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Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Thursday, 20 March 2008

Move to make Holi festival safer

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

School children play Holi in a school in Gujarat, India
Holi is known as the 'Festival of Colours'

A Delhi-based NGO has organised a campaign against drink driving in the city to ensure a safer Holi festival.

Activists say thousands of people die in India in road accidents during the two-day festival.

Holi is the Hindu spring festival, when people typically spray each other with coloured water.

It is also when traditionally people take alcohol or drinks laced with bhang - an intoxicant derived from the leaves and buds of the cannabis plant.

Prepared with a mixture of almonds, spices, milk and sugar, bhang is the official drink at most traditional Holi parties.

Sweets laced with bhang are also popular in some parts of north India, specially the holy city of Varanasi.

The intoxicant is known for its generally relaxing properties and some in India talk about its benefits in enhancing intimacy and sexual pleasure.

But activists say bhang impairs the senses and has the same effect on the user as alcohol.

Campaign against drink driving in Delhi
Activists say many people die in road accidents on Holi day

They say those driving under the influence of alcohol or bhang are a serious threat to road users.

According to figures compiled by Delhi-based NGO Community Against Drunken Driving (CADD), 21 people died and 20 were wounded in the city in accidents related to drink driving on Holi day last year.

The number was 20 dead and an equal number wounded for 2006.

The president of CADD, Prince Singhal, says the figures of dead and wounded on Holi are higher than deaths and injuries reported during the New Year's festivities.

Mr Singhal's NGO - which has organised special campaigns every year during the Christmas and New Year periods for the past eight years - is now targeting Holi in a campaign called Strides for Change.

"Drink-driving is a community problem. You need to involve the public, you need to educate the common man because it's the common man who drinks and drives," Mr Singhal told the BBC.

Poor enforcement

The campaign has selected five popular parks around Delhi where activists have been organising walks to generate awareness about driving under the influence.

Driving on Indian roads can be full of hazards - official estimates say 90,000 people are killed in accidents every year.

Activists say a large number of accidents involve people driving under the influence and they are demanding mandatory alcohol tests in every case.

India Holi festival (Pic: Heather Sharp)
During the Holi festival, people visit their friends and relatives

"There is no structured law to deal with cases of drink-driving. And the matter is made worse by the fact that there is very poor enforcement by police," says Mr Singhal.

He is calling for tougher laws to deal with drink-driving cases.

"The vehicle should be impounded, the driver should be arrested immediately and sent to jail. And driving under influence should be made a criminal offence so that the guilty cannot obtain bail by paying 25 dollars."

In accident cases, the drivers are generally charged with "rash and negligent driving".

Activists say drivers in such cases should be charged with a more serious offence of "intent to murder".

The campaign is appealing to people to drive sober to make the roads safer for themselves and others.

Holi is Hinduism's most vibrant festival. It is mostly celebrated in February-March and it signifies the official beginning of summer.

On this day, people smear their friends and relatives with paint and use water guns to throw coloured water on each other.




SEE ALSO
India seeks to tackle road deaths
16 May 07 |  South Asia
In pictures: India's Holi festival
29 Mar 02 |  South Asia
Delhi police target drink-drivers
08 Dec 01 |  South Asia

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