Speaking to me from a forensic laboratory in New Delhi, Shilpi Singh sounds frantic but despondent. It’s been over 10 days since she’s lost her aunt in a terrible road accident. A baby whines in the background as I repeatedly ask her whether it’s a good time to talk. She’s waiting for them to ascertain the number plate of the vehicle that killed her aunt. “It’s not visible in the footage we have,” she explains.
“9.40 AM | June 16, 2016” begins the Facebook post NC Kishore Srivastava wrote days after his wife was run over. “It was just another morning, but to say the least, it changed the course of our days and nights that follow that darkest hour of our lives.” Dolly, his wife, had stepped out of the house to buy vegetables despite the fact that she was fasting; it was Ekadashi that day. She re-entered the house to collect money to pay off the vendor. Opening the gate for a second time, she was standing barely a few steps outside the house when a mini truck, commonly known as ‘Dala’, approached her from the wrong side of the road and hit her. “My wife fell on the road never to get up. She lay there prostrate on the road near our home’s entrance, lifeless,” Srivastava writes.
Shilpi tells me that since the day of the accident, the entire family has been trying to hunt down the vehicle. For three days following the incident, the police kept on dilly-dallying and buying time. For three days they said the vehicle owner’s father was not keeping well, which is why it is taking times to arrest him. On the fourth day, they brought a vehicle which is not the one that is seen in the CCTV footage.
“The police first made us run around to get the footage. Now we’re running around to identify the license plate number,” Shilpi says. Most of their neighbours refused to give them the footage from their CCTVs as they thought they should avoid being involved in a police case. After much persuasion, they got their hands on the footage caught from the opposite school’s camera.
Srivastava sounds desolate as he explains that he and his wife had just wrapped up their daughter’s wedding preparations the night before. The card distribution was to start the next day. “The wedding is barely a few weeks away. How do I come to terms with the fact that she is not around for the most awaited day of our lives?”
Shilpi explains that from neighbours to the police authorities, everyone seems least bothered that the accident took place in a residential area with a school. “They have not lost someone who is a part of their life. It’s nothing to do with them,” she says. “Even Srivastava’s Facebook post has not garnered enough support or response. Have you seen anyone share a sensible post? It could be just one hit-and-run case, but acting on this will have a lot of other implications.”
Kishore urges the people in his community to come together and resurrect the speed-breakers which were removed during the carpeting of roads. It is a small step that will go a long way in saving many more precious lives, he pleads.
Unable to understand what happened to the experts in the Lucknow-based laboratory that they could not identify the digits on the number plate, Shilpi waits at an independent lab in New Delhi, hoping for answers. “Maybe they found the right numbers but were stopped from sharing the information from us…” her voice trails away helplessly. “We’ve grown so insensitive.”
According to data released by the Indian Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways, in 2015, road accidents claimed the lives of 1.46 lakh citizens. That is 400 deaths per day, 17 an hour and a death every 3.5 minutes. In the last decade, from 2005 to 2015, the percentage of road accidents has increased by 14.2%, fatalities by 53.9% and injuries by 7.5%.
India is one of the countries with the highest rates of road accidents. But this can be prevented if we empathize, help and stand together.