Killing me loudly

“Originally published on 11-Apr-2012 in livemint in an online column ‘Lawyers Day Out’ by Anish Dayal now Senior Advocate Delhi High Court

Indian Citizen 1 to Indian Citizen 2: “Would you please lower the volume of the loudspeaker. Its ten thirty pm and it’s not allowed”. Citizen 2 retorts: “That’s unfortunate. You see I am connected to the local mafia here and moreover have paid a fortune to the police. Besides its Navratra and you are being a spoilsport, not to mention being anti-God”. Citizen 1 pleading again: “But please understand. You have been playing this for the last fortnight and I haven’t said anything. Besides it’s against the law laid down by the Supreme Court. I have a young child who is having problems sleeping because of the noise for the last 2 weeks”. Citizen 2 coming closer and snorting while speaking: “Forget the Supreme Court. Why don’t you go and invite them here too. You must be demented because the 3 dozen people sitting in this pandaal seem to be in ecstasy hearing these Bollywoodized bhajans. Besides I earn about a couple of lakhs every day from the puja offerings”. Citizen 1: “But, Sir. My child. Have a heart”. Citizen 2: “Arre baba. He is Indian also, na? He will get used to it. He should get used to it. This is not Switzerland”. Conversation closed.

Minor variations aside, this is what most urban dwellers having the temerity to stand up and object to noise in their neighbourhood piercing through their rooms, probably experienced. India and Indians do not take quiet lying down. They invent, innovate and belt out whatever is at their command and control in order to systematically destroy quiet. Try this – close your eyes while you are in traffic on any weekday – you will hear quiet being mercilessly killed….and loudly too! Work’s over and you go for a film with the wife – you have a resounding Indian talking even more resoundingly to his business partner on his mobile phone while you struggle to catch the dialogues. Ask him to shushhh, he may, but after having completed his little chat. Strangely, though one can’t blame them – children in India also know to holler the loudest! Honking, of course, is a national pastime.

We all agree and acknowledge and accept that we have the legal and moral right to decimate quiet with the little push power that we have at the command of our thumbs. Every driver on the road whether he is driving an auto rickshaw or a BMW wants to announce his presence every couple of minutes just in case we forget to notice him amidst our own frenzy. It’s a collective Indian effort at creating continued and sustained awareness of the presence of your fellow beings!

That’s strange for a country which teaches the world yoga and the power of silence and meditation. Even more strange for a country which propagates frugality, self-restraint and discipline as part of its ancient culture and tradition. Somewhere along the way to crass urbanization, we forgot that not only have we created the din we have also lost our voices in it. The word “noise” apparently derives from the Latin word “nausea”. No surprise. The Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in 2005 dealt with the issue of noise pollution in all its manifestations and noted that “Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees life and personal liberty to all persons…human life has its charm and there is no reason why life should not be enjoyed alongwith all permissible pleasures. Anyone who wishes to live in peace, comfort and quiet within his house has a right to prevent noise as pollutant reaching him. None can claim a right to create noise even in his own premises which would travel beyond his precincts…..nobody can claim a fundamental right to create noise…nobody can be compelled to listen…..nobody can claim that he has a right to make his voice trespass into the ears and mind of others…nobody can indulge in aural aggression”.

Aural aggression! Our Judges could not have captured the essence better. We are under attack every minute from our own people. The injury may not be palpable and may not seem immediate, but noise is a well known health hazard. WHO has documented seven categories – hearing impairment, interference with spoken communication, sleep disturbance, cardio vascular disturbance, mental health issues, impaired task performance, negative social behaviour and annoyance reactions. The Supreme Court yet again in a recent judgment (the Baba Ramdev crackdown at Ramlila Maidan case) elaborated upon this in the context of the “right to sleep”. Hon’ble Justice Chauhan in his opinion stated “Deprivation of sleep has tumultuous adverse effects. It causes a stir and disturbs the quiet and peace of an individual’s physical state. A natural process which is inherent in a human being if disturbed obviously affects basic life. It is for this reason that if a person is deprived of sleep, the effect thereof, is treated to be torturous. To take away the right of natural rest is also therefore violation of a human right. It becomes a violation of a fundamental right when it is disturbed intentionally, unlawfully and for no justification”.

Even the Delhi Chief Minister Ms. Sheila Dikshit, reportedly remarked in a conference some years back that “We, Indians are a noisy lot, be it loud weddings or honking on the streets. Silence talks to us. We do not realise this because of the amount of noise that surrounds us and noise pollution is a major problem being faced by Delhi”.

Noise pollution is a recognized element of environmental pollution and there are elaborate rules and provisions to curb it. But even though we may, sometimes shake a threatening finger at a renegade loudspeaker being above accepted and allowed decibel levels, there is not much in the rule book to quieten a clamorous TV set in a “video coach” ride or to calm the shrill performance of the portly aunty having a boom-fest at her servile maid. That just comes from our own personal sense of space and sensitivity.

So what if we all made a song and dance about quietude and aural peace. So what if we all shouted from the rooftops to plead our right of privacy, our right to sleep and our right to quiet. It still eludes. Bertrand Russell said: “A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live”. True joy went for a long sabbatical quite some time back. The last time I heard, it was lying outside a village hut staring at the stars and listening to the sashaying of the paddy crop in the fields.

Anish Dayal is an advocate at the Supreme Court. An alumnus of Cambridge University, he works closely on policy and legislation, media, entertainment and sports law

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