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75,000 people died in India on motorcycles in ’22: Helmet Man makes it his mission to save lives

Krisha Kumar Thakur passed away at 24 years old, 11 days after his accident. Doctors performed multiple surgeries but failed to save his life. The experience traumatized me.

  • 5 months ago
  • March 2, 2024
8 min read
The Helmet Man in India pictured with local drummers in Kerala during a helmet distribution event. | Photo courtesy of Raghvendra Kumar The Helmet Man in India pictured with local drummers in Kerala during a helmet distribution event. | Photo courtesy of Raghvendra Kumar
Helmet Man Raghvendra Kumar saves lives in India from motorcycle fatalities.
Journalist’s Notes
Interview Subject
Raghvendra Kumar, 35, also known as the Helmet Man of India, is a farmer’s son from a remote part of Bihar’s Kaimur district. He is the youngest among four brothers. At a nearby school in Ramgarh, Bihar, he finished his primary education and relocated to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, for his intermediate studies at Adarsh Seva Inter-College. He graduated from Lloyd Law College in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, in 2014 with a law degree. On December 12, 2015, he married his wife Dhanlaxmi. The couple has a six-year-old son. Regarding his efforts to distribute helmets, his family has never agreed with him. This is because he has no sponsors and uses up all of his money to support the project. Yet, the Bihar government gave him the Good Samaritan Award in 2017, 2018, and 2023. In 2017, his native state bestowed upon him the title of “Helmet Man of India.” In Nepal, he received the Asian Excellence Award in 2021.
Background Information
The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh includes the metropolis of Greater Noida, which is situated in the Gautam Buddha Nagar district. Greater Noida is a metro hub with a great urban environment, to attract economic activity and population to decongest Delhi. It is located 30 km southeast of the capital city. According to the India Times, two-wheeler deaths increased by eight percent in 2022, accounting for 44 percent of road fatalities. According to the CDC, motorcycle helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing the death of a rider and 41 percent for a passenger. That’s to say if an accident is serious enough to be fatal, a rider has a 37 percent greater chance of survival. In general, helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent.

GREATER NOIDA, India ꟷ On March 28, 2014, a road accident claimed the life of my friend Krishna Kumar Thakur. As he rode his motorcycle without a helmet on Noida Expressway in Uttar Pradesh, a fast-moving car struck him as it passed. Another driver saw my friend unconscious in the service lane and rushed him to the local hospital.

The catastrophe changed my life dramatically. Krisha’s untimely death gave me a reason to live. I pay tribute to my friend by offering free helmets to anyone driving a two-wheeled vehicle. Since I began, I distributed 60,000 helmets at no cost in 22 states throughout India. These helmets protected citizens in 35 potentially fatal road accidents.

Read about the teacher who turns junk into treasure, inspires students, and gains hundreds of thousands of followers.

A final-year engineering student, Krishna’s life was cut short in a motorcycle accident

Krisha Kumar Thakur passed away at 24 years old, 11 days after his accident. Doctors performed multiple surgeries but failed to save his life. The experience traumatized me. I saw his parents, full of shock, look upon their son’s dead body. His mother stopped talking after losing her child. So affected by his death, I could not bring myself to attend the funeral.

Krishna and I met in 2009 while sharing a room at a hostel in Uttar Pradesh. He was a final-year engineering student, and I studied law. We quickly bonded. That summer, we rarely went home from the hostel. One day, after being late getting back from my part-time job, Krishna prepared dinner for me. He even ironed my clothes. Krishna looked at me like an older brother.  

We talked about our futures and dreamed of launching a company together. The day my friend died; I was in Kolkata for business. Around 2:30 a.m., I received a call from a friend who informed me of the accident. I took the soonest flight back to Delhi.

 At Kailash Hospital in Noida, the doctor informed me of the first surgery. A costly operation, my friends and I paid the initial fee to begin treatment as we waited for his parents to arrive and arrange for additional funds. The doctor told me what Krishna said. He left Noida around 9:00 p.m. and a fast-moving car passed him from behind, knocking his bike down.

The forceful blow threw him over the bike, and he lay comatose on the service road for two hours. In the darkness, no one saw him. Eventually, the flashing lights on the motorcycle caught the attention of a passerby who took him to the hospital.

An evening with Krishna’s mom inspired me to start handing out motorcycle helmets

Krishna’s elderly parents had him after 20 years of marriage. He was their only child and they insisted he pursue higher education. At the hospital, they revealed they bartered their land and obtained credit cards to pay for his treatment.

When they returned home to Bihar after Krishna’s funeral, his mother called once a week. Three months later in July, I visited them at their village. As I touched his mother’s feet, something happened inside me. She hugged me so tightly, it felt as if she were hugging Krishna. I listened to her talk and for a moment, it filled the void. She prepared Krishna’s favorite foods and spoke of wonderful memories.

The next morning, Krishna’s father told me how much it meant to her to see me. For the first time in three months, she slept soundly. Before leaving, they let me take some of Krishna’s engineering books and I encouraged them not to give up. I would be there for them; I swore it. That moment inspired me to start handing out helmets to anyone who rides on a motorcycle or two-wheeled vehicle. I resigned from my job and on August 15, 2014, I gave out helmets for the first time at Pari Chowk. The public seemed delighted to accept the 100 helmets I gave away, but they seemed unaware of my deeper purpose.

The Helmet Man (center, maroon jacket) hosts a road safety campaign event with students. | Photo courtesy of Raghvendra Kumar

In Patna, I did the same. Striding into a local store, I purchased every helmet they had. The owner thought I was making fun of him, but soon realized my seriousness. I bought between 450-500 helmets. Helmets can cost between 500 to 1,250 rupees. Purchasing in bulk, I can get a discount, working with the cooperative helmet wholesalers and sellers. After buying the helmets in Delhi, I transport them in my car for distribution.

The Exchange Books for Helmets Campaign leads to the creation of new libraries in India

In India, educated people often break traffic laws by failing to wear helmets. The son of Indian president Draupadi Murmu lost his life for failing to wear a helmet, despite Section 129(a) of the 2019 Motor Vehicles Act requiring anyone above the age of four to wear protective head gear.

I decided to inspire these educated people by suggesting something unique: exchanging books for a free helmet. The idea, however, wasn’t solely mine. One day, early in the project, I encountered a young teenager selling peanuts on the streets of Patna. He flipped through a book when no one was watching. I felt captivated by his enthusiasm to learn. We connected and two years later, this same youngster called to tell me he had successfully completed his school exams. He served as my inspiration.

Drummers play at a motorcycle helmet distribution site. | Photo courtesy of Raghvendra Kumar

I began collecting used books to give pupils like this young man. I offered to give a helmet to anyone who brought a minimum of five books appropriate for grades six through 12. Everywhere I went, I setup a Book Bank Box. As I donated books to libraries low in stock, people began to take notice. Many individuals, including college students, asked to volunteer.

Midway through 2018, I ran out of money but the work at the libraries was thriving. I had no choice but to sell my property in Greater Noida to continue toward my goal. So, I sold my flat and a number of organizations and individuals pitched in. To date, I created 1,400 libraries in 22 states.

They call me the Helmet Man

All over, people know me as the Helmet Man of India. They recognize me easily, as I wear a helmet everywhere I go. Whether walking, driving, or traveling by air, I have a helmet on my head. Some say I am like a real-life Spider-Man or Batman! Despite this honor, I do encounter challenges like racist abuse. Other times, while distributing helmets in a crowd, people become agitated scrambling to get their helmet first. The police have even demanded 30 to 40 helmets for themselves before allowing me to distribute.

Despite these challenges, I persist. I have prevented 35 potentially fatal accidents that I am aware of. These are fathers, brothers, children, and spouses who live another day. Every year during the Raksha Bandhan festival, the sisters of a young man who lived because of his helmet donate 500 Rakhi to my cause.

During National Road Safety Month, the Helmet Man conducts a road safety session with students from a local public school. | Photo courtesy of Raghvendra Kumar

In 2023, the Uttarakhand government designated me a Brand Ambassador for Road Safety. My next initiative begins soon: offering educational programming and helmets to schools. If parents can teach a child to wear shoes, children can learn to wear helmets. Evidence suggests 80 percent of adolescent motorcyclists wear fake helmets to avoid trouble with the law. Unable to obtain a real helmet, I suggest schools set aside an area to store helmets for students. I want to create Helmet Banks. A student will present their identification card and get a helmet which must be returned. These helmets are valued at between 1,500 and 2,000 rupees.

All these efforts, in honor of my dear friend and the 75,000 bike riders who died in India in 2022, make a difference – preventing catastrophic injuries and saving lives.

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