Understandably, there was a huge emotional outcry for those who are died in the terror attacks in Mumbai, but there is another space where similarly gory deaths occur, but the news doesn’t make the headlines. Terrorism, and fighting it, is big on the international agenda, but there is no agency fighting for the poor passengers of Mumbai’s suburban local trains where, on an average, 15 people lose their lives daily.
Mumbai’s population of around 1.25 crore has not brought out even one single person to fight for these innocent victims of Mumbai’s lifeline, except a handicapped good Samaritan, Sameer Zaveri. A safe and secure journey for the 75 lakh passengers is the foremost on his mind.
Sameer Zaveri, has been on a special mission of saving lives for over a decade. Improving the security and the safety of passengers has till date saved over 5,500 lives by sending the accident victims on the tracks to the nearest hospital in time. However, as per the records, around 5,000 commuters die every year in different accidents on the tracks of Mumbai.
According to Sameer, Mumbai attracts people from every nook and corner of the world for employment and livelihood. They all find the train as the cheapest and fastest mode of transport to reach their work destination. While commuting in the crowded trains, some of them die after falling while boarding or falling off running trains, getting hit by poles while hanging outside the doorways, getting run over while crossing tracks, etc. Over 70 per cent of those injured take their last breath on the platforms, thanks to the inhuman attitude of the railway officials, who don’t feel any need to follow the rules to save lives.
There have been numerous incidents when injured passengers’ have had to wait for as much as two hours just to get a stretcher and ambulance to take them to the hospital. In many cases, the dead bodies have remained on the tracks for hours with trains passing repeatedly over them. In the absence of ambulances and coolies, the bodies have to be taken on hand carts. The GRP officials say that they are not at fault as they are not provided with the necessary facilities from the railway department. They don’t even get the amount of Rs.750 per dead passenger from the railways, so they have to pay for the expenses of taking the dead to hospital and completing the last rituals from their own funds.
Recently, Justice Swatantrakumar of the Mumbai High Court passed an order, while hearing the petition filed by Sameer Jhaveri, advising the railway authorities to start a pilot project at Dadar station, keeping an ambulance as well as two doctors for their treatment on standby.
Sameer says that the Mumbai police have their own website to display the pictures of unidentified dead bodies, so that relatives of the victims have at least a chance to claim and finish the last rites of their dear ones. The railway department however doesn’t have any such facility. Sameer has written to the railway administration requesting that it create a website to display pictures of rail victims. Sameer has also filed a petition for the same in the High Court.
A K Sharma, Government Railway Police Commissioner, said, “I cannot make any comment on the railway department but yes, following golden hour rules can definitely save many lives. Sameer Zaveri’s job is really commendable as he is fighting for the cause of the general public. We need more of such people.”
Story Of Sameer Zaveri...
That split second decision to avoid the overbridge and cross the tracks on August 26, 1989 turned Zaveri’s life upside down. Before the accident, Zaveri, the eldest son and only earning member of the family, had everything going for him-the pearl company he worked for was about to put him in charge of its unit in Hong Kong, and on the personal front, he had chosen the girl he wanted to marry. But when he lost his legs, his employers turned their back on him and his bride-to-be, who was also a distant relative, changed her mind. No relatives stood by him during this difficult time.
It took three months for Zaveri’s physical wounds to heal, but even after 20 years, the mental scars remain. “The incident gave me an insight into the real world. In a moment, I had became unwanted and a burden for others. I had seen the train approaching, yet I thought I would easily make it to the other side of the track. I was obviously wrong,” says Zaveri, now 37.
Zaveri initially found it difficult to cope with the trauma. Dr P H Vora of Harkisan Das Hospital gave him courage and advised him to approach the Jaipur Foot Centre at JJ Hospital. “Living with artificial feet wasn’t easy. I always needed someone or the other to support me. My movement was restricted to the neighbourhood, and so people denied me jobs,” recalls Zaveri.
Over the next few years, Zaveri started a business of his own and got married to another girl. His life eased a bit when he bought a two-wheeler. But at every step, he realised how helpless and lonely a handicapped person feels.
Zaveri then started visiting and counselling railway accident victims in hospital. He also brought many accident victims to the Jaipur Foot Center, to get their services free of charge. He worked as project director for Red Swastik, an NGO that provides ambulances at railway stations. However, the ambulances were withdrawn from service a year ago over a dispute with the railway authorities.
“People who cross the tracks break the rules, so they are offenders. They should not be treated as criminals. The railways should try to better insufficient infrastructure. Not everyone is as lucky as me to survive such an accident. People should be warned about this. I want railway tickets to have a statutory warning about trespassing like the caution note on cigarette packets,” declares Zaveri.
His efforts have been noticed by various NGOs and he has been awarded the Best Samaj Sevak Award by the former Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. He has been sent to various countries by the Lions’ Club to address social service organizations. He has also shared stages with several business tycoons like Mukesh Ambani, Kumar Magalam Birla and Ratan Tata too.