‘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.

22 Comments on “‘Pillion’ Riding Banned in Karachi”

  1. Owais Mughal says:
    November 17th, 2006 10:22 am

    It is said that a ban on pillion riding ban brings more misery on people who do not own cars and share rides to go to work on motorbikes.

    I also had spent much of my youth with a ban on pillion riding. As long as I remember from my motorcycle driving days, Karachi always had a pillion riding ban. i.e. 1988-1996 with few days of respite in between on and off.

  2. Samdani says:
    November 17th, 2006 11:53 am

    This really is a silly way to do policy. Its like saying that since many theifs enter homes through windows, therefore we should put a ban on all windows.

  3. November 17th, 2006 11:54 am

    If Pillion riding ban means that two people are not allow to sit on motorbike then its so crap. But if it stops more than two people to ride then its ok due to the security of those who ride on it, as the motorbike is made for two to ride and not for three or more.

  4. Roshan Malik says:
    November 17th, 2006 12:09 pm

    There had been a ban on pillion riding in Punjab in late 90′s due to the sectarian violence. People really suffered a lot during that time.

  5. Owais Mughal says:
    November 17th, 2006 12:17 pm

    Pillion riding ban means only 1 adult MALE can sit on a motorcycle. Ladies and children under certain age are exempt from above restriction.

  6. Naveed Siraj says:
    November 17th, 2006 12:43 pm

    What is the maximum number of people that you have ever seen ride on a bike together. I once saw 7. Anyone seen a greater number? :)

  7. Daktar says:
    November 17th, 2006 12:44 pm

    The real story here is not about motorcycles, it is about the bad law and order situation which keeps getting worse. Purse snatching, kidnappings, cellphone snatching, theft, harrassment. Its getting out of control, specially in Karachi. Some drastic actions need to be taken.

  8. Deeda-i-Beena says:
    November 17th, 2006 1:45 pm

    It is said:”You set a thief to catch a thief”
    Let us assume that 1 in a 1000(or whatever) Motorcyclists/Pillion Riders are the crooks. I would put the
    entire police force, from the Inspector General down on Motorcycles/Pillions to catch the crooks and restore law and order. A policeman on FOOT nor one in a CAR/JEEP can ever deal with the motorcyclist. Imagine, how many motorcycles can a single Police Car/Jeep beget. Imagine,the enormous savings in Gasoline and maintenance would come to the budgets. Imagine, how close the protectors of the people would come and relate to those being protected.Imagine, how much more nimble and efficient the entire police force would become. An exciting and wonderful WIN WIN situation n’est pas ???

  9. Daktar says:
    November 17th, 2006 1:45 pm

    7. Wow. How many rules of physics do we have to break to get 7 people on a running motorbike.
    The highest I have seen is 5 (2 adults, 3 kids).

  10. Samdani says:
    November 17th, 2006 6:18 pm

    I am also amazed at the 7 on a motorcycle number! That should be some sort of a record :-)

  11. Kashif says:
    November 17th, 2006 6:38 pm

    I love the title picture on this story. Just beautiful. Captures so many things of our collective childhood.

    As for the new law, we all know how stupid it is. So why even discuss it?


  12. Adnan Siddiqi says:
    November 18th, 2006 12:23 am

    so according to owais’ definition, the above picture is not an appropoate example of pillion riding:)

  13. Samdani says:
    November 18th, 2006 12:30 am

    No, this picture IS Pillion Riding. Anything more than one passenger is. What Owais is saying that children and women and old people and some categories are exempt from the ban. Which they are.

  14. Adnan Siddiqi says:
    November 18th, 2006 10:29 am

    thanks samdani for clarification:)

  15. Adnan says:
    November 18th, 2006 12:16 pm

    Pillion riding, this term is used all over India. Anybody who sits behind the rider is a pillion rider.
    But pillion riding can’t be banned. When capacity is exceeded that is three people on a motorcycle or scooter in place of two, this violation of traffic rules can not be termed as pillion riding. The authorities may have erred as they could not find the term for it, I feel.
    Actually, it is overloading or exceeding capacity or simply three persons riding a two-wheeler, often people call it tripling as well.

  16. Adnan Siddiqi says:
    November 18th, 2006 1:22 pm

    yes Adnan in urdu it is called DOUBLE SAWARI hehe.

  17. Adnan Siddiqi says:
    November 18th, 2006 1:34 pm

    I used to have a Honda CD-70 (kabhi nahin rukti)

    O bhai bike thee ya w-11 ki mini Bus?? ya brake kharab thay??

  18. November 18th, 2006 2:50 pm

    Adnan, maybe I am showing my age here. The ‘kabhi nahin rukti’ refers to a very popular and long-running ad of Honda-70 that used to appear from teh longest of time on TV and radio.

  19. November 18th, 2006 11:37 pm

    For more recent developments on this silly pillion riding ban, see a report in Daily Times. Excerpt:

    KARACHI: The city council was told on Saturday that as the ban on pillion riding was imposed by the Sindh government, the city council could not table resolutions on the matter… Opposition leader Saeed Ghani responded to this with, “The ban on pillion riding is an issue of the citizens of Karachi, and not the Sindh government alone. When citizens suffer, it is the responsibility of the city council to discuss the matter and table a resolution.â€

  20. Adnan Siddiqi says:
    November 19th, 2006 2:00 am

    I knew about the Ad.I was just half kidding =)

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