Are you busy fighting for your rights to freedom of speech, free expression or religious practices? Do you try protecting your liberties against encroachment by others? While struggling with these seemingly bigger issues, you may tend to overlook the very basic rights needed in everyday living. These are things like waking up in the morning and going out for a walk, or getting off the bus in the evening and walking home. With less and less of it, walking seems to have become passé, gone with the ‘shimmer’ of dancing headlights and the ‘music’ of honking four wheels especially in cities. Is there is no argument in support of walking nowadays? Who would like to walk on filthy roads or narrow pavements that call for an acrobat’s balancing skills to avoid crashing in front of moving vehicles? Walking has truly become a nightmare. While most of us complain and curse the systems, there are some who actually raise a voice and try to change things, rather than accepting them the way they are. The Right to Walk Foundation, the brainchild of Ms. Kanthimathi Kannan, is one of them.
Ms Kannan, a resident of the city of Hyderabad, moved by the sight of pedestrians of the city walking either on the road, at the risk of being run-over by vehicles or on garbage-filled pavements or on pavements that doubled up as public urinals, decided to start a campaign to goad the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and the Police to take up the matter of pedestrian problems seriously and to do something to improve the condition of pavements around the city and make them pedestrian-friendly. The movement started by identifying the most common problems faced by pedestrians. Kannan felt that the failure to provide the common man with a wide enough footpath, free of encroachments, stench and garbage to walk on was the major challenge at hand.
For a bigger cause
In early 2007, she quit her job and decided to work on this movement fulltime. Kannan explains, “The idea of quitting my work was not very sudden and it was very well thought through. After about 20 years outside the city of Hyderabad, when I got back to my city in 2002 I found that it was very difficult to walk. I tried complaining to the Municipal Corporation in January 2005 on a call centre line. The call centre line only registered the complaints but did not do any follow up and to my dismay there was no change in the area that I had described in my compliant. Later I petitioned the municipal authorities with a written complaint twice but with work piling up it was not possible to devote more time to the issue. The thought of quitting my job and doing this on a full time basis occurred to me around the early part of 2007. As a student, I used to walk from my home to Mehdipatnam and take a bus to my college but I found that to my utter shock that young college girls from my locality use an auto to go and are picked up by an auto for coming back too. This and other similar instances compelled me to rethink about the issue and devote myself to a full time activist role.”
The right to walk should come as naturally to humans as the right to breathe or live. Yet, most of us often forget and take for granted the problems we face as pedestrians. What made Kannan notice these? She adds, “This critical issue has been neglected and even now continues to be neglected and has not found centre stage in the civic issues. Probably the very fact that car ownership implies ‘bade log’ might also have contributed to making walking a neglected issue. Whenever we interview people struggling to cross the road, we have found that they feel that they need to struggle because they are poor and do not have a vehicle. In the words of an officer – All of us look at walking as a start to life and try to graduate into a motor bike and later to a car and never look back at the need to walk.”
Making an impact
While the nascent steps have been taken, a movement like this takes a long while before sconsiderable impact can be made. While the foundation has been able to make the authorities understand the issue, as of now it has been unable to get them to take action. The founder explains, “We have been successful in filing the Human Rights petition and getting the commission to acknowledge that obstacles for walking are a Human Right violation. We have a long way to go and as I often describe it, we have a marathon to run and we have probably run the first meter.”
Support the Right to Walk Foundation cover the rest of the miles in the following ways:
For more, visit www[dot]right2walk[dot]com (Update: Removed the hyperlink to this site after a few readers complained of the link not working correctly).