‘Pillion’ Riding Banned in Karachi

Posted on November 17, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Law & Justice
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Adil Najam

I must confess that until two days ago I did not know what ‘Pillion Riding’ was. I first saw the phrase and read the news that it had been banned in Karachi on Adnan Siddiqi’s blog, since then I have seen another post on the subject by Unaiza Nasim on Karachi Metroblog and also an editorial in The News (17 November, 2006).

Now I not only know what ‘Pillion Riding’ is, but I also realize that I spent much of my youth indulging in this now banned activity. All of which leads me to agree with Adnan and Unaiza that this ban is an example of silly and diversionary policy; Policy that gives the illusion that ‘something is being done’ but is likely to do very little to solve the problem.

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In case you are wondering what this is all about, Wikipedia defines ‘Pillion’ as:

A pillion is a secondary pad, cushion, or seat behind the main seat or saddle on a horse, motorcycle, or moped. A passenger in this seat is said to “ride pillion” or may themselves be referred to as a “pillion.” The word is derived from the Gaelic for “little rug,” pillean, which is itself from the Latin pellis for “animal skin.” One or more pelts would often have been the form a secondary seat took on horseback, and the usage was carried over to motorcycles.

By way of context, Wikipedia goes on to explain:

Pillion-riding is associated with terrorist or criminal attacks in some South Asian countries. In Pakistan, for instance, pillion riding is often banned by local authorities around sensitive times…

And that, exactly, is what this is about. According to a PPI report, Pillion Riding has been banned in Karachi for 15 days as a measure to curb rising street crime.

A ban has been imposed on pillion riding on motorbikes within the city. Put forth by the Sindh government under Section 144, the ban will come into effect from Wednesday, November 15. According to a press release issued by the Sindh Home Secretary Tuesday, women, children below the age of 12, elderly citizens, journalists and uniformed law enforcement personnel are exempt from the rule. The decision was taken to cope with the growing lawlessness in the city-especially street crimes, car snatching and other illegal activities.

In short, lets just punish those tens of thousands of ordinary citizens who share rides out of necessity because we are unable to get the real culprits through regular law enforcement mechanisms!

I used to have a Honda CD-70 (kabhi nahin rukti) when I was a student in Lahore. On occasion one would not only carry two but up to four people on the little bike to go to Purani Anarkali for kulfa-falooda (zigging and zagging all the way from Mughalpura and always keeping an eye out for the Tullas lest we be handed a challan!). In retrospect, it was not a very safe thing to do and I would probably not advise others to do it today. (My ATP co-conspirators Owais Mughal and Bilal Zuberi have also confessed on this blog of being serial ‘Pillion Riders’: here, here and here and I suspect some of our readers have also indulged in this activity).

All of that notwithstanding, however, a bad idea is always a bad idea. And this is a bad idea. The editorial in The News (17 November, 2006) got this one right:

The Sindh government’s latest effort to ostensibly curb rising street crime in Karachi, which comes in the form of a ban on pillion riding, is indicative of the desperate situation that law-enforcement agencies find themselves in. With the crime rate rising despite attempts by authorities to put in place measures to curb it, the ban, imposed initially only for 15 days, is clearly a last-ditch effort. However, going by experience and history one can safely say that it appears to be misguided, will not work and only affect those from the middle-class who use motorcycles as their primary means of transport. While it is true that majority of the instances of street crime are perpetrated by men riding a motorcycle, the pillion ban ignores the fact that such a prohibition in the past has not meant that crimes, especially terrorist attacks and targeted killings (both of which Karachi has seen much of) have not taken place. Besides, it overlooks the major inconvenience that is bound to be caused to a sizeable chunk of Karachi’s commuting and working population who use motorcycles to travel to work. Consider a family with two or three sons working, all using the same motorcycle to go to their respective jobs and how the ban will force them to spend more on travel.

Besides, it’s not as if Karachi has a brilliant and efficient public transport system. Moreover, the fact that in a majority of street crimes the suspects are two men on a motorcycle does not translate into a majority of pillion riders being criminal offenders. Such a line of thought is plainly discriminatory and seems to be a case of profiling. This argument can be stretched a bit further: if crimes were carried out by men riding in cars (some of them surely must be — that is, the crimes committed) then should cars also be banned or restricted to only the driver? In the pillion ban instance, exceptions have been made for women, children, senior citizens and journalists but it still is a futile attempt to cut down criminal activity. It is near-sighted and fails to address the underlying causes of criminal activity and overlooks the role of the police themselves in the commission or facilitation of criminal acts. In any case, criminals will surely figure out an alternative way, as they so often do, to carry out their nefarious deeds. Surely the Sindh government can come up with a better, more sustainable and practicable approach to fighting crime.

The statement of hope (or is it cynicism?) in that last sentence is endearing. But I am left wondering whether, in fact, the Sindh Government is actually capable of coming up with a better solution. Not sure if it is. Maybe, they should get some advice from my old friend Sultan Azam Temuri.

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