KOCHI: When young Jeevan Sebastian, hitching a ride on his way back from his school at Poothotta, was asked by the biker what would he do if he did not stop near his house and sped away, the rider could feel the boy's nervousness and his grip on his hip loosening. Elsewhere, at Tripunithura, when Class VI student Vishnu Krishna was told about the possible eventualities of riding along with a stranger and queried how he would tackle them, he seemed to find it more complex a question than one from trigonometry.
They are just two of the lot. Unlike in the past, when a catchline said "children walk to school and run back home," the modern-day youngsters, predominantly boys, dart only up to the nearby main road, where they patiently wait sticking out their thumb to catch the bikers' attention and hitch a ride. Some riders fully ignore them, some shake their heads to imply a 'no' while others look into their eyes as if to bully them and ask 'what're you up to'. But a majority oblige, leaving our roads, especially in the evenings, with images of giggling children perched on bikes and heading for their destinations.
"Have you noticed? The aged people don't hitch a ride. They walk. It's mostly the children who do so. I think when they describe their "heroics" to fellow students, more of them follow suit," said M R Anilkumar, a parent, who said he has asked his two school-going children to "never ask anyone for a lift."
Allan Xavier used to take boys along, but stopped the practice after a bitter experience in Thiruvananthapuram where he, with a boy sitting behind, met with an accident and the latter injured his forehead and legs. "His parents shouted at me saying they had been paying him regularly to commute by bus and why I took him along with me. I had no answer," said Allan.
Fr Tomy Valiyamthittayil, director, Don Bosco Snehabhavan (DBS), Kochi, said they always ask school authorities to tell their students not to go with strangers. "We know cases where children ended up as carriers of drugs. Often, they're provided with some bucks as pocket money or the drug itself," said Fr Tomy.
Fr Tomy added, “They could be exploited in other ways as well. Parents should regularly communicate with their kids. They should also track them.”Ernakulam Range IG P Vijayan told Express said he had not studied the issue at his level. However, a Kochi-based police officer said he knew more instances than one where the school authorities, parents and ‘agents’ sat down and hushed up the carrier incidents. Kochi West Traffic Assistant Commissioner M A Nazeer said it was a disgusting trend which should be discouraged.
“The children don’t know whether the bikers are drunk, criminals or they possess valid licence. We’ve several cases across the state where their journey ended in deaths. It has been a trend, but it should be discouraged. We always make use of public functions to discuss this issue. I believe people are getting more aware as the social media spread this kind of news extensively,” said Nazeer.