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How Many Deaths Will It Take For Us To Improve Road Safety In India?

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Safer Roads for YouEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #SaferRoadsForYou, a campaign by Safer Roads for Gurugram and Youth Ki Awaaz to understand the behaviour of road users and advocate for the importance of road safety. Join this conversation and tell us about your experience on Indian roads here.

Of Screamin’ Tires And Bustin’ Glass

There in the road, up straight ahead

A car was stalled, the engine was dead

I couldn’t stop, so I swerved to the right

I’ll never forget the sound that night

The screamin’ tires, the bustin’ glass

The painful scream that I heard last.

Those are the lyrics to a song popularised by Pearl Jam in the 1960s – however, the original song was written by Wayne Cochran and is based on a series of bad accidents that occurred along a busy road in Georgia, in the USA during that time. Oddly enough, the song was written and released almost a year before a tragic accident killed two of the singers’ friends in a road accident on that very same street.

Thousands of people die in road accidents in our country each year. Image: Getty

Anyone who’s heard this song would agree that the lyrics elicit a peculiar sense of sadness, especially if you have a vivid imagination. As you hear Eddie Vedder’s soulful rendition of ‘Last Kiss’ you can’t help but imagine a terror-stricken young couple gasping for breath while the windscreen smashes and the tires screech as their car skids across a tarred road on a rainy, cold evening.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of this song as I heard a tragic tale about a young couple whose lives were forever altered because of a road accident, in my home state, Goa.

A young man navigating the treacherous roads along the NH17 highway near Mapusa paid for the Government’s negligence with his life. Aloysius Alvares was travelling on a bike with his wife when the lack of proper street lighting and unexpected road bumps made it hard to see the road ahead – the NH17 highway passing through Goa is undergoing some major redevelopment and this has led to a total breakdown of normal traffic. Unfortunately, the people in power don’t feel the need to add more street lights or signs to help commuters manoeuvre the many diversions.

The govt needs to add more street lights or signs to help commuters manoeuvre the many diversions on roads. Image: Getty

As 28-year-old Aloysius struggled to see the road clearly, he took off his helmet and handed it to his wife, in hopes that it would improve his visibility. Unfortunately, just a little while after this, due to the unlevelled road and lack of proper lighting, he crashed into the road, severely injuring his head.

What followed this terrible accident was a series of incidents that can be best described as infuriating examples of recklessness and negligence on the part of government-run institutions in the state.

Emergency Help Or Lack Thereof?

The first responders (108 emergency) who arrived at the scene of the accident were not equipped to provide any kind of medical first-aid and rushed the victims to the nearby District Hospital (A Government funded hospital in North Goa). Here, the doctors refused to treat the young man citing their own inadequacies in handling a head injury as the reason. After wasting precious time, the ambulance then drove to Goa Medical College or GMC in Bambolim, which is about 30-40 minutes away from Mapusa.

Once they arrived there, treatment was delayed for another hour and a half and eventually, Aloysius succumbed to his injuries. He leaves behind a 26-year-old widow – young woman whose life has changed in unimaginable ways.

His family is unforgiving and rightly so. His sister in an interview with a local news channel expressed her anger and frustration at the Government’s apathy – she asked “how many more people have to die to awaken the Government?”

What’s The Value Of Human Life?

Lately, I haven’t been able to shake off the feeling that the value of human life is diminishing every day in our country and the value of concrete jungles and man-made ‘marvels’ is gaining popularity by the minute. From newly christened bridges to statues that reach up to the heavens, we seem to have lost sight of what truly matters.

Potholes, drunk driving, road rage, badly lit streets, stray animals, unlawful driving – these are just some of the reasons for road accidents in India. Cattle occupying road space, vendors on street corners, overcrowded streets, dysfunctional traffic lights and badly trained traffic cops all add to the problem. More recently, the Government’s frenzied attempts at ‘development’ are also to blame.

Cattle occupying road space, vendors on street corners, overcrowded streets all add to the problem. Image: Getty

Last month, we unveiled a new bridge in Goa – the Atal Setu – this is a 5.1 km long bridge connecting the state’s capital city Panaji with North Goa. Over the last couple of weeks, this cable-stayed bridge has been a cause for great celebration and pride in our coastal oasis. Thousands have thronged to see the new marvel and it was even inaugurated by the state’s Chief Minister in spite of the fact that he is battling a life-threatening illness.

It has been portrayed as a beacon of infrastructural innovation in a state that has always been famous for simplicity and aesthetics. By adding this brightly lit monstrosity to our skyline, the Government aims to assure us that they are dedicated to improving connectivity and reducing traffic congestion.

The first thing that popped in my mind when I heard that the bridge cost approximately 600 crores to build, was – how much could the Government have done with 600 crores? Perhaps, fix the potholes on our current roads? Install some lights and sign boards to help us all navigate the Goan roads more successfully and SAFELY? Equip first responders and emergency ambulance personnel to provide emergency first-aid that could save lives?

We need to equip first responders and emergency ambulance personnel to provide emergency first-aid that could save lives. Image: Getty

What Is The Real Cost Of All This Infrastructure?

Ultimately, as we look up into the night sky and see this vividly colourful bridge that is apparently made of “1 lakh cubic metres of high strength, high performance concrete enough to fill 40 Olympic size swimming pools”, we have to wonder, was a magnanimous bridge with colourful lights really the need of the hour?

In the name of development and modernity, the state government has sanctioned projects that have led to absolute chaos and wreaked havoc on Goan roads. Anyone who has to travel from South Goa to Panjim every day can testify to this, and similarly, the NH17 highway leading to Mapusa and out of Goa to Mumbai has been undergoing massive redevelopment with no sign boards indicating which way the traffic should divert.

The government seems to be in a hurry to lead us into a future of sky-high bridges and multi-lane roads with little or no regard for how all of this actually affects the citizens of the state – those of us who have to travel without an entourage of police and special security- those of us who simply want to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ without encountering mind-numbing traffic jams, countless potholes and badly planned diversions!

With India’s growing love for infrastructure expansion, one thing we know is that we will continue to have infrastructural marvels in the form of ‘world-class’ bridges and wider roads; we might even have bullet trains someday.

The Importance Of Human Life In A Concrete Jungle

In a fast growing economy like ours, it looks like the one thing we might never develop is the ability to appreciate the value of human life. Perhaps, in a country of over one billion people, we have begun to assume that human life is dispensable.

With road accidents taking away so many lives, it’s time for policymakers and general public to step back and think of ways to make and use infrastructure and technology in a more humane way. Before new roads and bridges are constructed, policymakers need to take into serious consideration the loss of life that will amount during the construction work, and due to over-speeding/ improper use of infrastructure post construction.

The sad reality is that 377 people die in road accidents every day in India – this is equivalent to the number of people on a jumbo jet. Let that sink in.

Featured Image for Representation Only. Source: Prasad Gori/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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