Imagine if Batman were to come up to you and tell you off for jumping a red light. Or Spiderman were to swoop down and remind you to wear your seatbelt.
Commuters in Chennai were in for a ride on June 24 when Batman, Spiderman and Superman descended upon the roads of Chennai - Anna Nagar signal to be specific - to save the day.
Their mission? Sensitise people on traffic rules.
Thozhan, a Chennai-based NGO, hatched a plan to get superheroes to inspire people into following traffic rules. “This isn't the first time we’ve done it, however. We’ve been doing traffic awareness campaigns since 2013. Previously we had volunteers dressed up as Yama Dharma Raja to do the same campaign. This time we’ve used superheroes,” smiles M Radhakrishnan, organiser of the NGO.
Thozhan was founded in 2007 by a group of like-minded friends. “We’ve done campaigns on organ donation, road safety, genetically modified species and also on river linking,” says Radhakrishnan.
Thozhan’s traffic awareness campaigns are held every Thursday and on the last Sunday every month, and the team picks up a unique theme every year. “We rent out these costumes and the main challenge for the volunteers lies in wearing so many layers of clothing on warm and humid Chennai evenings,” he says.
So far, they’ve had Yama Dharma Raja hold a monologue on road safety, they’ve had a conversation with him and Chitraguptan on traffic rules, flash mobs and mimes. They pick long and crowded signals, or go to parks in the evenings and hold campaigns in schools and colleges in a bid to spread awareness on various issues.
What do they talk about during these campaigns? “The first thing we tell them is to stop at the stop line. This avoids congestion to a huge extent. We also insist on people making sure their children are safe in the pillion, and not sitting in front,” he begins, before elaborating on the number of road deaths India sees every year.
He says India sees 17 people die in road accidents every hour, according to the report on road accidents in India, 2016. The study listed Chennai as the city with the most dangerous roads, as it recorded 7,486 accidents in 2016 alone.
Radhakrishnan adds that 119 children die every day in India due to road accidents. “In the recent years, road accident deaths of youngsters in their teens are the most-reported cases, it is very tragic indeed. The problem could be with parents buying them two-wheelers or four-wheelers immediately after they score good marks in 10th or 12th,” says Radhakrishnan.
One thing the NGO stresses on is the importance of wearing helmets. “Head injuries can be fatal. We always insist on people wearing helmets,” says Radhakrishnan.
He also admits that this campaign with the superheros has been a major success among children. “They found it very interesting and with children, the effect is immediate. They tend to question their parents if they stray away from following these rules,” he laughs.
Every year, Thozhan organises a mass campaign in August since Independence Day falls then. “This year, being the 72nd year of Independence, we’ve planned a mass traffic awareness campaign in 72 parks in the city,” says Radhakrishnan, adding, “These campaigns that we’ve done have had good response and support from people in Chennai. In the past five years, the number of road accident deaths that I’ve heard from my circle of friends has been zero. We hope soon this is the case for everyone in the city,” he finishes.
For more details on their upcoming campaigns, please check their Facebook page.