Trafficking in Bodies

25 May
Mumbai taxis; courtesy Tom Spender

Mumbai taxis; courtesy Tom Spender

THIS post is a tribute to all those who lost their lives in senseless traffic accidents, in Mumbai, in New York, on any street anywhere in the world where a driver is speeding, perhaps under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or text message, perhaps for no reason at all, and hits a person, or two, or another car, and a body hits the pavement, and it’s too late to do anything but call for the ambulance, which in peak traffic time can take too long to arrive, so the crowd of bystanders puts the injured person in a cab and rushes him off to the closest hospital, and the cops arrive on the scene, and the driver who so unthinkingly hurtled down that street just minutes before is now shaken and shivering and looking at a life forever changed and marked, and the person bleeding his life away on the pockmarked road wasn’t doing anything different, just crossing the road like every other day of his life, and perhaps he wasn’t paying as much attention as he should, just like the driver, but he didn’t think that would mean he would end up dead, and his wife widowed and his children orphaned, all because he didn’t think to look left and right before crossing the street, and the driver didn’t think he’d actually hit anyone, because of course he has perfect control of the car and sometimes he sped up a little when he was in a hurry but he had never hurt anyone before and how had this happened in a split second, and that little girl who was in the car that passed on the other side, she shrieked and held her hands over her eyes, but she will never forget that thud as the body hit the ground, and the way the hood of the car is now misshapen, and the horrible tangle of limbs that shows that they are broken.

This blog post is a tribute to Shyam Kadam, Mohan Pamak, Suresh Kaneri, two pedestrians and a taxi driver who were hit on Saturday night by a young boy driving too fast in my hometown of Mumbai. Kadam left behind a wife with whom he was about to celebrate his fifteenth wedding anniversary, and two children in the seventh grade.

The streets of Mumbai aren’t safe. The megapolis, with a population of 21 million, had the maximum number of “accidental deaths”(PDF) in India in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available—8,563. (The “accidental deaths” category includes those attributable to nature, railroad accidents, and other minor categories as well as traffic collisions.)

And the streets of Mumbai are getting more and more unsafe each year. Across India, though the number of road accidents increased by 1.4% from 2008 to 2009, the number of casualties increased by 7.3%. And out of a total of 3,57,021 accidental deaths across the country in 2009, a full 35.5% of them were due to road accidents. India’s National Crime Records Bureau even maintains an accidental deaths “clock”(PDF) that tabulates the statistics per day. According to the 2009 figures, 418 people die every day in India due to road accidents.

Among the conclusions of a 2009 study on road safety in India by the University of Michigan is that pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorists in urban areas “currently [account] for about 60% of all fatalities in urban areas, substantially more than in most high-income countries” and thus “urban safety policies should give the highest priority to pedestrian and bicycle separation from motor vehicles, speed control on main arterial roads, and traffic calming on all other roads.”

Two years after the study came out, and with the NCRB accidental death clock urgently ticking like a time bomb, people walk and bicycle on roads alongside speeding cars, 418 Shyam Kadams still die every day, and the senseless fatalities continue to build. How many dead bodies need to litter the roads before something changes?

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