Illegal drag racers and stunt bikers in Chennai have always been discrete, restricting their high-risk motoring activity to the suburbs. And the sensational crackdown on their tribe in Delhi has made them even more cautious, writes Petlee Peter

Chennai’s drag racing and stunt riding enthusiasts have eased the pressure on the throttle. The change of heart is partly attributed to the July 28 Delhi police action against a rumble of stunt bikers, which led to a teenager sustaining a fatal bullet wound.

The shocking incident has helped build up a case for sterner action against these biking activities, across the country. Close on the wheels of that Sunday tragedy, a retired professor in Delhi filed a PIL seeking stringent measures to curb this menace on the roads. The Delhi government has taken note of his plea.

But the Chennai story is noticeably different. Here, the police intolerance towards such biking has been increasing over the years. When these bikers are seen endangering the safety of pedestrians and motorists, they have attracted stricter punishment, including a case of criminal intimidation under section 506 of the Indian Penal Code. Earlier, these bikers were let off with a warning.

Two incidents in the last three months illustrate the Chennai police’s views on the issue. In May, six youths who raised hell on Besant Avenue in Shastri Nagar were brought to book. The next month, eleven bikers were in the dock for racing down Kamarajar Salai and Mahatma Gandhi Road.

Such crackdowns in Chennai are rare because the majority of these bikers are discrete about the practice of this illegal sport, often restricting it to far-flung suburbs. Certain parts of Old Mahabalipuram Road and East Coast Road and an old airstrip in Sholavaram have figured prominently on their map. In the past, some of them would occasionally rev up on city roads – the Beach Road being a favourite stretch– at unearthly hours. Even such excursions into daredevilry have come down. Raghu from Santhome, who was active on the city’s drag racing circuit, says the activity is almost dead. “Races with bets ranging from Rs. 5,000 to the gift of the bike itself used to common. There were mechanics who specialised in custom-building a bike for such races. The drags were held on city roads, especially Besant Nagar, Beach Road or Poonamallee High Road. But not anymore,” he said.

There is notion that the police sometimes get the wrong biker. “Investigators cannot identify the real culprits. They think any two bikers, having fancy hi-end two-wheelers going above 50 km, are racing,” said Naveen from Vadapalani, who has been a victim of mistaken identity. The police have detained him twice thinking he was drag-racing.

(Names have been changed to protect identities)

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