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Flirting with Death

The needle had already hit 140 kmph. Riding a 160 cc bike, Muntazir was hurtling his machine towards 160 kmph on the bumpy, potholed roads of the city outskirts. Suddenly he felt the back part of his bike dangerously shaking. “I knew I was romancing death,” recalls Muntazir.  Good sense prevailed. Muntazir slowed down. He was lucky to avert a possible skid-off or a crash with deadly results. 
But that doesn’t happen always. Once your bike and a blood rush get together, a blinding thrill takes over. You whizz and tear past passing vehicles. They look no more than cockroaches to you, who should be whacked left and right to make way for you. Suddenly, you feel you can fly your bike. Result: serious injuries. Or, worse a bloody death.
Stunt biking, rash riding and bike racing among youth have in recent years become a serious issue in Kashmir. Both police and the youths’ parents seem helpless in stopping youth from this perilous practice. Youth on their part feel this daredevil style is an ‘essential part’ of their macho youthfulness and a way to be ‘noticed.’ 
The results at times are tragic.     

RasikShabir was just 16 when rash driving consumed him at Nawakadal in Srinagar. “He was driving zigzag at a very high  speed. He lost control over his bike and skidded off,” recalls an eyewitness. Rasik died on the spot.
Several young boys have in recent past met a similar fate while stunt biking in the city and towns.

 

On May 3 this year, Muhammad HaroonUntoo, 18, from Sopore died while attempting a daring stunt near Novpora area of the Apple Town.
Faizan Khursheed and his friend were riding to Gulmarg for a holiday a year ago. A speed rush caught on. Their bike skidded off and both died.
“It is just some mistakes by the youngsters who actually don’t know the real meaning of stunt riding. Some race so rash, it costs them their lives,” says a stunt racer from Srinagar who doesn’t want to be named. Even though he knows the dangers, he feels the risk is worth everything, even life itself. “It is our passion and we can die for it. And we mean it.” 

Junaid has just taken to stunt biking and is already on a high. “We just want to be the kings of speed. Speed satisfies our inner urge. The buzzing sound of your bike as you race and tear through the air gives me some deep satisfaction,” says Junaid. Another stunt biker who likes to remain anonymous goes a little further. “Once you take to stunt biking, you see yourself in another world. It is this addiction which compels us to do stunts on the city roads.”
 Not only dangerous driving but even more dangerous words, you can say. These words also explain what drives youth to stunt biking and road rage. 
But, only in part.
Most bikers hangout around places where girls frequent, like colleges, schools and tuition centres. A stunt or two, or crash driving becomes an easy way to catch attention.  But bikers deny they do it to attract girls.

Raqib has been into stunt biking for some time now. He feels people should appreciate what stunt bikers are doing. “For us this is a sport and nothing else, but we are being treated as criminals. It’s our skill and passion which make us perform stunts on city roads,” says Raqib. “We cannot leave stunts as we have become addicted to it. We want to promote it as a sport.”

Since stunt biking is not allowed on the city roads, Raqib and other stunt bikes have to play hide and seek with the police.  
But Raqib suggests the authorities should provide stunt bikers a proper platform where they can showcase their talent. “That can promote it as sport in the state.  Otherwise we are bound to take to illegal ways and methods to perform stunts on the roads.”
And despite frequent accidents, ‘illegal ways and methods’ is how it goes on.

The traffic police department seems ineffective in checking this problem. It swings into action after some accident, but most of the times it is business as usual for the bikers. Recently, the police seized some 1500 bikes in a swoop down on bikers in the city. But most people feel such crackdowns often lose steam quickly. 

Haseeb-ur-Rehman, SP Traffic (now transferred) says the police try to identify stunt bikers and rash riders through CCTV footage. But he feels handicapped by another problem. “Even when we apprehend them, the courts let them off easily. We need support from the courts to check this menace,” says Haseeb.

Advocate NasirQadri explains why courts can’t take the kind of strict action against stunt bikers Haseeb is looking for. “Stunt biking is not a serious offence. Stunt bikers can be charged under the Motor Vehicles Act or the relevant laws only if they violate the law or cause some accident,” explains Nasir.  

The Traffic Police department has also introduced a dial-in service where people can report about rash riding and dangerous stunt biking. 
Haseeb believes parents can play a pivotal role in controlling stunt biking.“If parents keep an eye on their kids that can save their children’s lives.”
Besides parental monitoring, social activists believe regular awareness and counseling campaigns for youth to sensitise them about the dangers of rash riding and unprotected stunt biking can also help. 

 

Caught in the net

Apart from copycatting, internet seems to play a major role in encouraging stunt biking among youth. There are any number of online videos that detail bike stunts from the common to the most complex and risky. “I and my friends learnt most of the difficult stunts from Youtube videos. These videos would charge us up to try out even the most dangerous techniques,” says Muntazir who has now given up stunting.

Social networking sites also play their part in ‘promoting’ this risky trend. These sites provide a readymade platform for youth to publish their bike stunt photos and videos, however badly shot. This ensures they get noticed and earn ‘likes.’
Several youth groups have created pages on various social media sites. Angry Birds Stunt Club  is one with over 11,000 ‘likes.’ 

Another group goes by the name Valley Bike Stunters Club and has over a thousand ‘likes.’ Its FB page is full of comments and praises from those who get a kick from these deadly stunts. The Club’s status seems dangerously worded: “Fight on and fly on to the last drop of blood and the last drop of fuel to the last beat of the heart.”
So take care. Somebody may be flying past you on his last drop of blood.

Man, machine and mechanics

Stunt biking requires proper coaching which no biker, this reporter, spoke to has had. Besides, the Valley’s broken and bumpy roads which these bikers frequent, are an open invitation to accidents. Neither are the bikes used by these youth meant for performing stunts. 

Stunt bikes come with loads of features and modifications. Which bike suits you depends on factors, such as your riding style, weight, and experience. Your technical knowhow of the bike you’re riding also plays an important part so that you’re in complete control of your machine.

“Motorcycle stunt bikes are specifically made for stunts. They are built with the necessary features to give riders the dexterity and flexibility to perform stunts,” says Irfan who owns a bike showroom in Srinagar. “But youth here use ordinary bikes for racing and performing stunts which is unsafe.” 
Youth here have found a way around that too. They purchase normal sports bikes, take them to a local bike mechanic and have their features modified to make them stunt-ready. 

The cost to add these features varies from bike to bike and the extent of modification.“Normally we charge Rs 10,000 to 20,000 to reshape the normal bike into a stunt bike,” says Manzoor, a bike mechanic who at times has brisk business. But, he has word of caution, “Though we do it professionally, there is still no guarantee that accidents can be prevented.”

Last words

An increasing number of youth are getting drawn to bike racing and stunt biking. You’ll find them everywhere especially on the city roads. They’ll swoosh past you so perilously that you consider yourself lucky to be one piece. And by the time you turn around to call them out, they have already zigzagged out of sight. There is very little to deter such rash riding. Not even fear of serious injuries or death. 
Majid was injured twice while road racing and stunt biking. “Once my legs were fractured and then my rib cage was badly damaged,” recalls Majid. 

Majid even saw death up close. “Recently one of our group members, Arsalan, whom we had nicknamed DiggaRacer died at Shalteng. He was a good racer, but that day he over sped, lost control over his bike and that was it.”
Arsalan was just 17. His parents could hardly afford to buy him a bike, but he had forced them to buy him one, because of his passion for bike racing.

Despite personal injury and death of a friend Majid continues with his risky affair with speed. “Yes, there is risk,” says Majid  “but there is also fun.” 
 The bait of this ‘fun thing’ seems to be a death trap for many a young soul.

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