-scale or home-based industries.
Ans: Agree. This is really the only point of any substance. There are just too many migrating from villages and trying hard to make a living. They suffer extreme hardships. No getting away from this. However, I still feel that encouraging/ignoring/resigning to hawkers’ encroaching pavements will not solve the issue. To truly address this, needs a more holistic approach but that is obviously far from happening.

S.K: Working women remark on the late evening convenience of hawkers near stations and the reassurance provided by the warm light of their petromax lamps.
Ans: This is so completely false. Women are not reassured by the warm light of petromax lamps. This is just romanticizing. The only thing that is reassuring while walking, especially in unfamiliar areas and on new roads, is other women! Especially women walking. If I am walking and I see a host of lovely twinkling lights from hawkers, I am not going to continue merrily on my way unless there are women milling around. And loads of hawkers are dominated completely by male customers, smoking and just hanging.  These hawkers do nothing to reassure me. Plus, this station convenience thing is very Mumbai. I am from Pune and the street hawkers are all bhel puri and vada paav and cutting chai.

S.K: We need policy and regulation, but it has to be based on acceptance of the others’ (pedestrians, commuters, hawkers) right to be there too.
Ans: I have one super-senior and two senior citizens in my house. Every time they step out for chores like going to the post office(only the super does that now) or to go to the park, I worry because they do not have safe roads to walk. The footpaths are totally encroached, leaving them with no option other than walking alongside the chaotic traffic and hoping for the best. I cannot really accept any hawkers rights to the footpaths. Rename footpaths as Hawker-zones and I’ll back off.

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