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The road warrior
On December 16, 2012, the Delhi gang rape victim and her friend lay by the roadside, grievously injured and naked, for 40-45 minutes before the police arrived. Till then, nobody stopped by to help them or cover them up. Exactly a year before this incident, an ex-serviceman bled to death after his motorcycle was hit by a vehicle on the busy RTR flyover in Delhi, in broad daylight. His leg got severed in the accident, yet no one stopped to help him. Finally, a journalist stopped by and called the cops. But it was too late by then.
Piyush Tewari is no stranger to the pain of losing a loved one due to sheer ignorance and apathy of others. His 17-year-old cousin died in a similar way in 2007. The tragedy left Tewari bitter and angry but he decided to channelise his frustration with the system to bring about an institutional change.
In February 2009, he gave up his successful career as the MD of a private equity firm and set up Savelife Foundation, a non-profit organisation that trains the police and community volunteers to give emergency response to accident victims. Every year thousands of people die in road accidents because they get medical aid very late. India registers the highest number of road accident fatalities, worldwide. Three hundred and ninety lives are lost daily in road fatalities;while 17 lives were lost every hour in 2011, the corresponding figure was 15 for 2010. According to the WHO, India loses six lakh people, in the productive age group of 15-40 years, either by death or disability due to accidents, every year.
SLF hopes to bring down these numbers. In the past two and a half years, it has trained 3, 500 police personnel in Delhi. "In the same time period 1. 5 lakh accident victims were rushed to hospitals by the police with a survival rate of 95 per cent. Earlier, this rate was 78-79 per cent, " informs Tewari. The police are trained in three things: air passage management as airway collapse is a primary reason for road fatalities;how to control bleeding and C-spine immobilisation.
Often, people don't know how to pick up accident victims. . . they pick them up with their limbs. This can lead to further injuries. C-spine immobilisation means securing the victim's head with a special collar and straps and carefully placing her on a stretcher, or directly lifting her into a PCR van. In the December 16 gang rape case the victim, Nirbhaya, was lifted up into the PCR van by her friend - at the time himself a victim of severe beating and trauma.
The training programme lasts from a day to four days. Seventy five per cent of the training is practical and the trainees are then tested in drill. "We flunk 50 per cent of the trainees because we don't want to compromise on quality, " says Tewari. In police academies the emergency response training is limited to a 45-minute class, which is mostly theoretical.
To locate and train community volunteers, SLF takes help of the police. SHOs of every police station are asked to nominate 50-60 volunteers from their area. This ensures that volunteers have the confidence of the police and vice-versa. "We look for volunteers who work and live in the area. They could be members of the market associations, RWAs or residents of a local hostel. Every volunteer should have access to and know how to ride a scooter or a bike, " says Tewari.
SLF aims to train 5, 000 volunteers by the end of 2013. At present, its programme is running in Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
Savelife Foundation also does policy advocacy to support Good Samaritans. Fear of police harassment and legal hassles are the biggest deterrents that keep people from coming forward to the rescue of accident victims. "We filed a PIL in 2012 in the Supreme Court to seek immunity for Good Samaritans. Bystanders /passersby, who help bring an accident victim to hospital or provide first aid on the scene of accident while waiting for police or ambulance to arrive, should not be forced to reveal their identities or details if they so desire. The saviours should not be compelled to visit the police station for recording of statement or other paper work, and as far as practicable, they should be examined at their place of residence/work place, " says Tewari. He is also on a panel - ironically, instituted by the SC just five days before the December 16 gang rape - to deliberate on how to protect Good Samaritans. He is also pushing for policy changes that will make hospitals, especially private ones, respond proactively to accident and trauma victims.
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