A young woman stands on a footpath in front of two men – one on a white scooter, the other who has just gotten off it. “You and I have both been in schools teaching us what is a red light. You know when you’re supposed to go on a footpath. And if you still don’t know, my sir, I am telling you. This is wrong.”
As the man argues back, dangerously close to being extremely disrespectful, the woman stands her ground. “I’m not here to listen to your bloody lecture,” he says.
“You don’t have to listen to me. I’m not going to give you a lecture. I will stand here, I will wait for you to use the road like a good citizen – knowing what is a road and what is a footpath,” the woman says.
This scene happened in the middle of Bengaluru during peak traffic hour. Around 6pm on March 14 near Corporation Circle, Manju Thomas was waiting at a bus stop when two men on a white scooter decided to drive on the footpath to get ahead of the traffic. But 27-year-old Manju Thomas decided she would have none of it, and decided to block their way. Without losing her cool, she repeatedly told the men what they were doing was wrong and dangerous. And as a crowd gathered around them, and other citizens, too, insisted that they stop arguing and get back on the road, the men finally relented.
If you are a pedestrian in Bengaluru, chances are high that you’ve felt threatened by often unapologetic bikers looking to beat the traffic. Not only do they speed unnecessarily at pedestrian crossings, a lot of times, they even take up the pavements meant for people to walk!
Manju Thomas, too, has faced this countless times in the city. And she has a strategy to deal with it.
Speaking to TNM, the HR professional who moved to the city in 2013 says, “When I was in college, I used to walk from Forum to St John’s, and during peak hour traffic, bikers would often honk at pedestrians on the footpath as if we were doing something wrong! There was one instance when a biker left me cornered on the edge of the footpath. That’s when I decided that this was not cool, and I need to do something about it.”
Now, every time she sees a bike on the footpath, she blocks the riders, forces them to get back on the road, and tries to educate people in the process that the bike is meant to be on the road, not the footpath.
“So from then on, it became a habit. Whenever I see a bike on the footpath, I stop them and say, ok, sorry, but you need to get back on the road!” Manju explains.
A video of Manju fighting with the bikers on March 14 has now gone viral on Facebook. The video of the incident was shot by Pavan Kumar, a bystander who decided to tell the bikers off when he witnessed what Manju was doing. And since then, Manju has been lauded for her bravery and uprightness.
“I was not doing anything to catch attention. I was just standing there and it just happened that the biker came. He was honking at me and being very aggressive. It was because of his honking that there were a lot of people coming out of their cars,” Manju says, adding that she was not aware that a video was being recorded.
“I thought Pavan (the person who uploaded the video) was going to give it to the police. He was one of the few who was there with me throughout the altercation,” she adds.
Explaining what happened on March 14, Manju says, “I was trying to jest with him (the biker.) He asked me if it was my father’s footpath. I said no it’s my mother’s... Mother India’s. But he started abusing me.”
Explaining her strategy of stopping bikes on footpaths and also shielding herself from being rammed by unruly drivers, Manju says, “You have all these bricks and stones or broken footpaths – with that you can create a barricade. So when a bike is coming, it has to slow down, and that will eventually make them quit the footpath.”
So how does people react to her lesson?
“There are largely two types of people. The ones who smile, acknowledge their mistake, and get back on the road. Second type of people are folks who swear at me but eventually they step off the footpath,” Manju explains.
She also wants other people to do their bit to educate unruly bikers who try to make pedestrians uncomfortable.
“I want people to understand that when I am standing for my bus I am also utilising my time. When you are on the footpath and if there is a biker, stop him. You don't have to be on the footpath all day,” she urges.
Bengaluru Traffic Police, which is usually very prompt and social media savvy, is yet to come up with an response to the incident, and this has disappointed Manju. She also feels that the lack of strict enforcement of rules is another reason for this prevalent traffic offence.
According to official data, the number of cases registered for riding on footpath for 2016, 2017 and 2018 (till March 1) are 16,069, 18,889 and 2,735 respectively. Comparatively, cases booked for riding without helmets for the same years are 18,86,211, 20,19,924, and 2,07,866.