Hadi (real name changed), is a teenage resident of the Canal View Society, who simply craves adventure. All year round, he waits for occasions like the Independence Day and Chand Raat. That’s when he is allowed to hang out with his friends without his father watching over them as he would on any other day.
No one at his home has the foggiest idea of these boys’ wild motorcycle acts on the main roads of the city, often under the nose of the traffic police, Punjab Police and the Dolphin Force.
The boys are up to a variety of dangerous antics — they lie flat on the seats of their bikes or ride them while standing up and flying their arms around. Most commonly, they go on the (terrifying) one-wheeling spree. The result is often a deadly accident.
This year was no different. Whereas hundreds of young boys were caught doing the wheelie in the streets of Lahore on Chand Raat, at least 23 are reported to have been killed. The number of those injured is equally alarming.
Hadi and his group of friends were also showing off their antics, racing past the awestruck onlookers, when they lost control and their bikes collided. It left them seriously injured.
The public hospitals of Lahore took as many as 1,200 casualties this Eid. A Rescue 1122 source says a majority of them were juveniles.
What is most worrying is the fact that there seems to be no end to one-wheeling acts and the resulting accidents. It’s a mystery as to why the traffic police as well as the Punjab Police have failed to deal with the menace. It seems the former is only interested in issuing challans to the lesser privileged and those they can easily lay their hands on. The speeding bikers are also often inaccessible.
Ali Nawaz, a spokesman of Lahore Traffic Police, rejects the allegation that the department is a silent spectator in this case.
Speaking on behalf of Tayyab Hafeez Cheema, Chief Traffic Officer (CTO), Lahore, Nawaz says that as many as 883 cases were registered against those indulging in one-wheeling during the Eid holidays. He also speaks of “nine special squads comprising 92 traffic officers” that are deputed on Canal Road, Jail Rd, Mughalpura, Gulberg, Anarkali, Shadman, Ichhra, Mozang, Wahdat Rd, Old Airport Rd, Model Town, The Mall, and Shahdara.
According to Nawaz, different superintendents of police who were instructed to check one-wheeling at any cost, “performed really well.”
He also puts the onus of controlling the boys on their parents. “They should come forward and guard their children against any such dangerous activity. If they don’t, they are partners in crime.”
Lack of safety measures also increases the scale of damage. As Salman Kazmi, General Secretary, Young Doctors Association (YDA) puts it, “Majority of the youth in the city don’t use safety helmets.
“The death toll during the five Eid holidays has reached a horrific 23, and around 162 injured were brought to Mayo hospital. Most of them were discharged while some are to undergo surgery.”
Spinal injury is the most common in such accidents, says Kazmi. “The boys often end up being paralysed for life.”
He urges the government to take strict action to control one-wheeling, “If they can ensure that kite-flying is not banned, why they can’t check the bikers?”
It is worth mentioning here that Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif has constituted an inquiry committee under CM’s Inspection Team Chairman, the Additional Inspector General (Operations), Special Home Secretary and noted orthopedic surgeons of Mayo Hospital to review such incidents.
It is also the responsibility of the committee to submit recommendations to curb the menace of one-wheeling.
Interestingly, when TNS tried to contact Arif Nawaz, AIG (Operations) to get an update on the committee’s findings, he was totally at a loss and said he was on leave for personal reasons and knew nothing about it.
He, however, denied the reports of the death toll as being as high as 23.
Abdullah Malik, President, Civil Society Network Pakistan, and a renowned human rights activist, believes motorcycle acrobats should be allowed as a sport on purpose-built tracks only. This would “help the youth channelise their energies without risking their lives.”
Malik says that different avenues of entertainment should be created for the youth. “Unfortunately, we have very limited number of play grounds and the clubs are mostly expensive and elitist. As a result, the street boys take to the roads.”
Syed Muntazir Mehdi, Acting DIG Operations, Lahore claims that the police makes the arrests on the spot to discourage the activity (of one-wheeling) on busy roads. “If someone manages to escape, he is arrested after being identified by his companions. CCTV cameras installed on the roads are also a help in this case.”
Mehdi says that despite the special duties during Ramzan and Eid, maximum police force was deputed to check one-wheeling “without discrimination.”
On the other hand, the judiciary refused to grant bails to the boys who had to spend the Eid behind the bars.
“499-odd FIRs were registered and 561 accused were arrested during the Eid holidays (July 6-13) to discourage one-wheeling,” Mehdi adds. “795 FIRs were registered against rash drivers and all of them were arrested. The videos of those arrested were released on different medias.”