Monday, 23 March 2015

The passionate and restless Traffic Ramaswamy

For the nth time, Traffic Ramaswamy went to jail for a public cause and has stormed out in his imitable style.

Barely 12 hours after the Madras High Court granted bail to Traffic Ramaswamy, the octogenarian activist is back in his dingy little one-room office behind the kitchen of the Ramakrishna Lunch Home in Parrys doing wha
Traffic Ramaswamy
t he loves -- preparing PIL petitions to be filed at the HC over the week.

“I am preparing a petition against the city police for unlawfully arresting me without even informing my personal security guard. They think I will be intimidated but such acts only make me stronger. I am going to ensure that the police officers who arrested me face the music,” says Ramaswamy sitting behind a large computer screen and piles of files dumped on his work table. His secretary Stella Yogambal sits behind another computer screen at the other end of the room sorting letters and documents sent by well wishers and fans.

Going to jail for a public cause is nothing new for this frail, bespectacled man. “This is my ninth jail visit. I see this as a vacation. Since I never take any rest, jail visits ensure that I take a break from work,” he says.

The last time Traffic Ramaswamy went to jail was in 2008 during the DMK regime when he threatened to file a petition in the Supreme Court seeking dissolution of the state government citing a law and order failure. He had to go on an indefinite hunger strike forcing CM Karunanidhi to order his release. Ramaswamy still recalls that incident with pride.

His public life began in 1971 when he resigned from BNC Mills and his wife stopped him from going for any other work with a promise of Rs. 5/day as pocket money. “It was then I took to regulating traffic in the Parrys, Vepery area. Twenty years later, the police recognized me when former DGP Walter Dawaram gave me a police identity card for my service,” he says. It was then Ramaswamy became Traffic Ramaswamy.

 In 1998, when the city police made the roads surrounding Madras High Court as a one-way traffic route, several residents opposed the move tooth and nail as it was life threatening to pedestrians who tried to cross the wide roads.

“When the first person was killed in a road mishap barely days after changing the traffic to one-way, I filed my first PIL at the Madras HC seeking a return of two-way traffic as it was anti-pedestrian. The HC delivered its verdict in favour of TrafficRamaswamy and the roads surrounding the HC were open for two-way traffic again. A total of 21 persons had died while crossing the road during this period, he says.

Since then Traffic Ramaswamy has filed hundreds of PILs at the HC and SC against motorized-fish carts, illegal hoardings and countless other public menace and has even secured dozens of orders favourably.

Over the years, the number of people who approach this activist for his advice and counseling has also increased. On an average, he gets 10 to 15 petitions every day. If the activist felt that the petitioner was genuine, then he would intervene and help.

A few months ago, this octogenarian who has been living away from his family for several years now since his run-ins with law, even sorted out a matrimonial dispute between an elderly couple in Virugambakkam.

At 82, the man works from dawn to dusk and leaves home at 6.30 am every day only to return home long after sun down. His work begins during his morning commute when he searches for hoardings along the way.

“Even this morning, I found two hoardings erected on Habibullah Road on my way to work and have alerted the corporation. If they don’t tear them down, I will,” says Traffic.

Ramaswamy has been tearing apart hoardings erected on roads for the past several years including those of former CMs Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa with equal disdain since he secured a ruling against them. While he has received several threats from political leaders in the past, the activist’s resolve and clout has only increased over the years. He has won several admirers and followers across the state for his relentless pursuits in public interest which include former deputy CM MK Stalin who visited him at the Royapettah government hospital a few days ago to check on his health.

Does this restless man ever plan to retire like normal folks?  “No way,” says Ramasamy. “I will work every day till I die and will live up to 120 years. It is the wish of the people that I live so long as I am public property.”

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