To and from work and school, in the vegetable market, in one's neighborhood: Walking is an integral part of most citizens' lives in Udaipur. Indeed, Udaipur's greenery, the small lanes in the old city, and the close proximity of points of interest, make walking an ideal mode of transportation.
Yet, it has become increasingly difficult to walk in Udaipur. For one, there is no place to walk. Few roads have footpaths, and increasing vehicular traffic makes it difficult to feel safe or comfortable while walking on the roadside. Second, even for those who do take the risk, the experience of walking has become less than pleasant. The amount of pollution and dust, coupled with the fear of being hit by a vehicle, keeps one from enjoying an activity which normally guarantees good health. Thirdly, there is increasing social pressure -- especially among youth -- to use a vehicle (scooter, motorcycle or car) for even the smallest of tasks. Walking has developed a social stigma these days, as the media reminds us that a key status symbol is the vehicle one drives.
A small group formed to take on the issue of footpaths in Udaipur. After some initial discussions, the group saw a few possible entry points: interacting with city officials (like the Collector), attaching on to existing infrastructure development projects (like the Asian Development Bank’s Heritage City Project), and increasing public dialogue around footpaths. It was in the latter that the most energy was felt.
The group, now dubbed "Miliye, Juliye, Chaliye" (Meet, Join, Walk), decided that one of its goals was to raise public interest around making footpaths in the city. Organizing a walkathon -- a pad yatra with a social purpose, one might say -- appeared to be a good strategy for accomplishing this goal. Several individuals from different organizations, such as Seva Mandir, Vidya Bhawan School, SPARC, the Study School, West Zone Cultural Center, and Shikshantar, co-organized the effort.
The date was set for July 19, 2003, and the venue chosen was a round of Fateh Sagar lake, a challenge in its 10 km course, even for those Udaipur citizens who regularly come to walk on the lake's pal (boardwalk). Nearby schools, such as St. Mary's, St. Paul's, Vidya Bhawan, Alok, the Study, Railway Training, Saifee Secondary School, and Dewali, were contacted, and invitations were also extended within different neighborhoods of Udaipur. Contributions were solicited from partner-organizations, as well as from small local businesses. The title of the event was our namesake: "Miliye, Juliye, Chaliye".
We anticipated it would take people approximately two hours to complete the round (from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm). Therefore, in the remaining daylight hours (from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm), we thought it would be a good idea to create multiple spaces/ opportunities for dialogue around walking and other issues related to organic living. For this purpose:
¨ Shikshantar prepared a 15 poster exhibition to stimulate conversations around the value of walking and the absence of footpaths in Udaipur.
¨ Rotary Club of Udaipur decided to give away saplings, as the rainy season is an excellent time for planting and gardening in Udaipur. Shikshantar supported this activity by sharing an invitation for family organic gardening on rooftops, terraces and lawns.
¨ A group of youth prepared and performed a street play. It highlighted the difficulties in walking without footpaths (pollution, health problems, accidents), the challenges of the urban mindset (believing vehicles are superior to walking, wasting/consuming nature), and the potential of citizens' initiatives (starting in one's own neighborhood, meeting with government officials, walking more, etc.).
¨ A group of deaf students from XXX School prepared and performed a mime around rainwater harvesting, traffic safety, and conservation.
¨ Shikshantar organized a canvas, open posters and blank sheets of paper, on which people could draw/write their feelings and reflections about the day's events, walking and other pertinent issues in Udaipur. The small paintings made by children and adults, using natural colors, were then pinned up on a sheet for a self-generating art exhibition.
The response to the "Miliye, Juliye, Chaliye" was quite positive overall; approximately 600 children, youth and adults attended over the course of the 4 hour program. Press coverage in local papers was also prominent; however, the larger action of building footpaths and making more space for walking in Udaipur remained. Bolstered by the success of the walkathon, many members of the "Miliye, Juliye, Chaliye" group thought it important to build upon the energy and continue the effort.
Follow-up to Walkathon
Signature Campaign and Public Interest Litigation
Began briefly at the walkathon, a process of gathering signatures and personal quotes from local citizens will soon be underway. These signatures/quotes will signal the commitments of citizens for building footpaths in Udaipur. They will be used both for filing a public interest litigation in the court, as well as for pressuring city municipal government to uphold planning commitments. The goal of the campaign is to collect 5000 signatures in the next month.
Pilot Project between Vidya Bhawan School and Asian Development Bank
Vidya Bhawan is petitioning the Asian Development Bank to build a footpath from the school to Fateh Sagar. Vidya Bhawan students will watch over the footpath, cleaning it and caring for the trees planted on it, under the auspices of their Traffic Safety Program. Asian Development Bank is sponsoring city improvement projects because Udaipur has recently been declared a Heritage City, so it is likely they will approve this plan.
The group has decided once-a-month to conduct a direct action in the most traversed pathways of Udaipur, where the need and urgency for footpaths is the greatest. The issue thus becomes more public, and such obvious interventions build more interest from outsiders. The first point of 'attack' will be the path between Sukhadia Circle and Chetak Circle, where traffic is heavy and space to walk is minimal. Here, those visiting the city General Hospital face the most difficulty. Sunday, August 3, 2003, is the scheduled time of the walk. A poster exhibition and street play will follow in Sukhadia Circle, as well as the launching of the signature campaign, to further enhance the dialogue.
A second walk is suggested for Chitrakoot Nagar, where trash and marble slurry dumping on the sides of the road have further exacerbated the danger for walkers.
To appreciate the learning inherent to walking, Shikshantar is interested in co-creating small walks in the city around various themes, such as "old city architecture", "birdwatching", "local artists", "sketch-and-walk", "treasure hunt", etc. We hope this will generate more joy in walking, as well as appreciating the vast resources of our city. Research for several of the walks is underway.