Tackling rash driving with his relentless awareness campaign, a Kashmiri boy along with his likeminded has become a poster boy of the ‘save the lives on road’ initiative in the valley.
By Mir Yasir Mukhtar
IN 2017, Azaan Bhat was a 19-year-old teenage boy dealing with his share of challenges like others in his age group — mostly wondering about his academic future and the life ahead. But a phone call from his mother in the summer of that year, set the young boy in the drivers’ lane where he continues to be slow but sure.
“When I received the call, my mother’s exact words were: Oh son! Where are you? Come home quick. Your brother is no more,” Azaan, a resident of Harwan in Srinagar, recalls.
His cousin, Adnan Bhat, on July 18 of that year, was riding pillion on a motorbike when the driver while negotiating a blind curve skidded off the road. The duo on motorbike were grievously injured in the road mishap and while the driver recuperated at a hospital, Adnan lost his battle with life.
Since 2004, 46 per cent of people, including minors, involved in road mishaps have lost their lives in Kashmir, according to a survey by the local police.
Kashmir has topped the list of ‘high accidental death-prone cases’ from last decade.
The year 2020, alone had 6120 accidents which caused 8655 injuries and 1073 fatalities due to road accidents.
Azaan says the words of his mother brought his world upside down. “It was of beyond my imagination that the person, I had dinner with a day ago is no more,” he recounts the shocking moment of his life with a sad face.
“Adnan never used to over speed, and always wore helmet before riding bike,” the boy continues with a sigh. “I lost a friend in my brother and his death has left a deep scar on my heart.”
Time healed his scars, but Azaan drew the pivotal lesson from Adnan’s death: Life was too valuable to lose to speed.
“I don’t want any other family to suffer the same dreadful pain, my family has been through,” he says. “I can’t see another Adnan because his absence still haunts me.”
After passing through the painful time, the 23-year-old along with some like-minded friends finally decided to float a group, with the motto to inform people about the vehicular conduct on roads.
To begin with, it didn’t prove a pushover. The boy had to research for over three months on road mishaps and causes in Kashmir, before starting his awareness programme under the banner of his NGO God’s Lap, he floated in Adnan’s remembrance.
“I came through many awareness programmes on social media but there was no implementation on the ground,” Azaan says.
“Youngsters watch the social media feeds, feel bad and scroll down. The impact on the awareness is very little.”
After a tough time, Azaan’s initiative finally saw the light of the day, with the support of his group members.
“But on individual level, it was not possible to reach to every person,” he says, “so I took the help of Traffic Police Srinagar in spreading my mission.”
The teamwork clicked, and soon God’s Lap began spreading road safety awareness among Kashmiri people.
Donning traffic watchdog gears, the group can be seen regulating traffic on busy Srinagar routes. They make people and drivers wear seatbelts, and capture happy shots with them.
“We upload those photos on social network handles to spread the word about our road safety campaign,” Azaan says.
“I’m happy that most people take it on their stride to improve their road responsibility, for the overall good of the society.”
Driven by the same safety mission, the year 2021 has already engaged Azaan in many road safety awareness programmes.
He actively participated in the Road Safety Week—the annual affair when the government spreads road awareness—between January 11 and 17, with an aim to make Kashmir thoroughfares safer.
Besides making drivers aware about basic traffic rules, the group also sensitises commoners about consequences of rash driving and wrong turns, with their pamphlets and posters.
During one such awareness drive this year, 35 riders from God’s Lap joined 15 traffic cops for a ride from Poloview Srinagar to Radio Kashmir.
The bikers carried symbols and signage for information dissemination to passersby and commuters.
“For many, these awareness drives might appear street stunts,” Azaan says. “But I believe only our proactive measures will help us to save precious human lives on roads.”
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