Sandeep Gaikwad, Advocacy Coordinator, Parisar
Pune, June 19, 2020: The arrival of Corona pandemic led to rapid changes in human lives in the past few months. Almost everyone’s life has been radically changed in some ways or the other. The most striking among these changes is undoubtedly seen in people’s habits and practices related to health and cleanliness.
The messages of ‘do’s and don’ts’ are well imbibed on people’s minds – do wash your hands frequently with soap for 20 seconds, make sure to keep your throat moist/hydrated, do not touch your eyes/face with your fingers, and last but not the least, do use a face mask when you step out of the home. There is an unsaid consensus to follow these rules. We see everyone, from young kids to elderly people in their eighties and above, wearing a face mask or covering their faces as has been prescribed. Adopting health seeking habits and wearing a face mask are certainly good habits that show we care for ourselves and others.
When I see the majority of people in Pune wearing masks, I wonder how in no time they have accepted and adapted to this change. But then why the same acceptance is not seen when it comes to wearing helmets while riding the two-wheelers?
This acceptance being self-motivated and widespread, the rule of wearing a face mask is abided extensively and has needed no legal action or compulsion to follow it.
Aren’t these the same people who vehemently opposed to wearing helmets under several pretexts? Aren’t helmets and face masks comparable safety gears crucial for all of us? Will not they do the arguments done then to oppose helmets, do now to oppose face masks? Will not they proclaim now that compulsion to wear a face mask is a breach of their freedom? Where are the people who baselessly argued saying “what difference will it make to you if we die?” Why aren’t they saying anything now? Where are the bickering Puneites who feel “they don’t need a mask because they breathe corona-free air?” or demanding ones who would ask “I wear a mask but give me armour as well!”. Have the wary Punekars who said “wearing it will increase crime in the city” all migrated out? All those over-exacting Punekars asking to “first clean the air, then we will wear the mask”; they seem to have taken refuge in Shaniwar Wada? Similarly, all those social activists telling people ‘not to wear them’ and instead asking them ‘go to court and defend themselves against wearing it’ seem to have gone underground? Why the priests doing the last rites are not burning down the masks now?
Have anyone come across any of those self-proclaimed leaders or activist arguing with the police to protect their right to ‘not’ wear a mask? Will our to-be councillors, MLAs and MPs make “face masks” an election issue, the way they did at the time of helmets?
There has been consistent opposition to the helmet from all social sections of our society. In Pune alone, the helmet compulsion has been enforced and retracted for at least 8-10 times in the last 15 years. Each time, the people of Pune, like a valiant warrior, resisted its implementation and started walking on the streets without wearing helmets.
The number of accidental deaths, especially caused because the riders were not wearing helmets, is very high. The number recorded in 2018 is 43,614 and 5,252 deaths of two-wheelers respectively for India and Maharashtra. If these people had worn helmets, 40% of them would have survived and lived with their loved ones.
Safety gears are meant for everyday use to ensure personal safety. The way wearing gloves is essential when handling materials, wearing goggles to protect the eyes from pollution or wearing a hat in summer to protect the head from extreme heat etc., wearing a helmet is essential to protect the brain from severe and traumatic injuries.
Our habits can be changed. By using the face mask we have shown that we can change to adapt to better self-care habits. In a country where almost 1.5 lakh people die every year in road accidents when are its citizens going to awake to the significance of wearing helmets?
(Parisar is a non-governmental organization, working since the past four decades on issues like Sustainable public transportation and road safety. Parisar advocates at the National and State level for better implementation of policies, rules and regulations)