Raghvendra Kumar’s life changed when his friend and roommate Krishna Kumar Thakur died in Delhi following a road accident more than seven years ago. The only thing that could have saved his friend’s life on that unfortunate day in April 2014 was a helmet.
Raghvendra, who is from a small village in the Kaimur district, and Krishna Kumar, a resident of Madhubani, Bihar, came to Delhi-NCR with dreams of doing something big for the people. Imbued by a spirit of public service, they shared a dream of doing more than just the conventional nine-to-five job. While Krishna Kumar was pursuing a course in engineering, Raghvendra was studying to become a lawyer from Greater Noida’s Lloyd Law College.
The once inseparable friends couldn’t share their dream. But this tragic accident only fast-tracked Raghvendra’s desire to serve society.
Since October 2014, he has distributed nearly 50,000 helmets free of cost across 22 states campaigning extensively for road safety, while also distributing free books to about 8.5 lakh underprivileged school and college students.
“Even in my car, I wear a helmet just to strongly emphasise the point of road safety. Never did I once think that wearing this could one day become an integral part of identity. My life currently is completely dedicated to the cause of promoting helmet use, distributing them for free and changing people’s attitude to road safety. By the end of 2016, I had quit my job as a lawyer to pursue this initiative. I’ve had no regular job since. It has been nearly eight years since I started this initiative, but my doors are open to anyone who wants to address the system on any issue of national interest, but can’t get their voice heard,” he says, speaking to The Better India.
He has since earned the sobriquet of ‘Helmet Man of India’.
Dreams and Tragedy
Studying in a village government school till Class 10 in Kaimur district, Bihar, Raghvendra was the youngest of six children from a farming household. He finished high school in Varanasi, but his father, a small farmer, couldn’t afford to pay for higher education.
Instead, he worked about four or five years in Varanasi doing odd jobs till he saved up enough money to leave for Delhi-NCR in 2009 to pursue his law degree.
“While my friend and I were making plans to change the world, he suffered a grievous road accident in April 2014, and only died because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. Right after the accident, we spent about 10-12 days in the hospital just desperate to hear his voice, but there we also witnessed a bunch of road accident cases as well. Sadly, we lost him, but it only really hit me when I felt the pain of his mother and father. My friend had so much to offer to this world. He had so much potential. His parents had so many aspirations for him. All this was lost in a road accident. What inspired me to get on this journey was the pain I saw in the eyes of his parents. So by October, I began my mission of distributing helmets for free,” recalls Raghvendra.
At the start, he didn’t set up a non-profit organisation or trust to facilitate his work but worked voluntarily in his free time alongside his day job as a lawyer. Wherever he would go from Noida to Bihar, if he saw someone on the road without the helmet, that person would receive a free helmet. This went on for about two years, and by the end of 2016, he quit his job to dedicate himself to the mission of promoting road safety and also educating underprivileged students.
The second half of his initiative of educating students who couldn’t afford books began when he visited his friend Krishna Kumar’s home a few months after the tragic incident. There, he saw some of his books that were collecting dust. After obtaining permission, Raghvendra donated these books to a boy he met on his travels hailing from a poor family in Patna.
“Couple of months later, the boy’s father called me and thanked me. His son had topped the intermediate examination in college standing first in the district thanks to the books I had donated. Inspired by the father’s kind words of praise, I began asking the more educated and well-off people who I would see not wear helmets and break the law to donate old and used books. These books would be used to not only help the less privileged students obtain knowledge for further progress in life but also educate them about road safety,” he recalls.
Following a campaign in any city or village, people would ask him where they could deposit the old and used books. Thus began, the creation of their first book bank built on book boxes in Greater Noida in 2016. With the public’s generous response to this initiative, the books began pouring in, extending the book bank through in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and eventually Delhi.
“These book banks went viral. On top of each book bank, I would place a helmet to help parents who would deposit their books here to think about road safety as well after all children take the road to school. Meanwhile, while distributing books to these children, I would also donate a helmet, which his father or mother should wear while driving them to school or a coaching centre. It’s my good fortune to announce that in about 1,200 villages, concerned citizens have been able to help set up mini libraries inspired by my mission and work,” claims the 35-year-old.
Supporting The Initiative
He also petitioned the Supreme Court to direct State governments to make helmets compulsory for children above the age of four years. But the question does arise — how did he pay for it? He sold his home in Greater Noida for Rs 40 lakhs, mutual funds investments, earnings through bitcoin, took out bank loans using his wife’s jewellery as collateral and even sold 3 bighas of family land in his village during Covid-19. “So far, I have spent about Rs 2.5 crore,” he claims.
In 2020, on the advice of a union minister who was impressed by his work, Raghvendra established his non-profit organisation called the Helmet Man of India Foundation. “During the second wave, we distributed helmets to about 9,000 people, of which we even set up 1,000-2,000 with accident insurance with nominal premiums. Despite the helmets, most people even today don’t wear them and are at risk of grave accidents, he adds.
Celebrating his extraordinary story, The Man Company, a male grooming venture, included him in their Hall of Gentlemen which honours the life journey of common men doing extraordinary work and positively impacting society. As Hitesh Dhingra, co-founder of The Man Company said, “While self-love is a huge part of a gentleman’s life, it is his (the likes of Raghvendra) journey from self-love to selfless love that truly emboldens the spirit of a gentleman.”
There have also been appearances on national television and interactions with film celebrities like Sonu Sood, where Raghvendra has spoken quite extensively about his work.
His latest initiative is the creation of a First Helmet Bank at Pari Chowk in the heart of Greater Noida in association with Aelius Enterprises, a private venture, for technical support.
“We have requested the Greater Noida Authority for 200 square feet of space. As soon as the request gets approved, the helmet bank will be ready within the next month. Any person in the district can avail of free brand helmet ISI standards for seven days. [The] Helmet Bank will be open from 6 am to 8 pm, 365 days a year. This facility is only for the residents of Gautam Buddha Nagar. The basic idea is to provide a helmet in case someone forgets to carry one from home. Also, helmets will be available for short durations as well, such as for a guest or a friend. There will be helmets available for children as well,” he explains.
Riders will need to furnish their Aadhar card and the number of their two-wheeler for a helmet, which will be provided only for seven days. After that, they can take the helmet again, if needed.
“If someone does not return it, they may also have to pay a fine of Rs 10 per day. If someone doesn’t return the helmet at all, a fine of Rs 2,000 will be imposed. Helmets will also be available for children as young as four years,” he says.
“We receive calls from every corner of India seeking financial help for road accident victims. We aim to raise an army of volunteers to create awareness about road safety and save more people from road accidents in India,” he claims.
You can support his initiative by clicking on this link.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)