The tale of Sonya Maruti has all the hallmarks of a Bollywood
classic with a typically improbable storyline. Each evening,
the "Good Samaritan" quietly leaves home while his
wife and two children sleep. He sets out in his rickshaw on
a nightly patrol in search of people left for dead after one
of the countless road crashes in the district.
To date Sonya has saved more than 300 lives during his epic
nine-year vigil in and around Panvel, in Mumbai. Each life
he saves earns him enormous gratitude, as well as 12 rupees
from the local police as acknowledgement for his community
He began his lifesaving mission in 1992 when, while working,
he spotted a seriously injured couple unconscious in their
damaged car. "Many vehicles passed but none stopped.
I pulled over, transferred them to my rickshaw and rushed
them to the nearest hospital. They survived."
Years of experience have taught him where the major danger
spots are, as well as an intimate knowledge of shortcuts to
the nearest clinic. "Accidents occur every night and
the main offenders are truck drivers," says Sonya. "They
either end up hurt or dead or leave badly damaged cars in
The local police readily acknowledge his amazing deeds. "Ambulances
can take considerable time to reach accident spots. Often
Sonya reaches victims first, informs the police and transfers
the injured to hospital," said senior inspector Ashok
After his nocturnal lookout, Sonya snatches a few hours sleep
and continues as a regular rickshaw driver by day in order
to feed his family. It is a truly remarkable story
better than any cinema fiction and Sonya's deeds are
nothing short of heroic.
The sad reality is that unless India radically addresses
the issue of road safety, almost 85,000 people will die in
2001 on the country's highways, despite the efforts of Sonya
Maruti and probably many other community-spirited citizens.
It is a national disaster that attracts little attention.
By contrast, this year's tragic earthquake in Gujarat
which rightly drew a huge response killed less than
one-third of the number.