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Meeting the God of Death at Basin Bridge

Mon, 12/09/2016 - 15:51

On August 7th 2016, I participated in a Traffic Awareness Campaign (TAC) organized by the Chennai-based volunteer group, Thozhan. My colleague, Prasanna Sugumaran had volunteered at a similar event some months ago and I decided to give it a shot, too. This time Thozhan had organised a much bigger event with the awareness campaign run at 100 junctions simultaneously.

Thozhan had invited volunteers to sign up via Facebook where I was able to choose which of the 100 traffic signals I wanted to volunteer at. I picked Basin Bridge signal as this is a very busy four-way junction and Thozhan had just begun TACs here.

The event was inaugurated by Dr. G. Nanchil Kumaran, a retired Chennai City Police Commissioner, at the Ashok Nagar traffic signal where some 30 volunteers had gathered. After the inauguration, the TACs began at all 100 signals at 4.30 p.m. Around 1862 volunteers took part in what was declared to be India's largest traffic awareness campaign by the Indian Book of Records!

Before we started the TAC, we sang the song, “Tamil Vazhthu” in praise of Tamil Nadu, and took a road safety pledge. We were then given caps, pamphlets, placards, chocolates, and headlight beam deflector stickers. Then, they split us into two groups. Each group got to cover two sides of the four way junction.

I wore the cap, hung the placards around my neck, picked up some pamphlets, chocolates, and stickers and jumped into the busy traffic to assist a very nice and helpful traffic policeman. Every time the traffic lights turned yellow, we would stand at the stop line so all the drivers could recognise that we were not just bystanders or pedestrians but here to do something interesting, something different. Hardly anyone was using the seatbelt or helmet. Several helmets were decorating the bikes’ mirrors or petrol tanks rather than the riders’ heads! A few riders were wearing helmets but had not fastened the strap, making the wearing of the helmet pointless. I advised bike riders to wear helmets, and car users to wear seat belts and to ensure their vehicle's headlights had the black stickers on them. As a token of appreciation, I handed out chocolates to people who were wearing helmets and seat belts and following road rules.

While most road users were receptive to our messages and wore the helmet/seatbelt after a bit of urging, a few were rather strange.  Quite a few bike riders did not have helmets, and when I advised them, they teased me saying, why can’t you buy me an helmet? It was surprising to see people take their own safety so lightly.  

Thozhan had planned to have Yama Dharma Raja - the God of Death - drop by the TACs.  At a few of the TACs, they had someone in complete costume while in most of the TACs, including mine, the person only wore a Yama Dharma Raja mask and came equipped with a rope. Yama Dharma proceeded to try and put the fear of death into people who were not following the road rules. I liked the idea of using the God of Death to make people think of the importance of human life, and I think the Yama Raja at Basin Bridge signal did a fantastic job!

Photos: courtesy Thozhan 

Standing in the drizzle and pollution, it was heartening to have the driver of a public transport bus and some share-auto drivers appreciate our efforts. After a busy and tiring, but exhilarating, hour the campaign was over, and the group gathered to share feedback. The traffic police team appreciated our efforts saying that the campaign, no doubt, averted many accidents that were waiting to happen. Those words cheered us! Before we headed home, the traffic police bought tender coconut for everyone.

Later, talking to one of the organisers from Thozhan, I also learnt what it takes to pull off such an event. As always with large events, many things fall into place at the last minute, such as getting the Yama Dharma Raja masks. It took three teams to coordinate the event - one to follow up with participants,; one to organise all the kits required for participants,; and one to handle media, allot volunteers to each signal, organise the inaugural function and carry out the post-event clean up. This was Thozhan’s third 100-signal TAC. It was good to hear that increasing numbers of volunteers and supporters have been coming forward from non-profits, colleges, schools and corporates. 


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