Year old Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir along with nation is observed Road Safety Month 2021 wherein department of transport besides police, NGOs and students from schools and colleges sensitised people about various safety measures in a routine set by higher-ups that are followed every year like a ‘ritual’. This practice is going on for about two decades and to draw a parallel people are continuing to lose their lives or getting crippled on the killer roads of Jammu and Kashmir with no let-up in the dance of death.
This year also scores of messages as part of road safety rituals came from higher ups who hardly know ground realities, which are in a mess, for the simple reason that none of them is a pedestrian, a two-wheeler driver, a commuter in minibus or has driven a light motor vehicle for himself on these killer roads. Escorted by their pilot vehicles and driven by qualified drivers they didn’t care to even mention a single word about those young who lost their lives on road accidents or were left crippled for life and are today struggling to survive in their own way.
Had anyone ever cared to listen to what happens to families who lose their dear ones on these killer roads or to those left crippled or children who are pursuing their shattered dreams; there would have been a decrease in road accidents and so in revenue generated from fines. However, things even after observance of this ritual called ‘Road Safety Month’ remain same or get even worst with graph of accidents showing an upward trend and money generated from fines touching highest marks on pie-chart.
A simple audit from a road safety expert or National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) can enable those flashing their messages to learn how safe are our roads that have changed lives of lakhs of people from being ‘good’ to ‘worst’ due to accidents. To have a clearer view of road safety a simple chat with those affected or the real survivors can also help drivers learn road sense and also enable government to adopt more serious approach towards safety concerns than observing these rituals involving children while caring least for the same lot.
To recall a few incidents from amongst the unaccounted number of deaths three children had some time back lost their lives in Reasi, eleven people on board a superfast bus were killed in Poonch, a newlywed couple was killed in Baramulla, thirty five people lost their lives in Kishtwar accident, eleven students of a private computer centre, mostly girls, were killed near Peer Ki Gali in Poonch, sister of a former minister killed at Bathindi crossing, two friends were killed at Asia crossing and a young girl Kritika Khanna lost her limb at the same crossing.
Today also most of traffic lights are not functional, roads are dilapidated, crossings not manned properly, overloading a routine, violation of traffic laws in vogue and no one is ever held responsible for loss of lives. Did we ever care to ask about wellbeing of crippled people, did we ever care to know plight of families left behind those killed, did we ever fix the guilty, did we ever punish anyone for negligent driving, did we ever train drivers and taught them to respect lives or did our engineers ever rectified roads that caused accidents ? Answer to these questions in most cases come in negative.
Like the Government comes out with data of fine collected, there should also have been a data of people suffering. While we have a lot many stories to be told it is hoped that the story of this one girl can move authorities or shake up their conscience. The phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” is quite often used to motivate people in business world or even army but when an athlete who has odds stacked against her dazes them all to emerge tougher, then you get India’s first female ‘Para Rower’ – Kritika Khanna who hails from Jammu.
She is unstoppable, courageous and motivated enough to nurture a dream of making it to Paralympics and other sporting events of national as well as international repute only to ensure that nothing comes in her way.
It all started with a serious accident on a Jammu crossing way back in 2003 that changed an eleventh grader’s life forever. Her right leg was amputated that left her family heartbroken but having courage to fight back, Kritika Khanna didn’t let this all come in between her and her dreams. She continued to do workouts to stay fit, kept herself motivated and even posted videos of her exercising regime on social media only to attract Col Gaurav Dutta (Para Triathlete) who gave her an opportunity and introduced to sport rowing.
Some are born with birth defects while others like Kritika sustain life-altering injuries after serious accidents but those determined overcame their injuries to turn themselves into best athletes in the world. Even when Kritika had never participated in any sport before her life changed forever, she tried her hands at rowing and emerged victorious. It was tough both physically and mentally but she pushed herself to her limits and learnt a lot other than rules of the game.
When asked Kritika said, “It was a morning that changed my vision for life. I was in the hospital waiting for my family to arrive, scared as one should be in such a situation where my veins were hanging from my limb and foot separated. I was shattered to see it but tried to be calm as I had one thought in my mind which said immediately, ‘you have to stand for your parents’. That one thought changed everything from that single minute and I am happy I did not crib or cry”.
“I knew I had lost something big in life and things will not be easy. There will be times when I would feel helpless and want to run and fly like I did. Being an avid dancer, sitting in one place was difficult for me. However, I was sure that this phase shall pass and I will emerge much stronger. Easier said than done, it took me time to reconcile to the fact and get back to my new normal”, Kritika added.
It was the same year when Kritika missed her finals but appeared for mid-term exams and cleared them all with flying colours. She also completed her MBA in Human Resources her academic records made her land up working with a government bank. This too was a stepping stone that encouraged her to not to stop at anything and keep going strong. This was the time when my family also realized that I now am an independent girl and good enough to survive in this world, she recalled.
As parents, the fear for their daughter was genuine, how will she survive all alone, how will she commute on her own, she needs someone around every time, but I did everything I could to change their fear into the statement which I love when they say “We are proud of you”. This gives zeal to me to live more freely and happily knowing they are proud of me, she asserted.
Kritika goes on to add, “All these years there have been ups and downs but that’s how life should be. A stagnant life would be so dull with no adventure and nothing. I planned to enjoy life and started concentrating on my fitness. Every day was an adventure in the gym, trying exercises and enjoying the everyday accomplishments. Every evening I was on cloud nine after having won the day’s battle. This spirit kept me going and achieving every day. Being a fitness freak, I decided to take it up to another level and participated in an event at the gym”.
That was truly transforming as I came to know about my abilities. I completed my very first walk of 3 Kilometres on crutches. What an amazing victory it was! All these small victories brought me closer to achieving bigger dreams. I kept working out and uploading videos on the Internet with a vision that there are people who need motivation, a boost of energy to get going. All this kept motivating me to dream big. To my surprise, I got an opportunity to be a part of Asian Games Camp in Pune this year which was out of the world experience. My very first Rowing experience! It was unbelievable!
I was there in Pune all by myself ready to conquer, and learning a new sport, meeting the Golden Champs, Coaches and so many other people. I found a mentor Col Gaurav Dutta (Para Triathlete), who believed in me and gave me this opportunity. I am so grateful to him. For the very first time I moved out of my city leaving everyone in the family surprised. After all these experiences in life I learnt one thing- “Believe in your abilities”. And believing in my abilities earned me the title of becoming “India’s First Female Para Rower”.
She narrated that her very first participation at an International event as Para Rower happened in October 2019 which made her feel proud for the reason that her team had won a Bronze Medal on the eve of Diwali. The very first participation as a team at an International event was in itself a moment of pride but winning a medal added an icing to the cake. “There are people who are looking up to us for inspiration. Be their light, give them wings and make them believe in their abilities. We together can achieve greater heights. There is nothing impossible for us. We are stars of our own life but what it needs is to believe in oneself and feed”, she said.
Having no support from anyone, Kritika and many likes are continuing to live their altered lives but there sure are no one who are able to hear the cries of 3 years old Adeeba who was survived by just her little sister who was not travelling with her at the time of accident in Kishtwar. She had lost her mother, father and 45 days old brother who was in the lap of his mother at the time of accident. Earlier we used to hear about fatal accidents on hill roads but today such accidents have become order of day in even Jammu city with nothing concrete visible that will make our roads safe.