Is there a day (or half-day) in Kashmir which passes without giving us news of death of some people whose life has been cut short due to some fatal accident? The answer is no. There is not a single day when we do not come to know about tragic accidents on our roads. These tragedies are not just limited to high-speed national highways, but all over the state, from roads in towns to streets in villages, people are dying and critically wounded like insects, without anyone seeming to ponder what is going on and for how long. These accidents have become so usual that anyone who feels surprised and shocked feels embarrassed that while he is, no one else around appears to be. Just a couple of days ago, blood spread on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, and a family had to receive two dead bodies, and then not even allowed to mourn, because the third one is under critical care in the hospital due to the same accident near Awantipora. The talk about accidents is met with same seriousness as the conversation about weather; you drift into weather talk before slipping on to another juicy gossip and life moves on. What becomes routine is often met with an attitude ranging from cynicism to outright fatalism. The ordinary response to an accident is that "it was written out there for him" and the matter is over. When you cannot help away a tragic routine, then the safest route out is to blame on fate. Which is unfortunate to say the least because human error and oversight is blamed on external forces.
Though it may sound bizarre but a general strike comes as a blessing in disguise for a population which receives dead bodies at door steps as twists of fate. The more effective the strike the greater a blessing. When roads are empty, you do not hear of people vanishing like flies on the roads. During the long hartal in 2016, the people remained safe on the roads. No one died due to collisions on roads, or due to rash driving. The idea is not a plea for a hartal to save human lives due to accidents, because people die due to other reasons during those days. But it goes without saying that our roads have become very scary, and it is fraught with risk to cover even short distances on roads because it seems to be a free for all; you sit behind the steering not knowing who will knock against you from which direction. Worse, to blame anyone on such occasion is so silly because the whole scene is so murky, and looking for the perpetrator is like looking for the source of the hit-wicket of a batsman on a cricket pitch. Is it the coach, the noisome wicket-keeper, the cacophony of the crowd, poor training or just a plain stroke of bad luck? When people talk about wrong driving, one wonders about right driving on a road which resembles a dirty pool full of fish in which each is onto his own, and when a stone drops into the pool, imagine the chaos inside the muddy water. Then just tell yourself who is to be blamed if a fish turns upside down, into the silence of death.
Human beings are not fish, and we are not in a pool. For unlike fish we have been given something between our two ears to use and provide a solution. The talk of solution again returns us to the change of goalpost from the person from whom you expect answers. Ask a traffic man on the beat about the problem, he will turn your attention to the mindless increase in the number of vehicles on the roads and the shortage of staff to handle the flow of vehicles. Ask the transport officers about the licences given to drivers, and that too without training, he turns your attention towards the nexus between the manufacturers and the government, then you ask the manufacturers and the government about the problem, they might give it an economic turn, saying that an essential principle of market economics is the demand supply chain. That if there is demand they have to keep pace with the rising demand for private transport. In the complicated transport economy the decision making is so fragmented and diffuse and time consuming, that you wish a laughing Genie rises from the bottle and sweeps away all the vehicles along with the decision makers and return us to some peace and safety on the roads. An Alladin or any Genie cannot arrive from the misty smoke nor can a Spiderman descend from the air to save victims on the roads, it is the human beings associated with this department who have to wake up and coordinate their way toward a solution. Their existing slumber is very costly for the human beings. The disposition of passing the buck from one table to the other will not work. Over these tables all, the government has to initiate a quick and effective policy which incorporates widening roads, tightening the free sale of licences (different rates are fixed for issuing licences in various districts), hafta wasooli has to be stopped, the reckless drivers have to be penalised, children have to be lifted off vehicles, seats belts and helmets have to be strictly imposed on drivers, and above all the scandalous nexus has to be crushed. With strong political will and effective implementation of laws these steps should not be difficult. To some extent the government has already shown the will in protecting the forests; a similar process can be replicated for roads. For once, how difficult should it be for the traffic department to impose forbidding penalty for not wearing helmets and seat belts?!! There is no better deterrent than swift punishment, at all levels, to curb the murderous disarray and commotion on the roads. Without such punishment, we have to rest content with the loose talk about fate, and keep counting the dead.