In late July, the Red Ribbon Express rolled into Karnataka, and into Bangalore, with much fanfare. It was going to be the average citizen’s eye-opener to the world of HIV and AIDS, and hopefully, the train was also going to raise some funds for the cause. I was at the Cantonment railway station at 7pm on 25 July.
The journey of the Red Ribbon Express was inaugurated from New Delhi on 1st Dec 2007. The train’s mission is to spread awareness of AIDS throughout the country. I had seen the train at Nagpur, on 21st December 2007, but I could not go in and have a look at the exhibition material at that time.
I had walked up and down the train, noting that it did have an "auditorium coach" where communication exercises with the general public could be undertaken:
So when it arrived in Bangalore last month, I decided that though I did not attend the opening ceremony on the 24th, I would, at least now, go and have a look inside the train. But fate willed otherwise: even as I left home the news of several blasts in various localities of Bangalore filtered through.
The platform was quite deserted when I reached Cantonment station, where the train was standing; its shutters were down, and I was not allowed to get in.
Terrorists had ensured that Red Ribbon Express’ mission in Bangalore remained unfulfilled. The Chief Executive Officer, Mohan Singh Rana, said that local administration had budgeted between 4000 and 5000 visitors during its sojourn in Bangalore. The first day, he said, there were 2100 visitors, and he was very hopefuly that even more than the budgeted number of visitors would come. But the reality was otherwise.
The news of the blasts spread like wildfire, and the train was closed, due to the poor response after the blasts. The station manager, S Rajakumar, said that the train’s presence also created a security problem as a special entrance had been opened up at the Cantonment station to give easier access to the general public.
The final day saw only around 1800 visitors, Rana claimed. On the night of the 26 July, the train left for Mysore.
The schedule for the Red Ribbon Express in Karnataka was:
July 24-26, Bangalore
July 27-29, Mysore
July 30-Aug 1, Hassan
Aug 2, Arasikere
Aug 3, Birur
Aug 4-5, Shimoga
Aug 6-8, Hospet
Aug 11-13, Dharwad
Aug 14, Belgaum
The inauguration function had been well attended, Rajakumar said, and the programme included the launching of the campaign by B Sriramulu, Hon’ble Minister for Health and Family Welfare; inauguration of the exhibition by Ramachandra Gowda, Hon’ble Minister for Medical Education, flagging off of the Kala Jaatha by Katta Subramanya Naidu, Hon’ble Minister for Information, Excise, IT and BT.
The bus rally was flagged off by H T Sangliana, Hon’ble Member of the Lok Sabha, Bangalore North, and the function was presided over by Roshan Baig, Hon’ble MLA, Shivajinagar, Bangalore.
The chief guests included Sudhakar Rao, Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka, R Srikumar, DG and IG of Police, Praveen Kumar, General Manager, SW Railways, and Dr S Subramanya, Commissioner, BBMP, Bangalore.
The initiative was with the active involvement of the Karnataka AIDS Prevention Society, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangatan, the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, and UNICEF.
On a brighter and lighter note, Rajakumar said that because of the problem posed by stray dogs to the health officials before the train’s arrival, "They acted fast, and instead of the nearly 40 dogs in the station, there were only 4 left!"
However, Rana ruled out the possibility of the train returning to Bangalore, as every day in the schedule of its year-long run had been worked out much earlier. The train has to be back in Delhi after its all-India run, for the observance of World AIDS Day on November 28th.
So Bangaloreans lost a red-ribbon opportunity to acquaint themselves with the facts regarding HIV and AIDS, on this thoughtful initiative by the Indian Railways. ⊕