Noise pollution and road or train rage in Mumbai
13 September 2016 4
Mumbai has the reputation of a friendly and inclusive city, where most people go out of their way to help others. Why are we especially and uncontrollably angry during our commute? While there may be many factors including long daily commutes and over-crowding, a high level of noise pollution, which directly affects mental health, is a major contributing factor.
“Noise pollution adversely affects mental health, creating feelings of frustration, irritation and even rage. Adrenalin levels increase with noise exposure and short sudden blasts of noise (like those from horns) create spikes in adrenalin levels in the bloodstream. Continuous exposure too alters the biochemistry of the brain and gives rise to stress responses,” Says consultant psychiatrist, Dr Amit Desai.
Road rage and train rage are on the rise and commonly experienced in the daily life of Mumbaikars. Normally sedate persons fight uncontrollably and violently on the road over minor traffic infractions. Women scratching and hitting each other in trains are part of daily commutes and traffic policemen have even been assaulted in the course of their duty and even died. A loud or continuous horn is commonly used as an expression of anger and sometimes precedes a major fight, which can bring other traffic to a standstill.
Honorary traffic wardens and traffic policemen are exposed to high noise levels continuously as the major traffic junctions where they regulate traffic are also among the noisiest. Recently, during peak traffic hour, I observed a vehicle with blue rooftop lights (indicating a politician) jump a traffic signal by loudly blowing his horn to clear the path. The traffic policeman standing next to me expressed his immediate angry but helpless response. He told me how provoking anger and fear through belligerent use of the horn was a large part of bullying to break traffic rules. “If we try to stop them, they become abusive,” he said.
Anita Lobo, an honorary traffic warden who has regulated traffic in Bandra for over 15 years has experienced the use of the horn as a means to intimidate and threaten. She has stood up to political pressure and continues to regulate traffic at some of the busiest and noisiest traffic junctions like the junction of the Holy Family Hospital at Hill Road in Bandra. “Horns are often used to express aggression,” she says. “It is a short step from the prolonged use of a horn to an all-out fight on the road.”
Recently, while conducting an awareness program at two traffic junctions under flyovers, I experienced the uncontrollable distress, which accompanied the loud sounds of near- continuous honking. Directly below the flyover (where the police chowky is placed) the sound was amplified by echo off the concrete on all sides and was even more unbearable. At the JJ Flyover, where the noise levels reached 105dB, I was desperate to leave within 10 minutes. The area under Vakola Flyover was not much better, at 102 dB. While holding placards, it was difficult to speak to drivers to request them not to honk. Traffic Policemen stand at these junctions for over 8 hours every day.
Still think Indians are ‘used’ to noise pollution? Here are some shocking facts which point to the effects of noise pollution according to WHO:
1. 27% of the overall population of India suffers disabling hearing loss as against 11% in High Income countries and 3% in North African countries.
2. 12.3 million children and 18.8 million adults of the region including India, Pakistan, Nepal , Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan suffer disabling hearing loss.
3. Nearly 48% of Indians over 65 years suffer debilitating hearing loss as compared to only 18% in high income countries.
(Environmental activist Sumaira Abdulali is convener of the Awaaz Foundation, which is works against noise pollution.)
Awaaz Foundation's anti- noise pollution campaign has been covered extensively in the Press and media since 2003.