A tragedy can sometimes inspire a person to go on to achieve great milestones. This has been the case with Mridul Bhasin and Pramod Bhasin from Jaipur. The couple lost their 17 year old daughter Durva Bhasin in a tragic road accident on May 3, 1999. Numbed by their loss, and encouraged by Durva’s teacher Sandeep Sethi, the Bhasins launched the Muskaan Foundation for Road Safety on May 6, 1999 – barely three days after the road accident. The mission of Muskaan, registered as a foundation in 2001, is to make Jaipur the most road safe city in India. Eminent citizens from various fields related to traffic and roads are on its executive board. Rajendra Shekhar, former CBI chief and former DGP, Rajasthan Police, is the chairman of the organisation while Ajay Vikram Singh, former Defence Secretary, Govt. of India and Shankar Saroliya, a former IPS officer who has a diploma in Traffic Safety from Sweden, are among its members.
A group of 20 dedicated initial volunteers of the NGO produced a play ‘Aapka Baccha’ in the first two years and staged hundred shows of the play in the first year itself. Today Muskaan organises diverse activities to carry out its mission – Road Safety education programmes for children; training programmes for drivers, school teachers and road safety volunteers; road safety awareness programmes; and road safety advocacy programmes.
Road Safety Awareness Programmes
“The last Red Flag Campaign, carried out in January 2011 – during the Road Safety Week – under the leadership of Seema Malhotra, Coordinator for campaigns, covered 12 major crossroads in six days, says Mridul. “The basic objective of the campaign is to provide easy passage to pedestrians on the zebra crossing. In normal course, the zebra line is totally occupied by vehicles that are supposed to stop on the stop line before the zebra crossing. As a result, the pedestrians try to cross the road from anywhere any time and get themselves and the drivers into trouble.”
Muskaan organises the campaign as a collaborative effort with the Traffic Police, Jaipur. Road Shows form another part of its Road Safety Awareness Programme. Consisting of street plays, songs by folk singers, puppet shows and performances by street magicians, they are conducted throughout the year.
Road Safety Education Programmes
Muskaan has also designed – with inputs from Jaipur Traffic Police, road safety experts and eminent educationists – an interactive curriculum on road safety to be taught to pupils at schools in Jaipur. An age-specific curriculum, it covers pupils of play groups and of standards I to XII. The programme is conducted in collaboration with the Jaipur Traffic police.
From 2002 to 2007 Muskaan imparted quality road safety education to about 1,50,000 pupils from 175 diverse schools – government, government aided and public schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas. Muskaan’s principal motivation to train pupils in road safety has been the painful and ignored fact that young casualties constitute the highest numbers of fatalities in road accidents. Says Pramod Bhasin, “We feel that since there is a huge growth in the automobile industry and road network, it is important that we focus on changing the mindset of students from an early age. Since pupils are at an impressionable age, they are more receptive. We do use pupils to reach out to the parents to emphasise the fact that a legacy of road safe behaviour from them is the best they can give to their children. Not so amazingly, this conclusion is reiterated now by many experts.”
The basic objective of the Red Flag Campaign is to provide easy passage to pedestrians on the zebra crossing. In normal course, the zebra line is totally occupied by vehicles that are supposed to stop on the stop line before the zebra crossing. As a result, the pedestrians try to cross the road from anywhere any time and get themselves and the drivers into trouble. — Mridul Bhasin.
The curriculum is age-specific, based on the road usage by that particular group. Since pupils begin using bicycle from the third standard and continue to do so till sixth and seventh standards, this age group (of 8-12 years) is made familiar with different road signs, the zebra crossing, traffic lights, and the cycle’s relationship with other vehicles. These concepts are taught to them in the form of a quiz, and they are encouraged to assimilate these in their project work. Interactive sessions on topics such as Small Vehicles vs. Big Vehicles are taken up for on-the-spot class discussions. Students in the age group of 13-18 years, in standards eighth to twelfth, are taught how accidents occur due to speeding, under age driving, and driving without helmets. A leading neurologist explains to them the possible physiological damage in accidents. A video shows how drunken driving or speeding could ruin someone’s life. Real-life accident stories, often of school pupils, are told to them. Muskaan volunteers suggest to the class teachers ways to include road safety in extracurricular activities.
An interesting age group that is taught road safety concepts is the play school group. Mridul informs, “The concept of teaching road safety to a playschool group evolved after we talked with a Montessori teacher who runs a play school herself. She said that learning was at its highest at this age, but instead of teaching with imaginary animal characters, they must be taught with real elements. Thus, we have a simple, yet close to real life curriculum for this age. It includes a visit to the Traffic Park and familiarisation with real traffic elements on the way. Songs and dances are used to create awareness. Parents are also advised about the impact their own role model has on the child.”
Muskaan conducts a five-day intensive training programme for Road Safety Education Instructors. The prospective instructors are taught traffic rules, regulations and all categories of traffic signages through group activities and quiz. They are also trained in public speaking and making presentations.
Community Initiatives: Vardhman Path Road Safety Gallery
As a unique community initiative, the NGO has developed the Vardhmaan Path Road Safety Gallery in collaboration with local schools, the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design, and local artists, architects & craftsmen. Vardhman Path is a 300-metre lane used by 10 thousand pupils of five schools. Of the 140 wall panels illustrating road safety themes, 85 panels were created by pupils of 35 schools. The gallery is now expanding to include three-dimensional models, games, performances and audio-visual projection capabilities. The gallery is now a well established area where the Road Safety Week is celebrated every year as a joint effort by Muskaan (with schools), Traffic Police, Jaipur Development Authority, Rajasthan Transport Department and the Jaipur RTO. Mridul and Pramod Bhasin have used their long association with the cultural field to bring painters, theatre artistes and folk musicians to the Road Safety Week celebrations. Diverse themes and ideas presented during the Road Safety Week include writing theatre scripts, presenting plays throughout the week, senior painters of the city painting their concepts, etc. 3-D models for various exhibits are made every year by schools. Folk artists compose and enact songs in Rajasthani language taking a dig at drunken driving and speeding.
Drivers’ Training Programme
The school bus drivers in Jaipur are notorious for their rash and negligent driving. Muskaan runs a successful training programme for educating the drivers of the school bus project – Baal Vahini, the Rajasthan State Road Transport drivers and the auto rickshaw drivers in the city. About 550 drivers have been trained under the programme run with the support of Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT), Pune and Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE), Delhi. It lays emphasis on a correct road attitude, sensitivity towards other drivers and knowledge of traffic signs and rules, and highlights the fact that they represent the city and the nation as tourists interact most with them. They are made to realise that since they are on the road for long hours, they could be crucial in saving lives. Documentaries, real life interviews, assessment of damage to a whole family in case of a bread winner’s death, films about drunken driving and knowledge of traffic signs & road signs are included in the four to five hour module. An entrance and exit quiz is done to assess their knowledge levels of traffic signs.
Muskaan has always worked in collaboration with the Traffic Police and Transport Department. As the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and the State Transport Minister Brij Kishore Sharma are positive supporters of road safety and are keen on reducing fatalities on the roads, Muskaan gets a positive environment to work in. For Mridul and Pramod, the most significant achievement of Muskaan has been, “To bring the issue of road safety in the forefront for action. An issue that was labelled as NO ISSUE by many is now an area of concern for everybody.”