Second-class citizens?

Apr 14, 2011, 10:19 IST | Amrita Bose

Ever felt a reflexive pang of panic on a busy traffic snarling road choked when you spot a family on a scooter with mother and kids riding pillion or a child jumping up and down next to the driver's seat in a car while the parents look on indulgently. While these scenes from a regular Indian family might not shock you too
much-what might send shivers down your spine is the fact that in the former both child and mother are not wearing helmets and the child is not strapped to the seat with a seat belt in the latter. But the father in both cases is either wearing a helmet or is strapped up with a seat belt. This makes you wonder whether it is only men who as drivers need protection for their head but not children and women who ride pillion precariously without helmets.

A recent study conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, showed that out of 50,000 injuries reported every year in India at least one third comprise head injuries. Women and children come with high fatality rates of almost 25 per cent.

While rickety scooters or bikes could make anybody nervous, even in cars there is no provision of rear seat belts. Most small cars in India with the exception of a few like the Ford Figo don't have rear seat belts nor do they come equipped with air bags to take the brunt of an accident. Ignorance is rife with children often being allowed to sit on parents' laps while driving. While the West looks at these actions as being irresponsible and endangering behaviours with Britney Spears and Goldie Hawn having faced flak for driving with their kid and grandchild clutched between the wheels, in India actions like these are best left unsaid.

With only riders wearing helmets for protection more out of the legal hassles and fear of fines rather than being responsible, pillion riders, mostly women and children get the raw end of the law. There have been laws on and off about pillion riders also wearing a helmet, but this rule is best avoided for reasons best known to riders.
While the government may keep increasing the fine amount to Rs 1,000 for two wheeler riders not wearing a helmet, it is shocking to see there being absolutely no measures for ensuring the safety of children whatsoever. In the absence of the government not taking any steps to ensure the safety of women and children, often pillion riders, it is totally up to us to make sure of our own safety by wearing a helmet at least. Or should we just look the other way the next time we spot a family riding precariously on the roads with unprotected heads.

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