KARACHI: Tayyaba, 26, zips through Karachi’s traffic on her motorcycle every day to get to work, with a helmet perched on top of her head.
The traffic law mandates the helmet for both male and female riders and co-rider on a motorcycle. As a woman, Tayyaba can go without the safety gadget but chooses not to.
Campaigners are becoming increasingly vocal about the consequences of the helmet-compulsory drive by the Karachi traffic police. The latter are bent upon making females on motorcycles wear helmets too. This can help save dozens of lives lost each year as well as injuries of hundreds others, they claim.
For a young woman like Tayyaba, who learned how to ride the motorcycle herself, the helmet-compulsory drive of the Karachi traffic police is praiseworthy, but she is not very optimistic about its success. “We are a stubborn society,” she said. “It will be extremely difficult to make the women understand that it is for their own safety.”
According to her, the helmet will not be much of a problem for the women who already wear a scarf or burka. “It’s like wearing a cap,” she said. “Gradually, you become accustomed to it.” She added that if women kept worrying about how the safety gadget will affect their hairstyle, then one can only feel sorry for their naivety.
Tayyaba said that when she rides her motorcycle on Sharae Faisal, the people around show her the thumbs-up gesture. “If a girl can drive a car, why can’t she ride a two-wheeler?” she questioned. According to her, she has been riding a bicycle since childhood. “When the bicycle turned into a motorcycle, people started finding it weird.”
Tayyaba started riding her friend’s motorcycle in 2009 when she enrolled herself in Karachi University. In 2010, she felt the need to buy her own motorcycle. “I used to live in the campus and had to leave for my job very early in the morning,” she recalled. “I had to wait for hours for a rickshaw and used to get late for work. Then one day, I bought my own motorcycle and stood against the patriarchal mind-set. It’s better to have your own conveyance than depend on someone else.”
According to her, the government should introduce the Scooty motorcycle in Pakistan, which is one of the best rides for a woman. “It doesn’t matter if you wear shalwar kameez, jeans, or a burka. A Scooty can easily be ridden,” she pointed out.
Is the dress problematic?
Mahnaz Rahman, the resident director of Aurat Foundation, agreed. “Most of the motorcycle accidents take place when the huge shawls that women use to cover themselves get stuck in the wheel or chain,” she said. According to her, the helmet is a safety gadget and should not be gender-specific. However, she stressed on introducing open helmets for females that can be easily worn.
According to Saleem, women in Bangladesh and India wear saris and ride motorcycle and such cases do not happen. “They have made wheel guards and chain cover compulsory,” he said, adding that Pakistan is lagging behind when it comes to road safety.
On the other hand, Sabir Shaikh of the Association of Pakistan Motorcycle Assemblers said that wheel guards can never be introduced in motorcycles. “They are left open so that air can pass through, otherwise the motorcycle will lose its balance,” he said. According to him, it would be an injustice if women were forced to wear the kind of helmets that are available in the market. “Helmets should be made according to weather conditions,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have such helmets in Karachi that are suitable for our climate and the law enforcers have no idea about that.”
put your helmets on
‘Friends of Traffic’ campaign
According to traffic police official Muhammad Idrees, who is a reader to Traffic DIG Amir Ahmed Shaikh, this campaign is dedicated to the females of Karachi. Free helmets will be distributed among the women. “We will establish camps in all the districts of Karachi,” he said, adding that the traffic police will try to educate the people of Karachi in these camps about the importance of helmets during a ride.
“Those who were against the campaign must know that helmets were compulsory for pillion riders by law since 1965. We are just going to implement it,” he said, adding that there will not be any major crackdown against pillion riders without helmets on June 8. “Our traffic police constables will educate motorcyclists regarding the importance of helmets and even if they charge them, the violators will have to pay Rs150,” he explained. He added that the traffic police understand that it was not possible for the people to buy helmets all of a sudden.
Speaking about the fear that terrorism might increase with this drive, Idrees said that they were planning meetings with helmet manufacturers to redesign the helmets.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2015.