Road rage in Delhi: Revisiting a forgotten murder

Road rage in Delhi: Revisiting a forgotten murder

A year ago Turkman Gate resident Shahnawaz was killed in front of his two children, allegedly after a minor road accident. However, he remains just another statistic.

By Ishan Kukreti

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A goat lazily grazed on a bundle of grass near old Salauddin’s ramshackle electronic store in the congested Gandhi Market, in Central Delhi. The shop is easy to find. Everyone in this neighbourhood knows of Salauddin, whose son, Shahnawaz, was killed by five men when a road rage incident turned into a lynching last year on April 4.

In the ten-minute rickshaw ride from the shop to his house near Turkman Gate, Salauddin told me how his son was never one to fight. “He was so timid that even if the police came to our area, he wouldn’t step out of the house,” he said.

Even during the lean traffic hours of the late afternoon, this area is congested and our rickshaw slowly moves forward. The ride is jerky while Salauddin’s memory of April 4 is lucid. His grief still palpable when we near the spot where Shahnawaz was attacked in front of his two children, one who was then 9 and the other, 12 years old. An acquaintance later found Shahnawaz on the road and rushed him to a nearby hospital.

Yahi woh manhus jagah hai.” said a bitter Salauddin. (“This is that evil place.”) He pointed to a spot in front of Turkman Gate, where Chaman Lal Marg meets Asaf Ali Road, next to the famous Ram Leela Maidan. “My son-in-law had succumbed to cancer and my son Shahnawaz was coming back from his sister’s house, with the children that night,” he recalled.

Shahnawaz’s bike was brushed by a passing car and an argument ensued. The two men who got out of the car called out to three more and the group beat Shahnawaz to death with iron rods. According to Salauddin, the accused are the sons of local builders and are known to be “dabang” (fearless). “One of them has had seven criminal cases against him,” Salauddin said.

“Earlier they would have bought the witnesses. But this time around, they have messed with the wrong people,” said Salauddin. “There are four witnesses: my two sons and my two grandsons. They offered me money too. They started with a crore and then they offered as much as five crores.  I don’t want money, God has given me enough. They will pay for what they have done. Not one has been granted bail in the case.”

If that happens, Turkman Gate road rage case will be one of the few where there hasn’t been a miscarriage of justice. Usually in road rage cases, the accused are at large, witnesses turn hostile and the legal cases drag on.

After the attack, the Delhi government had promised free education for the two children, and monetary compensation to the family. But none of the promises have been kept, says Salauddin. The family was called to meet Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and visited regularly by the local MLA Asim Ahmed Khan right after the tragic incident. Now, when the matter is no longer in the news, the family has few visitors. The CM is busy as is the local MLA.

When asked about Shahnawaz’s case, Asim Ahmed Khan claimed the government had kept its word to Salauddin’s family. “We had promised school admission for the two kids and we have done that,” said Khan. “We have done our bit. It was them [the victim’s family] who went to the ex MLA, Shoaib Iqbal and staged protests.”

However, the political tug-of-war means little to Saluddin’s wife, Noorjahan, who is in a permanent state of exhaustion and no longer wants to recall the night her son was killed.  “’Hamara bachcha toh wapas nahi aa sakta na?” asked Noorjahan. (“We can’t get our child back, can we?”)

Mohammed Imran runs an NGO out of Faridabad, called Safe Road Foundation. He has a theory about these crimes. “In road rage incidents, the outcome depends on three things,” said Imran. “The two parties involved and the environment. For example, two people involved are abusive and aggressive, but the environment is such that they can’t act out their aggression, like heavy traffic or getting late to office etc, the chances of road rage are less.” Shahnawaz’s case holds true to Imran’s theory: it was the dead of night and the roads were empty.

Piyush Tiwari, founder of Save Life Foundation, an NGO which deals with road safety issues, says that a lot of road rage incidents can be avoided if driver training is made mandatory. “Because there isn’t a formal driver’s training program in India, drivers aren’t told how to deal with stress on road,” said Tiwari. “Even things which cause stress during driving, like tailgating, should be made a punishable offence.”

Dr. Sameer Malhotra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Max Hospital, has been studying road rage. He also emphasises the behavioural aspect of the problem. “When you are driving and at every red light  someone knocks on your window, it is bound to irritate you,” he said. “Also, there is no synchrony of traffic lights. Then there are people who have a conduct problem or an impulsive disorder. Many travel with guns and hockey sticks in their cars. Add to this alcohol or drug abuse, and there you have it: road rage incidents.”

According to him, the problem is manifold and includes a variety of factors ranging from traffic laws to personality traits. He says that although road rage is seen as a by-product of globalization, you don’t see many such incidents happening in the West.

“The main reason is the traffic laws in the country and their implementation,” he said. “You see in the West, the rules are there to protect you and here what you find is traffic constables hiding behind poles and bushes to catch you violating rules. The intention is clearly not to protect the drivers, but to somehow chalan (fine) them.”

The view, however, is not shared by Supreme Court advocate Kush Chaturvedi, who believes that the problem right now is of implementing the existing laws effectively. Giving the example of the recent road rage incident involving Dr Pankaj Narang in Delhi’s Vikaspuri, he said that had the existing laws been implemented properly, the tragedy could have been avoided.

“See, a lot of road rage incidents happen over parking or lane cutting,” he said. “Now even if the sections of Motor Vehicle Act dealing with car parking and cutting into lanes is implemented properly, a major part of the problem will be solved. Also if the hassles faced while driving are reduced, it will bring down the number of road rage incidents significantly.”

Tiwari, who started Save Life Foundation after losing a relative to a road accident in 2008, also feels that as there is no law that deals separately with road rage incidents, the issue can’t be looked into properly due to lack of data for research. So if a person dies in a road rage incident, the accused will be charged with murder. Consequently, of all the total 1,41,526 road accident deaths that took place in 2014 or 1,37,423 in 2013, there is no way of knowing how many were victims of road rage.

Heartbreaking as Salauddin and Noorjahan’s story is, with a court case that hasn’t been forgotten or hushed up, it is one of the more hopeful stories that one encounters while exploring road rage in Delhi. The next hearing of the case is on April 29 and Salauddin hopes for a conviction and a strong punishment.