Dr Shubhangi Sanjay Tambwekar and Sanjay Achyut Tambwekar make for a strong couple. Having lost their 23-year-old daughter to a gruesome road accident in 2014, they didn’t let their grief dampen their benevolent ambitions. In a hope that others shouldn’t face the same situation, this Bengaluru-based couple started The Arundhati Foundation (named after their daughter) to enlighten people about road safety. “It was an unfortunate incident that led to the start of the foundation. Losing our daughter made us realise that road accidents are an epidemic in the country, which registers one of the highest incidences in the world. And we wanted to give a voice to this,” explains Shubhangi. Step by step Personal loss is never easy; but to commit oneself to better the situation is commendable. Sanjay avers, “We decided to do something that was close to Arundhati’s heart. So, we do work in the fields of education and road safety.” Initially, they looked at areas or traffic hotspots of the City to understand the mess. And then, they took baby steps by making regular suggestions to the traffic police to help ease the burden. But Sanjay admits working towards road safety isn’t easy. He says, “Many factors aren’t under our control here. Be it the infrastructure, traffic, commuters or the law, there are too many players on the field.”
To deal with the problem at the grassroots, the couple decided to conduct seminars and awareness programmes for kids and adults. They employ animated videos to help teach kids how to walk on roads and not to use phones while driving, among others. Sanjay explains further, “The whole idea is to have zero road fatalities. A majority of the accidents happen due to the choices drivers make; be it speed or using cellphone while driving. So, we wish to propagate defensive driving by asking people to protect themselves with a helmet or seat belt, not driving drunk and following traffic norms diligently.” In a short span of 2 years, the couple has reached out to more than 2,500 people.
But their daughter isn’t the only one who got caught in this deathly web of road accidents. Many innocent lives have been lost on the Indian roads. Reports suggest that there is 1 death every 4 minutes due to a road accident. And about 377 people die every day, which is equivalent to ajumbo jet crashing every day. In fact, India accounts for more than 2,00,000 deaths because of road accidents, according to the Global status report on road safety 2015 by the World Health Organisation.
Such telling numbers demand immediate care and caution from everybody. But that’s not the case. “People just assume our population is the reason for this epidemic. But look at China; it has a much larger population but lesser accident fatalities. Many reasons like poor infrastructure, poorly-trained drivers, archaic laws and lax system of issuing licences form a deadly cocktail called a road accident,” avers Shubhangi.
Another issue that adds to this saddening mess is the lack of a proper road safety bill in the country. Many a time, a victim is left to spend his/her last moments lying helpless on the road as the fear of police and time-consuming regulations keep people away from the scene. In a relief to many, the couple along with Savelife Foundation, has intensely lobbied for the Good Samaritan Law by the State government, which protects people who assist those injured or incapacitated. But the paradigm of road safety isn’t only about the infrastructure or laws. Sanjay believes it’s also about the person behind the wheel. “Before issuing licences, we need to analyse if the person is mentally capable of driving and handling things in stressful situations.”
Preventive measures In order to practise what they preach, the couple has also taken it upon themselves to fill the potholes in and around their area. And to take it a step further, they have extended their help to night traffic police by providing them with fluorescent jackets. “By and large, accidents are preventable and our endeavour is to get the message of road safety to as many as possible,” says Shubhangi. “In many of our seminars, there will be people who would have gone through the same situation. They promise to internalise the message and pass it on to others, bolstering the cause further,” explains Sanjay.
The Foundation has also undertaken other programmes like Aabha (to reward excellence in pathology at their daughter’s college). For those who wish to volunteer or want to know more, visit www.thearundhatifoundation.org.in.