Selfies on railways banned

Sri Lankan railway authorities have begun a nationwide crackdown on those individuals recklessly taking selfies on railway tracks, in an attempt to curb an increasing number of tragedies, all for the sake of social media moolah. Last week, saw not one, but two tragic incidents making headline news. Two brothers, Shashi Madhushan aged 24 and Thikshana Shakshan (12) met with a tragic accident when they attempted to take selfies at a scenic spot on the railway track between Colpetty and Bambalapitiya on June 12. According to reports, the two brothers had been engrossed in taking the perfect selfie, and not heard the rolling sounds of an express train Aluthgama bound, from Maradana.

Police say the 24-year-old who had arrived from Singapore the same day was picked up by family members, had spent some time at Galle Face Green before the duo departed to the scene. The younger brother Thikshana Shakshan was killed instantly, while the older brother had succumbed to his injuries en route to the Colombo National Hospital.

Kahawa

Two days after this tragic incident was reported, another story that made news was that of a young couple who were run over by a Jaffna - Matara train when they were attempting to take a selfie near the Kahawa Railway Station in Ambalangoda.

The 24-year old man died on the spot while the woman who was injured is said to be receiving treatment. According to eye witnesses, the couple had ignored repeated warnings from passersby that a train was approaching.

A spokesperson for the Railway Department, Wijaya Samarasinghe told the Sunday Observer that there are laws in place prohibiting the use of railway tracks.

He cited the Railways Act of 1864, according to which legal action can be instituted against individuals who disrupt railway services or make use of the railway tracks in other ways, but that it had not been implemented to date.

“We cannot stand by and let people die on our railways,” he said, adding that if the individuals were not going to be careful for their safety, the authorities would have to take drastic measures.

“This craze of using railway tracks by couples along the marine drive, by those wanting to commit suicide and most of all by individuals who want to take the perfect picture, must stop.” Samarasinghe added that it was insensible for people to expect trains to toot horns or make a loud noise so they would be warned. “Things have changed, now, you don’t hear the sound of an express train until it’s very close. How and why individuals continue to risk their lives is beyond comprehension.”

He said, most of the time, even though individuals notice an oncoming train, they are left with very little time to react and move to safety. Even then he says, the injuries could be severe.

Samarasinghe added that the train’s security division would be deployed to ensure that not only selfie snappers, but even jaywalkers along the railway lines would cease from doing so, in future.

Meanwhile, the Superintendent of the Railways Protection Force, Anura Premaratne told the Sunday Observer that there is provision within the Railways Act and Ordinance, which prevents people from using the railway tracks in an unauthorized manner or obstructing the services along the railway lines.

“From time to time, we have been apprehending individuals, the only difference is that it’s not widely reported, and hence, many assume that we do not have a regulation in place,” he said.

“We can apprehend individuals and produce them before courts. We may also fine them up to Rs. 3,000 for an act which we deem as a violation of the clauses mentioned in the above Act.”

Premarathne added, employees from the Railways protection force have been requested to remain vigilant and ensure that anyone who uses the tracks in an unauthorized way is apprehended immediately. A cursory search on popular networking sites such as, Facebook, shows a plethora of images posted by Sri Lankans attempting to take risky shots in the search for the perfect selfie.

India - a case study

India which is said to have the highest number of deaths in the world by those attempting to take selfies on railway tracks have enforced regulations that make it illegal to snap photographs or take selfies standing on railway lines.

The Eastern Railways Department is said to have issued guidelines and launched campaigns in print, television and social media to make people wary of the dangers of such actions. Bigger fines and penalties were also part of the measures the government is initiating.

In the United States

In the US it is now medically endorsed that taking selfies is an addiction to some. The medical term is narcissism - from the Greek story of Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in a pond. Diagnoses of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) have risen sharply over the past 10 years: the rate of increase is comparable to the rise in the rate of obesity. Numerous studies claim to have made direct links between the increase in NPD and the ubiquity of social media. Behaviours such as attempting to attract more followers, wanting to tell followers about your life, and the need to project a positive image at all times have been described by researchers as examples of exhibiting narcissistic personality traits on social media.

A direct link has also been found between the number of Facebook friends a person has, and the prevalence of socially disruptive traits commonly associated with narcissism. According to a worldwide study by scholars from Carnegie Mellon University, 127 people have died while trying to take selfies in the past two and a half years. India alone accounted for 76 such deaths, with nine from Pakistan, eight from USA and 6 from Russia.

The researchers referred to taking a selfie in front of a moving train or on a railway track, as a trend which caters to the belief that posing on or next to the train tracks with a friend was either a romantic gesture or a sign of never ending friendship. 

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