Speed biking by underage riders puts everyone’s lives at risk

Mumbai: On Shab-e-Barat last week, a motorcade of teenage bikers started from Govandi’s Natwar Parekh compound to go towards Mahim dargah. Around 4.30 am, one of the 17-odd bikes fell off the U-bridge in Bandra from a height of 40 feet, killing 18-year-old pillion rider Abdul Ahad Shaikh and leaving his 17-year-old friend fighting for life.

Speed biking by underage riders puts everyone’s lives at risk

Underage bikers speeding away through the night during the Shab-e-Barat celebration has proved to be fatal for several of them over the last several years. Elders in the community, including religious leaders, say they often discourage children from indulging in speed biking and counsel parents on how they could do the same.

At the Al Madina Masjid in Natwar Parekh compound where Abdul and his friends live, Imam Mufti Ajmal Hussain Azhari has been making announcements, asking young boys to spend the Shab-e-Barat festival praying and seeking forgiveness for past bad deeds. His khadim, Abdul Qayyum Qadri, said that the announcements started a week before the event.

Similar steps have been taken by other religious outfits as well. Managing trustee of the Mahim and Haji Ali dargahs Sohail Khandwani said, “Every year, we blast messages through social media, telling the youth that indulging in such stunts on the night of forgiveness is prohibited. Visiting dargahs on Badi Raat is auspicious.” Khandwani feels that the efforts have borne fruit as, according to him, there was a drop of up to 90 percent in bike stunts performed by teenagers. “We do our bit,” he said. “But the mohalla committees and parents also need to take some measures.”

None of the remonstrations, however, seem to deter young bikers. Nikhat Parveen, the mother of deceased Abdul Ahad, remembers that she had told her son not to go out with his friends on Wednesday night. “He tried to convince me by telling me there would be some elder boys with him,” she said. “I still did not permit him. We were all praying and didn’t even realise that the boys had slipped out.” The single mother, who brought up her son by sewing clothes after his father died when he was only a year old, has personally requested all parents who come to offer condolences to not give their children bikes.

A teenager who was part of the motorcade said that they were trying to avoid areas with heavy nakabandi like Kurla, which is why they went towards Bandra. Most of the children who were with the two riders said their parents had confiscated their bike keys, while some confessed that they were scared to ride bikes now.

The Mumbai traffic police cite a World Health Organization report on road safety that states, ‘A five percent cut in average speed can result in 30 percent reduction in fatal accidents.’ Traffic police data showed that 17,73,035 e-challans had been issued for various traffic violations, of which 65,948 were speedsters caught on the 80 speed-detecting cameras across the city in 2022.

At the community level, several members have tried to bring down the number of youngsters indulging in prohibited activities. At Govandi, for example, there is a Bazm-e-Hassan where advocate Suhail Shekason (24) and quality analyst Ghulam Hussain (27) interact and guide teenage boys. They help in engaging the young minds in religious and creative activities while steering them away from evils like substance abuse. “A person who is not old enough to drive and has no license should not have access to bikes. We tell the kids to be good, law-abiding citizens and not indulge in any activities that the law deems them too young for,” said Shekason.

Speed biking is not an activity limited to a particular day or place. The locations previously were Bandra Reclamation and Carter Road, where bikers would famously perform wheelies and other such stunts even amid traffic and passersby. Now, they have taken to the expressways – both eastern and western – as well as the Bandra-Worli Sea Link on some occasions. In many of these instances, there are bets on who will be able to perform a particular stunt or cover a distance the fastest.

Taking serious note of racing on the roads in 2019 after a series of complaints from residents in Bandra and Khar, the traffic police had begun a crackdown on racers, lodging FIRs against them at police stations and seizing their bikes. Police said that nearly 230 bikes were seized in Mumbai in 2019. The police seized 171 two-wheelers and registered 131 cases in the Vakola-Kherwadi stretch, bringing down racing on the Western Express Highway to a great extent. “Racing puts the lives of other road users at risk too,” said Raj Tilak Roushan, deputy commissioner of police (traffic).

Officials said that the bike races were mostly organised over the weekends at particular places which do not have 24-hour police surveillance. The racing starts after midnight. Bikers send Whatsapp messages placing bets ranging from 5,000 to 1 lakh. “Many times, the bikes used for racing are stolen or modified. We had been tracking the activity of racers and had kept a watch on the popular racing spots like Bandra Reclamation, Kherwadi, Vakola, Marine Drive, Kurla and the Eastern Express Highway,” said Roushan.

Cracking down on racers has not been easy for the police, as riders ram into barricades at nakabandis, and even fling stones at the vehicles of police officers and fleeing. After this, however, the police began posting nakabandis at both ends of the stretch, so that the bikers could not escape.

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