Road Safety

Death of pedestrian activist turns spotlight on Bangalore's dangerous roads

Husband of researcher killed by bus wants greater accountability for errant motorists.

For the last few years, Kadambari Badami had been fighting to make India’s streets safer for pedestrians as part of a project on improving the governance of Indian cities. On March 2, as the 37-year-old was driving through Bangalore to her parents’ home, a bus allegedly travelling on the wrong side of the road ploughed into her Reva. By the time her husband – who was in his own car barely 10 minutes behind her – reached the scene, Badami was already dead.

“My wife was an urban planner by profession. She worked extensively to make India’s roads safer,” said her husband, Mayur Vamanan, a director of consulting at an analytics firm. “Given that that’s what she stood for, it feels like a real shame that this is what happened.”

For a city that has spent crores on upgrading its traffic infrastructure, integrating technology into its public transport system and training bus drivers, fatal traffic accidents like Badami's are still all too common. Last year, the Bangalore City Traffic Police recorded 737 fatal incidents, which resulted in the deaths of 771 people. As of February, it had already registered 124 accidents that caused the deaths of 127 people.

Badami – a researcher working on pedestrian safety at the NGO Transparent Chennai – was travelling down her side of the road on an undivided two-lane highway when the bus, heading the other way, attempted to overtake three vehicles at the same time, Vamanan said. “She tried to get out of the way, but, being in a Reva, she didn’t really have a chance,” he said.

Although an FIR has been lodged, Vamanan is afraid that deaths like this are dismissed as being inevitable in a city choked with vehicles, rather than as a consequence of Bangalore's infrastructural problems. “My worry is that this will be treated as just another accident," Vamanan said. "I just want to ensure that when a life has been lost here, someone is held accountable.”

In a city where the line between road and footpath is often non-existent, pedestrians often face the greatest risk. Half the people killed in accidents in Bangalore in 2012 were pedestrians.

Bangalore is one of the worst Indian cities for pedestrians, according to a study conducted by the city police in coordination with the National institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences. The city scored 0.63 on a walkability index that measured pedestrian facilities, footpaths and other amenities.  By comparison, Chandigarh scored 0.91 and Delhi 0.87.

With almost 1,200 new cars hitting the city's streets every day, it's hard for urban planning to keep up. But the problem is also structural. For example, drivers of the ubiquitous Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses, known for being overcrowded, are forced to speed because of bad incentives. "The [bus] trip timings become inadequate because of ongoing infrastructure projects all over the city, like metro and flyover construction,” said traffic expert MN Srihari. “It adds 10-15 minutes in delays, and to adjust to this, the driver is under constant stress, forcing him to drive fast in order to keep up with the schedule.”

Drivers face considerable pressure if they are late, in their individual evaluations, and BMTC loses out on revenues if buses don’t keep to the schedules.  “BMTC needs to be aware of the way the city is changing, how all these roads are different," Srihari said

Elsewhere, poor planning of roads, bad placement of bus stops and the same haphazard construction that affects bus drivers also encourages unsafe behaviour by motorists. Since the city is choked with traffic, motorists speed up – often dangerously – when they glimpse the slightest bit of open road.

The police have identified the city's 10 'black spots': corridors that recorded the most deaths in accidents last year. Their study found that people in the 12-19 age group, generally on two-wheelers, were more likely to be on the receiving end of a traffic accident.

The study recommended the establishment of a road safety action plan with time-bound measures, stronger enforcement of road safety laws and a more efficient post-accident medical system to reduce fatalities. Indeed the police are not short on recommendations and have even instituted a number of technological measures aimed at improving safety.

But Vamanan, who is hoping to raise awareness about the state of Bangalore's roads in the aftermath of his wife's death, believes much of the money and effort put into these measures have been wasted.

The Intelligent Transport System is one such example. The ITS was supposed to be able to record the movement of public transport vehicles and assist with planning to ensure a safer, more reliable commute. The system was allocated Rs 150 crore but has regularly missed deadlines and experienced procurement problems.

In a city that will continue to expand at breakneck speed, the problems are only set to get worse. If Bangalore is to prevent accidents like that of Badami, Vamanan believes the authorities need to take more responsibility for what happens on the roads. More importantly, he said, citizens need to be able to hold those at fault accountable.

"Much more has to be done, and I'm just hoping, after this, that something can change," Vamanan said. "I just wish there's some concrete action to make the roads safer. Whether it’s just a number on the back of the bus that you call to complain about rash driving, or just having realistic trip times, something needs to change."

 

 
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.