Primitive policies

DEC 26 -

It wasn’t all that late at night when I was returning from a friend’s home after a little party. Although I’d drank some—not excessively, mind you—I decided to try to make it home on my bike because I felt stable enough, although I wasn’t really in the habit of driving under the influence. As I should’ve expected, on the way, I ran into a group of policemen occupied in their by-now-usual duty of performing sobriety tests on passing vehicles and bikes. I initially wondered if I should turn off the lights, and attempt to speed past them, to avoid being inspected, but I knew I’d probably regret that decision if they happened to spot me and pull me in. So, I decided to give in.

A policeman with a breath-analyser on his right arm waved at me, told me to slow down. I gave him a gentle smile, and parroted, “I’m just going home from work; I haven’t had any alcoholic drinks.” And even though I didn’t think I’d get away with it, he simply gestured at me to be on my way. Now, I know it doesn’t seem exactly moral to be proud of having cheated the law in this way, but the fact remains that I was certain I was sober enough to have retained control of my vehicle, there was no doubt about this fact. I didn’t need a breath analysis to tell me this.

Then, a few months ago, I was at an event organised by one of the embassies in Kathmandu to do with an art exhibition. The venue was packed with diplomats, intellectuals and politicians. I knew, in the back of my mind, that even a sip of wine would be enough to set off the dreaded breathalyser, but it seemed almost rude in context not to indulge in one innocent glass. Once more, I found myself on edge while riding my bike home, my eyes scanning my surroundings, scared to death of running into a policeman on duty. I was particularly fearful of the little junction at Koteshwor, where checkings are rumoured to be especially harsh. And as luck would have it, this was exactly where I was stopped. A security official leaned in, apparently detected a faint whiff of alcohol on me and declared that I had failed the ‘smell test’—as ridiculous a concept in practice as it is in name. I was charged with the offence of drunk driving. My license and blue book had to be handed over, and I was sent home, deflated. I didn’t want my folks or anyone else to find out about the incident, so I went over discreetly to the police station the next morning, took a class that seemed to be designed for 10-year-old kids, and paid a thousand rupees in fees.

These aren’t just isolated incidents or unfortunate coincidences. This is a problem that I face every time I have to ride home after consuming even the least little bit of alcohol. I usually make do by leaving my bike some place, and taking the night bus home, or in case I can’t find any, opting for night cabs, which are way more expensive than most Nepalis can afford to pay for a single ride.

I’m not condoning drunk driving here, let’s be clear about that. I’m aware of the dangers involved, and these reckless riders certainly need to be stopped. And these MaPaSe

checkings have reportedly reduced the

number of accidents by more than 50 percent—a big feat, no doubt. But I still believe zero tolerance is not practical, especially with regards to a society that is so fond of drinking, and where alcohol plays a role in almost every occasion, every festival. With the New Year coming up, for instance, how are we expected to enjoy ourselves if we can’t even scuff one glass of beer with friends or family for fear of having to be forced to take a class, or worse, incarcerated, by the end of the evening? Licenses are withheld, holes punched in them, aside from the hefty fine, and serial offenders face even more serious repercussions, some that even prevent them from having their licenses validated overseas in the future.

The policy might have its heart in the right place, but its methods need serious revision. They are primitive—consider the ‘smell test mentioned above, or the fact that you’re liable to be called out even if you’ve had a sip of

alcohol—and have made life very difficult in the Valley. The law needs to preach moderation, instead of going to such extremes. Were

there tests that could analyse one’s level of drunkenness, and if certain feasible limits were set on the number of drinks one can

consume before setting out on the road, we’d probably have a merrier New Year than we’re bound to this time.

Posted on: 2012-12-26 08:39