Was it Kolkata's happening nightlife that killed Sonika Chauhan?

Behind the veneer of a warm, friendly city is an administration that is toothless about drunk driving.

 |  3-minute read |   08-05-2017
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I wish I could say that I knew Sonika Chauhan. I didn't. Life in Kolkata is a compact circle and eventually everyone "kind of" knows everyone else. The city is like a real-life version of the television comedy, Cheers — where everybody knows your name. That's how much I knew of Sonika.

But I also know dozens of girls like her — young, ambitious, looking forward to a promising career. From what I hear of the Kolkata model, she was a bright, vibrant girl, very close to her parents. And like many youngsters in the City of Joy, she too loved a good party.

Kolkata has been "party central" for over two decades. While I was growing up, the city offered a sense of protected freedom. We'd hit the colonial club parties organised at Tollygunge Club or CC&FC. Whenever parents allowed, we had a night out on the city.

There was Oly Pub for pre-gaming, Some Place Else for live music, and Tantra, Roxy, Underground, for a bout of heavy dancing before you retire for "chicken bharta and roomali rotis" in the wee hours of the morning at one of the many Punjabi dhabas.

car-body_050817081656.jpgMangled remains of the car after the accident in which Chauhan died.

The ones who didn't want the party to end could always head towards a home scene and finish it off with a delicious Chinese breakfast at Tiretti Bazaar near Poddar Court.

For a short period of time after the unfortunate Park Street rape case, the city's clubs were forced to down shutters early. Otherwise, Kolkata's happening nightlife, security for women, accommodating attitude of the state administration, have always been the envy of other metropolitan cities. But behind this pleasant veneer of a warm, friendly city is an administration that is toothless about drunk driving, or for that matter, driving under any kind of influence.

Like most cities, booze and drugs flow freely in Kolkata's parties. Once partied out, people don't even spare a second thought before jumping into their cars and driving off. My own friends have shrugged off their drunkenness and gotten behind the wheel; unwittingly, I too have been in many such cars.

There are no "Party Hard Drivers" like in Mumbai, who can take you home after you've had a few drinks. Mumbai's cops are extremely vigilant; few would get onto their wrong side.

In Kolkata though, it's another story. Even if there were such drivers, few feel the urge to avail of them. The Kolkata cop is not the worst of the lot, many are helpful too, but he can also be easily assuaged with a few bucks.

Having witnessed this leniency, and frankly, even corruption, on countless occasions, one wonders if we should squarely blame the city's police for Sonika's untimely death.

Kolkata, and West Bengal, have been consistently in the top states and cities of India reporting road accidents. Several of these would be due to drunk driving. It's great to have nightlife where both the young and the old feel safe and happy heading outdoors.

But safety on the roads is a far cry.

It needs to be urgently addressed so that yet another case of "negligence" doesn't steal a young life. And hopefully this won't come at the cost of impinging on personal freedoms.

Also read: Show anchor Sonika Chauhan's death exposes justice is a sham in West Bengal


Shutapa Paul Shutapa Paul @shutapapaul

The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur.

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