The Odisha police have persuaded the priests of the highly revered Maa Sarala temple in Jagatsinghpur district to refuse the special puja for vehicles if the owners turn up without helmets.The temple, believed to be more than 1,000 years old, attracts thousands of devotees from Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapada, Cuttack and Puri districts. In what has become a prevalent ritual, owners of two-wheelers take their new vehicles (as well as the old ones) to the temple for a special puja and seek the deity’s blessing for safe rides.
In view of the high number of road accidents, a meeting was held between priests and the police and it was agreed that the priests will refuse to perform the puja unless the owner of the two-wheeler brings the helmet along with the motorcycle for the puja.
But this is not a first. An ad campaign previously tried to coerce riders to wear helmets by proving to them that even Gods wear helmets. Goddess Lakshmi dons a helmet before riding her lion, and so does Ganpati before striding his mouse.
Many have used Ganesh festival as an occasion to campaign for wearing helmets.
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This is not the first time a deity comes to rescue of enforcing rules and laws. When driving to Tirumala at Tirupati, private cars can go toll free, but cabs must pay. However, many cabs masquerading as private cars sneak in. Clever transport officials now have picture of a Balaji at the toll plaza counters.If they are suspicious about a driver who claims his cab is a private car, they make him swear by Lord Balaji. And this method seems to work, a literal fear of God leading to people falling in line.
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Many states have tried different things to enforce the two-wheeler helmet rule. After Maharashtra made it compulsory in 2016, the only change was the increasing depth of the pockets of signal wale mama and his troupe. They earned more, while letting riders go without tickets for breaking rules. As the riders knew they would get by, they failed to take the helmet rule seriously.
Before Odisha, Tamil Nadu evoked the divine forces to ensure the helmet rule. People dressed as Lord Yama, the God of Death would persuade riders on streets to wear helmets.
Governments have tried to implement a Taiwan study which showed that head injuries and fatalities decreased by 33 per cent after the implementation of strict helmet rule. But different tactics and campaigns have failed. Hope the Odisha government’s move has some positive impact.
But the trick could lie in providing internal incentive to wear helmets, like girlfriends and mothers forcing the youth to wear helmets. Rather then paunchy policemen waiting at street corners, or dressed up Gods. When you know your loved one waits for you at home, a helmet seems cooler than not.