Meet Bayamma, Chennai’s special traffic warden

Shivani Ramakrishnan
Working as a traffic warden at the Taramani junction since July, Shakur Banu has helped pedestrians and commuters have a safe journey. (Express Photo: Shivani Ramakrishnan)

The Taramani junction at Taramani towards Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) in Chennai has always been a harrowing experience for pedestrians, with speeding vehicles and nasty traffic snarls making it difficult for school students and senior citizens to cross the road.

To their rescue comes traffic warden Shakur Banu, or Bayamma, as she is referred to.

Banu began regulating traffic on her own and around two months ago on July 13, in recognition of her efforts, the Greater Chennai Traffic Police (GCTP) issued her a traffic warden vest. Since then, there has been no stopping her, much to the relief of pedestrians and commuters.

Speaking to Indianexpress.com, 55-year-old Banu said she decided to volunteer as a traffic warden after she had sustained an injury on the road. I was injured on my leg once and passersby along the junction helped me get home. At that time, I told myself this should not happen to anybody else. So I got back on my feet and tried to regulate traffic on my own. At that time, commuters spoke up against me and verbally abused me for regulating traffic, since I was not a traffic constable , said Banu, who works the night shift as an attender at Prashant Hospital, a private hospital in Velachery.

Shakur Banu finishes her night shift at a private hospital before regulating traffic in the mornings and evening. (Express Photo: Harinee Chandrasekaran)

Following this, the native of Pudupettai went to the Taramani police station, where the officers praised her for her work and said she was excellent at controlling the traffic on the junction. The officers helped her procure two traffic warden vests and a ‘STOP’ signboard. They also provided her with a contact number in case of any emergencies and assured her that she could always turn to the police if any commuter misbehaved with her.

The police also offered to pay me, but I turned down the offer, saying I was passionate about social service and was not regulating traffic to earn extra income. I told them that their blessings and support was all I needed," said Banu.

WATCH| 55-year-old Bayamma is a traffic warden at Taramani

Banu was officially made a traffic warden on July 13. After completing her shift at the hospital, Banu regulates traffic everyday from 8 am to 11 am and 4 pm to 7 pm. Come rain or sun, the warden can be seen managing the traffic along the junction, coolly and with dedication. On rainy days, I don a raincoat and cap and regulate the traffic , said Banu.

Banu’s appointment was initially met with stiff opposition from commuters, not just because she was not a police officer, but also because she was a woman.

Even now, people come up to me and yell at me for urging them to wait. Sometimes, commuters offer to help me cross the road, they assume I require assistance. I thank them and tell them that I am merely regulating the traffic before sending them on their way. My son and daughter and the medical fraternity at Prashant Hospital have been very supportive," said Banu.

A lone woman in a sea of traffic, Shakur Banu is a knight in orange vest for pedestrians and commuters. Express Photo: Shivani Ramakrishnan

While regulating traffic, the warden also urges motorists and pillion riders to don helmets. Most of the time, they let their helmets hang on the side of the bike and tell me they are going to a nearby store and hence do not have to wear one. I tell them, ‘You haven’t been given a helmet to hang on your bikes or carry in your hands. It has been given to safeguard your head and protect your lives. Please put on your helmets’ , said Banu, who can often be seen chastising motorists who ride helmetless.

Pedestrians and neighbours of Banu are full of appreciation for the 55-year-old.

Banu has always been interested in social service. She is always there to help anybody at any time and now, she is regulating the traffic at the junction , said 65-year-old Noor Jahan, Banu’s neighbour.

Initially, school students used to face difficulty in crossing the road. After her appointment, Bayamma regulates the traffic efficiently and ensures a hassle-free commute , said Jagadeesan, a resident in the locality.

Shakur Banu is fondly referred to as Bayamma by commuters and residents. (Express Photo: Shivani Ramakrishnan)

There used to be a lot of accidents on the road because of high traffic. Most of the time, bus drivers don’t adhere to traffic rules. Once Bayamma took over, she would stop the buses and tell them to let us students cross the road," a student at the Government Higher Secondary School in Taramani said.

Kannigam, an auto driver, said Bayamma regulated traffic well and ensured that the roads at the Taramani junction were free from congestion.

Shakur Banu has been recognised by both commuters and the Greater Chennai Traffic Police (GCTP) for her work. (Express Photo: Shivani Ramakrishnan)

I feel extremely happy to be volunteering as a traffic warden. I am not doing it not as a job, but rather as a passion , said Banu. The mother of two added that she hopes more citizens will take up volunteering as traffic wardens in Chennai in their spare time.