New Delhi, July 29 (IANS) Cheap thrill from driving recklessly, mocking the policemen on duty and even harassing fellow motorists is what fires many teenagers in the Indian capital to hit the roads with their mean machines and risk their as well as others' lives.
Usually in the age group of 15 to 25 years, these biker gangs, mostly belonging to middle or lower middle class families, have gained notoriety over the years for performing dangerous stunts or indulging in street racing on weekends, especially late Saturday nights.
Early Sunday, stunt biking by around 100 young men led to a tragedy in the heart of Delhi when police opened fire killing a teenager riding pillion. Inspector Rajneesh Parmar of the Police Control Room fired from his revolver in a bid to puncture a motorcycle's rear tyre but it instead hit the victim, Karan Pandey, in his back. The bike rider, Puneet Sharma, also fell off the bike and suffered bruises.
The two-wheelers used in the capers are a mix of motorcycles, and scooters -- and there seems to be a hierarchy. The bikers perform the stunts while those on scooters have their roles cut out as they encourage, applaud and shoot the stunts on their mobiles to be later put on YouTube.
According to several members and former members of such gangs, a Saturday night 'scene' is finalized only if 20 to 30 bikers are willing to participate so that they can easily outnumber the police if they find themselves in a spot.
"That's just the way the police works... if you were a group of 20-30 bikers, the police would not dare to stop or fine you. We had figured this out a long time back," Rajan Singh, a 26-year-old who was once a member of a west Delhi biker's gang, told IANS.
The most sought after bikes are the Bajaj Pulsar and the Yamaha FZ as these can be modified easily.
Most of the racers and those who perform stunts, remove the rear number plates, tail and headlight assemblies and all plastic fairing not only to give the bike a bare, mean look but also to reduce weight in order to win a race. Some cover half their face with scarves to avoid police detection and trouble.
"When we perform a wheelie, the rear number plate and mudguard touches the ground and is a major hindrance. So, they have to be removed," said Junaid, 19, a resident of the walled city.
There are some who fold their number plates so that they cannot be tracked by police.
With no headlight and tail lamps, these modifications make the bikes illegal to be driven on roads and the fact that such bikers don't even wear helmets makes matters dangerously worse.
But, the riders aren't perturbed.
"I trust my driving skills and when I am on the road I know what I am doing," a 20-year-old friend of Junaid said, not wishing to share his name.
However, Singh begged to differ.
"When there are a dozen other bikers around, high on adrenaline, racing and performing dangerous stunts, thinking takes a backseat," said Singh, who met with a severe accident and took almost a year to completely recover from the physical and mental trauma.
Singh, who ventured out on at least half a dozen of such weekend derring-dos, said that it was a common practice to hurl abuses at policemen wherever you spot them or harass motorists, especially call-centre cabs that ply late at night.
"They literally bully anyone they see... mob mentality prevails," said Singh, narrating an incident where the bikers once followed a call-centre cab with a couple of girls seated in it for several km, ogling and passing lewd comments.
According to biking enthusiasts, around a dozen biker groups are active in the city and they meet regularly on weekends. While some like Junaid and Rajan perform stunts and indulge in street racing, there are those who prefer to go on long drives on the outskirts of the city early mornings.
"We respect our machines and never indulge in racing or performing silly stunts. We go on long drives on early Sunday mornings usually on the DND flyway (connecting Delhi to suburb Noida)," Shahbaz Khan of the Group of Delhi Superbikers (GODS), a popular biking gang here, told IANS.
(Some names have been changed on request)
(Rahul Vaishnavi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)