Pradeep Niphadkar has been on a mission to create awareness about helmets ever since he lost his daughter in a road accident. He and his friends have distributed over 100 free helmets.
“I want to tell people that there is nothing more important than life. I lost my daughter in a tragic road accident and cannot bring her back. But I don’t want others to experience the kind of misery that I went through. I just want to do my best and protect other families from this pain. Everyone should think more about the safety of their loved ones and take matters into their own hands. People should ensure that every two-wheeler rider in the family always wears a helmet,” says 54-year-old Pradeep Niphadkar, who founded an NGO named Helmet Pune in January this year.
Pradeep’s daughter Pranjali succumbed to head injuries after a road accident in December last year. A Kathak dancer by profession, she is survived by her one-and-a-half year old son. She was on her way to a dance rehearsal for an upcoming show when a speeding two-wheeler hit her bike on the Rajaram Bridge in Pune. She wasn’t wearing a helmet and her head hit a sharp stone. The 27-year-old lost her life.
Messages of condolences were pouring in on Pradeep’s Facebook page after Pranjali’s death. This was when he decided to write to his well-wishers and urge them to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.
He asked them to purchase helmets, gift them to any women riders they came across and send him selfies with the recipients. His friends were enthusiastic about the idea and sent numerous photographers from across the country.
“Stop anybody, any woman stranger riding without her helmet. Ask her name and tell her yours. Appeal to her to never ride a two-wheeler without a helmet. Gift a helmet and take a selfie with her. The helmet should not cost you too much – it is a matter of 300 or 400 rupees, perhaps a little more. Had my daughter not suffered a brain injury, she would have survived…Just send me that one selfie. Do it. All the girls in the state are our daughters,” he wrote.
Soon after this incident, Pradeep and his friend Anil Mandrupkar started Helmet Pune, with the aim of spreading awareness about the importance of helmets. They do so by conducting seminars in schools, colleges and offices in Maharashtra, and by gifting free helmets to commuters.
They have also come up with some novel ideas to distribute helmets to those who cannot afford them but need them the most.
Anil and Pradeep approach garage owners, bike dealers, vehicle shop owners, etc., asking them to share information about buyers who purchase second-hand bikes or scooters. “If a person is buying a second-hand vehicle, it usually means that he/she is not in a position to spend a lot of money. We also try and gather information about people who depend on loans to buy their vehicles,” says Pradeep. They contact such people and tell them Helmet Pune would like to gift free helmets to them along with their purchase. Pradeep’s friends across the country have adopted the same strategy. They buy helmets whenever they can and distribute them when they come across people who need them. Helmet Pune has distributed over 100 helmets so far.
Pradeep, a Marathi and Urdu poet by profession, is happy that his friends continue to contribute to the cause even when he is busy with his performances.
He lives with his wife in Pune and often conducts lectures in colleges and offices, talking about the advantages of helmets. Sarang Awad, Pune’s Deputy Commissioner of Police (traffic), supports him in his endeavour.
“We are currently working on a small scale. I want to work with helmet manufacturers in the future and promote the idea of lighter helmets that are designed in an artistic manner. If helmets are made more comfortable, I am sure people will be happy to wear them,” says Pradeep, who believes that voluntary adoption of the protective head gear will be better than enforcement.
According to reports, 240 two-wheeler riders in Pune lost their lives in accidents in 2015; only one of them was wearing a helmet.
The fact that Pradeep took his initiative in the face of loss and despair is a testament to his courage and determination. If more people take up the cause of preventing road accidents and saving lives, it is likely that the grim situation on Indian roads will be alleviated to some extent.
You can contact Pradeep by writing to him at [email protected]