Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Drinking, driving, killing

I am sure you must have read, and reacted with a mix of emotions comprising in part of revulsion, anger and frustration, about the two recent episodes of drunk driving in Mumbai. I too have been reading the newspaper reports and I am fairly disturbed with what I have read. I am basing this post solely on what I have read and have not verified any of the facts personally.

Very briefly, the in first incident Manoj Gautam driving under the influence, hit a rickshaw. Two of the passengers a young animator Charu Khandal and her fiancé have been seriously injured. She will probably be paralysed from neck and waist down. In the second incident a group of friends went out drinking. All were below the legal age to drink. The driver Rahul Mishra was drunk, the car crashed, one girl was killed and another is critically injured.

Before going further, I must state, that I have been guilty of driving when drunk more than several times. I was probably guilty of this right until the time that the Police started the campaign some 3 or 4 years ago. This was in what is regarded as the good old days. The fact that I had absolutely no accident [except a severe hangover at times] is testament to my extreme good fortune as well as the equally extreme good fortune of all who crossed my path. Today, I do not drive if I am drinking. This is an absolute ban, meaning, it’s not even one beer or one glass of wine, it’s nothing. Either I drink or I drive. For transport it’s a train or taxi or rickshaw. There are several reasons why I am so inflexible on this rule, but that is another story and I will not burden this post with the reasons.

The two incidents have had very different impacts on me. While on the face of it both are accidents caused by drunk drivers, the circumstances and the fall outs could not be more different.

In the first case, Charu Khandal and two friends were returning from a party. They may have had a lot to drink, however, they, were not guilty of drinking and driving, they were in an auto rickshaw. They were all above the legal age of drinking. They were in full compliance of the law. They could not have been more correct in their behaviour. Manoj Gautam whose car hit Charu's auto rickshaw drove rashly, apparently was drunk and hit the rickshaw seriously injuring Charu. Bizarre!

You may have noted the use of the word `apparently’. Our worthy cops have mucked up the alcohol test, which obviously has to be done promptly, as a result of which, the question of Manoj Gautam being drunk is now up in the air. He is out on bail.

Look at it differently. Take a look around you especially if you live in Mumbai. Everywhere, literally everywhere, there is an illegality. It could be an enclosed balcony in your flat, the scores and scores of hawkers, all illegal, legitimate stalls that have encroached illegally, hoardings put up illegally, walls defaced, road rules broken with impunity. In simple economic terms what does this mean? To my mind it means only one thing, at the other end there is an administrator, be it police, municipality who condones the illegality by taking a bribe. Why should every policeman do his job? It’s just so easy to simply take a bribe. Do you think there was a genuine mistake in processing Manoj  Gautam for drunk driving? I do not think so. Now of course the opportunity is lost forever.

Is this not just so unfair on poor Charu?

The second case is equally shocking. 6 youngsters, the oldest of whom was Rahul Mishra the driver 23, were returning from an evening of drinking at a pub at Bandra which they did till closing time that is 1.30 am. All of them were drunk; all of them underage drinkers and the car was overloaded. They crashed, Shivani Rawat died and a couple of others are critical and comatose. Rahul Mishra was tested, found drunk and jailed. Of course it’s sad when people die and are hurt, but, in this case all of them were guilty and all of them brought it upon themselves. There was no innocent hurt like in Charu’s case.

The reaction of Shivani’s father as quoted in the newspaper is shocking in the extreme. Mr Rawat works for the LIC as a senior clerk and lives, obviously at hugely discounted rates [read at taxpayers’ expense] in the LIC colony at Santa Cruz. Shivani had open heart surgery a few years ago. She had dropped out of school and had not passed her 12th standard, HSC as we know it. She had a job at an event management firm and was permitted to drink by her parents, despite being underage, which is why she was out that night. To me all this smacks of bad parenting. To drop out of education before the 12th standard was absolutely unthinkable in my parent’s eyes. Here, it did not seem to be a problem.

Be that as it may, Mr Rawat, our caring parent, has a stunning suggestion. He says that police should be posted outside every pub [why pub and not every permit room I do not know] to keep a watch and ensure that no one can drive after getting drunk. I am amazed at the audacity of the man. He has been a bad parent unable to control his child and unable to instil any sort of values in her. This failed parent who abdicated his duties as one, now wants all of us be subjected to policing outside bars? Really what are we all thinking?

I am just so aghast by all this.

There are no simple solutions to things. Drinking and driving is a worldwide problem, not just in Mumbai or India. The law in Mumbai does say that you have to be 25 to be drinking hard liquor. It may be unreasonable but, it's the law. No one pays any heed to the law, neither the pub serving nor the punter consuming. Fine, even if you are of drinking age, if you have drunk too much, the pub should refuse to serve you anymore. No one does this either. Policing of drunk driving is a joke. There is faulty equipment, non functioning equipment, equipment awaiting procurement, tendering, lack of police to man the equipment and so on and so forth. Even if you do have a check the whole issue of bribing your way out of it is another saga. Mind you this is just one small problem with such huge consequences. When will someone ever do their job, whether it is pub owners, the police or parents or the guys in charge of procuring and maintaining breathalyzers?

I often despair. 

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