Like in most cities of the country, motorists and pedestrians of Indore are not traffic rule enthusiasts. Jaywalking, jumping signals, and lane indiscipline are rampant in this Madhya Pradesh (MP) city in central India. The result: utter chaos as usual.
One spot, High Court Junction on the arterial Mahatma Gandhi Road, had remained particularly bothersome for the authorities.
Then, one day in 2010, constable Ranjeet Singh walked in, rather moonwalked in, to hold commuters in complete thrall and considerably improve compliance. People weren’t following staid hand movements or periodic beeps of the cop’s whistle anymore—the often dysfunctional signal lights were hardly noticed anyways. They were now swaying, figuratively speaking, to the directions of the new officer in sunglasses who danced, gestured rhythmically, turned around robotically, and sashayed in style to manage the busy intersection.
“A change in the body language had made the whole thing interesting and people noticed. Now the number of accidents at the junction have also reduced,” Singh told Quartz over the phone.
Today, this 38-year-old dancing traffic cop is a celebrity, with commuters often taking detours to watch him perform, err, direct traffic.
The traffic signal is his disco light, the road his dance-floor, and the roar of the traffic his trance music. Constable Singh performs his 10-hour duty with panache every day even in difficult conditions: pollution, inclement weather, and, of course, the maddening traffic.
He is a motivated man.
“Something’s got to be done”
Since he was transferred to the traffic department in 2004, Singh had witnessed his share of accidents, injuries, and even deaths.
India has one of the worst rates of road accidents in the world, with over 148,000 Indians killed in 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Up to 53 such mishaps took place every single hour that year, wherein 17 persons were killed, NCRB data shows. And MP accounts for the fourth-highest number of road accidents in the country, it says.
As is the case most often, commuters bring it upon themselves through blatant flouting of rules, Singh said about the unfortunate incidents he had witnessed in Indore.
“The complete disregard for traffic signals, especially by the youth, really bothered me,” Singh, who joined the police force in 1998, said.
One day it hit Singh himself, literally. On a rainy evening in 2008, a speeding car rammed into him.
“The signals had stopped working. Other equipment provided to us for rain were not functioning either. The driver of the car that hit me said he couldn’t see me. He thought I was a pole, not a human being,” recalled Singh.
The mishap left him bedridden for three months. Following recovery, he was assigned a desk job as he couldn’t stay on his feet for long hours. But he yearned to return to where the action was: traffic signals.
More than a year after the incident, encouraged by his seniors, Singh was back manning traffic. He was now convinced of the need for something extraordinary to grab commuters’ attention. “The traffic policeman had to stop being invisible,” Singh thought.
And what better way to get noticed than boogieing in the middle of the road at peak hour?
By now, Singh has a few thousand followers on social media, is courted by Bollywood, and showered with recognition elsewhere.
But he isn’t just all-style, no mettle. This cop is known to be fearless and a stickler for rules. “For me, following the signal is supreme and then comes relationship or rank,” Singh said. He claimed to have once fined the superintendent of police and, on another occasion, his own father, a former policeman.
He is not trained in dance, but enjoys performing. As a cop, though, his is a grueling task. “I end up replacing my shoes every two months as the sole wears out quickly. At times the entire body aches. I vary my movements to keep fatigue at bay,” Singh said.
He now even trains younger officers in his methods. “He is not only an inspiration to constables but for his seniors as well…He has been exceptional in sharing his style with his colleagues,” the Hindustan Times newspaper quoted Anjana Tiwari, additional superintendent of police (traffic), Indore, as saying in 2015.
To remain fit, Singh runs about 8-10 kilometres a day and practices yoga. “It helps build stamina and cleanse my system.” But, most importantly, he is motivated by his cause: to get commuters to obey traffic rules.
Traffic police constable Ranjeet Singh has certainly got Indore’s attention.