Opinion » Lead

Updated: July 13, 2012 00:35 IST

Maximum City’s morality play

Sidharth Bhatia
Comment (34)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The campaign by Mumbai officials to enforce the law seems more about imposing the “right values”

A few days ago, Mumbai chocolatier Priti Chandriani was raided by officers of Maharashtra’s excise department. Her offence? She kept liquor at home for use in the chocolates. Possessing more than two bottles is an offence according to the Bombay Prohibition Act, enacted in 1949, and she allegedly had 20 of them. The raid has been seen as yet another example of over-enthusiasm of the State’s law and order machinery in trying to impose archaic rules in the letter rather than the spirit. And beneath the veneer of ensuring that the law is followed is a moral crusade against “evils” like drinking alcohol.

Shaken and stirred

In the last two months or so, Mumbai has been shaken and stirred by the campaign the city police has launched to stamp out any breach of laws, however trivial, related to drinking, dancing and running of restaurants, clubs and even small juice centres. Private parties have been raided on suspicion of drug use and restaurants asked to prove that they have all the licences. A restaurant, bar or nightclub needs between 30 to 40 licences to operate — some of them involve getting character certificates from the police — allowing for corruption and wide interpretation of rules and regulations. Nor do patrons escape the eagle-eyed scrutiny of the police: tipplers need to have a permit to drink anywhere. The cops don’t simply ask to see the permits; their current procedure is to make everyone wait, videograph them and take down their identity details. Occasionally, as in the case of a “rave” party, the crowd is marched to a hospital where it is made to give blood and urine samples to check for drug usage, a process that can take hours.

In some cases, the Social Service branch, which is headed by ACP Vasant Dhoble, a hand-picked officer of the Commissioner of Police, has been a bit more heavy handed. In one raid at a restaurant, 11 women were “rescued” because they were suspected of being prostitutes and then sent off to a remand home where they were kept in custody for a few days. A controversial officer, Mr. Dhoble has been named in many cases of assault in the past and is known to carry a hockey stick, which he is said to use liberally on suspected offenders to dispense quick justice.

Not surprisingly many Mumbaikars, especially youngsters, are up in arms at the imposition of laws that have been conventionally followed more in the breach. No one has had a permit for years, ever since prohibition was lifted in 1973. The Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949, enacted by Chief Minister Morarji Desai, stopped the free sale and distribution of liquor in shops, bars and restaurants. Soon a parallel cottage industry of bootleggers and moonshine-makers sprang up. In 1973, sale was freely allowed but technically every buyer and drinker needed a permit; no one remembers being asked for it for nearly 40 years.

Mr. Dhoble and his bosses are using that long-ignored provision and citizens are shocked that the State’s remit runs to entering people’s homes and private spaces and booking them for offences. It has had a dampening effect on the night life of the city that prides itself for its partying and entertainment culture and which has aspirations to be a global metropolis.

Ignoring the protests, the government has let it be known it will not come in the way of these tough measures. The Police Commissioner claims he wants to clean up the city. He has nothing to say about why his officer should use violent tactics to scare innocent citizens. The fact that Mr. Dhoble has continued on his merry way despite criticism shows that he has the full backing of his department and political bosses. Some citizens’ groups, fed up of noisy clubs in their residential neighbourhoods, have come out in support of the police crackdown, which has undoubtedly boosted the police’s case.

But behind this ruthless drive is not so much a desire to enforce the law — on drinking and on running a restaurant — as much as trying to impose a moral code. The Prohibition Act says, inter alia, that a host should ensure that each guest has a permit before a drink is served to him/her; failure to do so could result in imprisonment between three months and five years. The excise department itself has recognised that this is drastic; indeed, the very notion of a permit is old fashioned and should be done away with. Yet, instead of slowly doing away with six-decade old rules, the State government in 2005 raised the drinking age in the State from 21 to 25. This is more than anywhere else in the world.

The police claim that theirs is not to question whether the laws are out of date or not but to just make sure they are followed is a red herring. Maharashtra’s Home Minister, the Police Commissioner and Mr. Dhoble himself have all said at various times that they want to ensure that the youth of the city does not get corrupted. The ladies who run resident associations have also indicated that they find the morals of the young very lax. The drive seems more about imposing the “right values” and driving out evils like the use of liquor than ensuring that every law about running a restaurant or indeed imbibing is followed.

Schizophrenic relationship

Maharashtra has always had a schizophrenic relationship with the consumption of liquor. Many of its Ministers and politicians control sugar co-operatives that manufacture liquor. One senior State politician has family interests in wine production and is known to push for a friendly tax regime. But at the same time, mofussil politicians have always had a moralistic agenda. The State has a long history of reformist minded social workers who have tried to clean up society. It is no coincidence that Anna Hazare, who has made his village liquor free by publicly beating and shaming drinkers, hails from here. On this one issue, the politicians are one with him.

That is the real worry for Mumbai’s citizens because this is a never ending story. Moral policing erupts every now and then; one Shiv Sena politician some years ago went on the warpath against couples cuddling on Marine Drive for some privacy. The current Home Minister R.R. Patil had enforced the shutting down of dance bars in 2005 claiming they were dens of prostitution; over 75,000 girls were thrown out of work overnight and many had no choice but to join the flesh trade. Cosmopolitan and fun loving Mumbai is in perpetual conflict with those who frown at the laxity in public morals; the sad fact is that it is the latter who hold the levers of power.

The morality drive is already having a chilling effect. Bars and restaurants are suffering from lack of business and citizens worry about having parties, unsure if they are breaking some law or the other. Even having a quiet pre-dinner drink is fraught with danger. No one is sure where the moral crusader with the hockey stick will strike again. And the city that claims never to sleep has been turning in early nowadays.

(Sidharth Bhatia is a Mumbai-based writer and journalist and author of Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story, HarperCollins, 2012)

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I don't know why this author is sommuch worried about police catching people who drink till late night and cause such fury, there are many families which have been wrecked by this intoxicating drink. Ever now and then we see a drunken driver mowing down toddlers. There are innumerable diseases that this drink brings. Yet I dont know why the author thinks people should be allowed to drink it like water. A different take but sadly in my opinion there are larger problems in this world than this.

from:  Arun Kumar Sahu
Posted on: Jul 9, 2012 at 20:46 IST

a quote from Arthsasthra " No King can afford to impose prohibition in totality". The mass has to be given drinks, so that they are numbed and go to sleep, if not the people will start thinking and the King will not be King anymore.

from:  S thomas
Posted on: Jul 9, 2012 at 20:17 IST

I may be wrong but it seems as if most of the people commenting on this article have missed the whole point of the writer's angst. Anguish has been expressed against the selective imposition of archaic laws by the authorities, corruption arising from the permit system, and the irrational assumption of a higher moral ground by hypocritical politicians. While my sympathies go out to the poor policemen, poorly equipped to tackle problems arising from a society still learning to responsibly engage in the pursuit of happiness, I in no way condone the impunity with which the hockey-stick wielding ACP invades the privacy of innocent citizens. A sad state of affairs in the world's largest democracy. A situation we can tackle only through education,rational thinking, and responsible exercise of our rights and duties as citizens.

from:  Ilhan
Posted on: Jul 9, 2012 at 18:21 IST

I wonder if the police will be so forthcoming when it comes to
implementations of "law" for encroachments/black marketing/corruption.
The powers-that-be break every rule in the book, but I wonder if Mr
Dhoble will be seen wielding his hockey stick against such people. If
the law should be applied, let it be applied everywhere and against
everyone, not selectively.

from:  Raj N
Posted on: Jul 9, 2012 at 15:41 IST

well i think Mr. dhobale is doing right .you think that moral values
should not be forced or other way if any one don't have moral values
and going against how a civilized society should be,than that person
should be let to do so !
i have seen reports of many senior citizen and people who have suffered
due to these late night parties ,they seem to be very happy.
moreover if laws are not followed they should be enforced ,so instead
of blaming police we should support it .

from:  anoop kumar verma
Posted on: Jul 9, 2012 at 10:39 IST

All comments are completely missing the point. I absolutely agree with the author. The police and so-called "morally upright" citizens feel that only their opinions and codes are accepatable and everyone who goes out and drinks is a hooligan of some sort. What nonsense. Do we not see public peace and harmony destroyed during marriage processions and wedding blasts ? Its not like drunkards keep roaming around the city streets harassing people. People who want to drink in pubs and discos are confined there and I don't think the "noise" usually goes beyond the walls. Drunk driving is definitely a problem but the solution is to make police checks more effective, not ban alcohol.
The problem is with this "holier than thou" attitude os conservative Indian society and policemen become keen to impose their own hapazard moral codes. Its not so much follwing the Law as it is targeting "immoral youngsters". And the general Indian public derives much pleasure from it.

from:  Lijo Thomas
Posted on: Jul 9, 2012 at 09:22 IST

Please accept that some people may want to drink - that may be one of
their ways of having a good time - as long as they do not knock on
your door and create a problem for you - by this I mean infringe on
your personal rights in any way - let them live their life. I totally
agree that a person who is drunk and creating a problem in public is
a menace to society. They should be discouraged and punished in
accordance with the laws. But that does not mean everyone who drinks
is a problem maker - such generalizations are not acceptable.
Religion and societal factors have ended up creating too tight a halo
around people's minds that they have lost any semblance of tolerance
for others - the minority - defined as anyone who is different from
the majority or exhibits behaviour that is not what the majority does
or deems it wrong to do. That is exactly what leads to discrimation
and hatred towards people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender (LGBT)community.

from:  Arun
Posted on: Jul 9, 2012 at 01:13 IST

I do not blame the police for ensuring that the law is respected and
followed - but I would appeal to the law makers to relook at the
archaic laws and amend them to reflect the realities we live in.
At the same time, I am a little disturbed at finding a lot of
comments championing Mr. Dhoble and the police for upholding moral
values through ironically what I would call excesses. Firstly what is
morality? Is there a moral code of conduct that exists that we should
adhere to? If so where is it? Who defines this? What makes drinking
and prostitution immoral? Is it not high time we realized that every
person on the planet will have his or her own definition of morality
and it is not right to impose one's definition on the other
arbitrarily? The best approach in my opinion would be to 'live and
let live'.

from:  Arun
Posted on: Jul 9, 2012 at 01:10 IST

Probably the only city in India truly personifying
"globalization" and yet far far safer than the rest of india (
compared to its counterpart Delhi) is Mumbai.It is practically
impossible to have a "dry mumbai" today. Mr Dhobale and Co.
should understand a fact that this extremes of moral policing in
todays date will definetely encourage more and more behind the
scene and probably serious crimes. So why not restrict to just
"no loud and distrubing parties in residential areas", "no rave
parties", "NO DRUNKEN DRIVING" etc?? and concentrate on more
serious issues like curbing crimes?? till date mumbai wasnt dat
bad was it??? and lastly if i am mature enough to vote when i am
18, 25 for drinking???? how does that make sense.?

from:  shreya
Posted on: Jul 9, 2012 at 00:34 IST

This was an attempt to analyze the situation in Mumbai, but sadly writer was not able to put story of both the sides. With obvious reasons he is a supporter of a metropolitan Mumbai, but police has no right to analyze the law but it is there duty to see if law is follows. regarding decade old law , it is the duty of law makers to see and correct it, if required; Also, there are some side effects of bars and alcohol, we need to see if there is a decline in the crime rate or not; Also there is no major protest from the civil society against the so called authoritarian attitude of police yet; But only from the people who can afford to pay more than 500 rupees for a sip of alcohol.

from:  Gopesh
Posted on: Jul 8, 2012 at 20:36 IST

Some responses have completely missed the point of the article. The
author isn't advocating any activity which goes against the morality
of the majority of conservative Indian society. He is simply trying to
show that the rules being enforced by Dhoble and his ilk have not been
enforced for the past so many decades due to their impracticality and
disconnect with reality.

Such laws are severe and assume that drinking cannot be a safe,
moderate, pleasurable activity but that every individual who drinks
gets drunk and is a threat to public peace. Dhoble isn't stopping the
drunks on the street but rather those partying in their private areas.
Going after them by using archaic laws not in tune with the image of a
modern, cosmopolitan, tolerant, fair city simply smacks of class
conflict and pleasure at the power to impose personal morality as law.

The curtailment of liberties and state paternalism in Mumbai must be
rational, modern and in tune with all sections of society.

from:  Nayan
Posted on: Jul 8, 2012 at 13:56 IST

A very irrational and illogical article. The mumbai police is doing a
really commendable job and Mr. Dhoble is not doing something bad. What
does the author wants??..Allowing people to carry more than 2 bottles of
liquor and enjoy publicly so that those people and thus the city can be
termed modern??

from:  Yatin Chauhan
Posted on: Jul 8, 2012 at 13:39 IST

Comments are very good to hear about great work Mr. Dhobale doing. What about
periodically attack on Mumbai by terrorist people. Can any police officer intercept
before happening civilian dies by terrorist attack ..?
Can any police officer bring back huge indian money from swiss account ...?

from:  Khaidem
Posted on: Jul 8, 2012 at 12:03 IST

I am very surprised at the comments being made here by educated readers of The
Hindu agreeing with the actions of the police. Mumbai has hundreds of real problems to solve. Bal Thackrey, Raj Thackrey routinely violate the law by attack innocent citizens, blacken shops for not displaying marathi signs, give communal speeches but nobody touches them. Do any of these cops dare touch the wrongly parked car of a minister? That every builder violates property law is a known fact, why not use their resources to build up cases against them? Why has there been no 'alcohol related raids' at a ministers place? Young couples, married sometimes, are attacked by these 'moral policmen' for holding hands in public! Why bother common people all the time instead of solving real issues? And I am all about implementing the law, but how is 'moral policing' by bringing up archaic laws, with a policeman carrying a stick in hand, right? Do you think you will be better under a absolute police state?

from:  Punit
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 23:54 IST

It seems, that most of the people here, are "against the motion".But, let me clear one thing - the author doesn't seem to be against the law(he is no anarchist) rather, he is against the voilent attitude of people against trippers(where he mentions that even Anna hazzare had beaten and abashed trippers).In Mr. Vasant Dhoble's case, he uses a hockey stick.There should be a proper way of expression because many a time innocent people with less or no fault get beaten up.But, there are many points other than this which are against the author-
a) Most teenagers are consuming alcohol/drugs in the so called "rave parties" turning "drug parities".
b) If there are actions being taken by police against certain bars/night clubs,they must be having information of something wrong/suspicious being done in such places.
Hence, the conclusion is that, both "night life supporters" and "police" must know their limits.Remember,'It always takes two to clap'

from:  Rohit
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 23:07 IST

To all those who thank the police for these acts are completely
missing the point. The problem is not law enforcement. It's the
absurdity of the system as a whole. The fact is that most of these
laws are 'un-enforceable'. Do you really think that Police can go and
check every citizen who holds a bottle and ruffle him up? Such laws
are dangerous by nature in that, the police can pick and choose when
to enforce them! This is the source of corruption and bribery. You can
take parallels to this law in many other cases.
And the question of morality! ha ha ha ha. Just leave it at that. Any knowledgeable person on Indian society and politics wouldn't talk morality. The rotten society simply isn't credible enough to impose any morality on youth. It's simply a case of taking out frustration on the weaker sections. Why can't you guys go and talk morality to the politicians? and your mirrors too, as it is your generation that bred
these politicians. And by the way, who are you to code morality?

from:  rakesh
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 20:02 IST

Definitely the crusade by Mumbai police has moral backing and also is
imperative on the account of irrational behavior and ruffle actions by
many citizens. However with respect to licensing the bars and
restaurants there should be a mild but justified outlook where the
gentry should be allowed to entertain, not drugs or prostitution,
without the fear or dogma of police raid in their mind.

from:  Ayush
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 19:29 IST

I wish they would show the same "enthusiasm" to "rescue" prostitutes and their children from famous well-known and demarcated red light
areas, offer them protection and rehabilitate them. While they are at it, they can also penalize men spitting, urinating on the street, molesting women all over town, those who collect haftas from shopkeepers, illegally operating vendors and all the various gangs hat roam freely on the roads like unleashed donkeys. While they are
at it, they can also throw into jail their own colleagues who break the law in any way. Ah! What an utopia!

from:  Shilpa
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 17:44 IST

Let us not confuse violation of individual rights with enforcing
morality. In fact, the very idea of enforcing morality is flawed and
reprehensible. In a free society, people have a right to choose how
they live their lives. Archaic laws that infringe on the right of
people to seek "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness" have no
place in a free and civilized society.
The correct model to follow is not the Afghanistan of Taliban, or
Iran of the mullahs, but the free and enlightened societies of North
America and Europe. True, these societies have their own challenges,
but any one who lives there or visits them can see plainly that the
citizens are on average more prosperous, civic minded and happy. On
the other hand, countries with morality police are the most corrupt
and repressed nations.

from:  Anant Ram
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 17:28 IST

I fully support Mumbai Police. Law and order and safety of women in
this state of Maharashtra is ensured because of policemen like Mr.
Dhoble. One needs to understand that we live in a conservative society
and culture and so are the laws and law enforcement of the country
reflects the majority of society. One needs to respect the culture of
people and their moral standards if one wants to live with them.
Everyone is free to exercise their freedom of enjoyment(under law) but
not on the expense of others misery. Don't agree? you are free to move
to other country. Mr. Dhoble carry hockey stick instead of lathi? its
his choice. Laws are archaic? Please get in the system and change it,
GET INVOLVED. Author is justifying Prostitution, Drugs by not raiding
the suspected rave parties? Are you the page 3 journalist? Please get
a hold of your senses. I am 25 yrs old and drink alcohol but i know
when to hold my liquor. Most people Don't!

from:  Ryan
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 16:32 IST

Reading these comments one feels like most of the Hindu's readership is
living on another planet. Our hypocrisy in dealing with any issue that
we assign moral value to is sickening. The writer's progressive views
are generally wasted on a conservative and reactionary readership.

from:  tg
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 16:07 IST

I applaud the police commissioner and his force for doing a wonderful
job of enforcing laws. We do need more un-corruptible officers like
Dhoble in our government machinery to cleanse the system. Mr. Bhatia's
reasoning is absolutely hollow, and his diatribe against the upright
officers extremely unfortunate, if you know the morass the city has
descended into. Police could always be hauled to the courts for any
excesses or for using unjustified force.

from:  Syed Khan
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 15:38 IST

The more complex a society is the more challenging is the task of
integration is.Mumbai has a cosmopolitan culture and applying laws
inconsistent with the regional realities has many
implementors can leverage the law for filling their pockets and in the
increasing instances of disintegrating social values. So it is
inevitable that every law framed should reflect the regional concerns.
its use and misuse both should be weighed before giving it a final
go.Even in national policies some space/allowance has to be given for
the regional concerns.

from:  mukesh
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 15:05 IST

In this case, the police are simply enforcing a law, they did not make it. So just stop blaming the police. As for the complaint about moral policing, please note that drinking, prostitution and even drugs have been around for centuries, and people just did not bother even in the earlier, more conservative times. People and authorities have to step in when any habit starts affecting the general public. If crime and public disorder grow rampant because of ruffians going overboard, the state and civil society cannot tolerate just because a few individuals like it. If you find it to be moral policing, then you may leave for places where ruffians rule, where anarchy is welcome and chaos is the public order.

from:  Ramana Murthy
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 14:50 IST

Support Dhoble. Reduce crime. Make mumbai a happy and safe place to live.

Drink milk instead of alcohol!

from:  harshad joshi
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 14:07 IST

It is a highly appreciable move from the author to react on this. At the
same time, the good part of this "police move" has to highlighted and
treated with a lighter note, which helps the Mumbai in a long run.

from:  sandeep
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 13:27 IST

What the writer is talking about, in which manner it in itself explains
a lot about the writer. Raiding of rave parties, parading to hospitals
to check consumption of drugs is anything wrong in this. Proclaiming law
is not followed in spirit, what is wrong in in the police course. Police
should be praised for their action and told not be heavy handed. But in
the way writer has represented it seems he only knows the truth. And
giving space to such trash in the name of personal opinions in such a
highly esteemed paper is doing no good for society.

from:  Jai Prakash
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 12:40 IST

Dear author, I am totally disagree with you . If police didn't take
any action, you will say our police is not doing anything. now, when
they are doing something, then also you people are having problem. if
the law was not followed in past,it doesn't mean that we should ignore
it now also.

from:  Anil kumar
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 11:58 IST

It's tough being a cop. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. From reading the article I understand that the Maharashtra cops are doing nothing but implementation of the law. Let's not have double standards amongst ourselves - if there are laws, it's the cops' job to enforce them, and if they're doing that, then hats off to them. Hope they enforce more laws.

If we do not like the laws, we are free to change them - we are after all a democracy and we make our own laws.

So stop complaining Mr. Bhatia - you may argue that it's a morality issue but to me it's a simple legal thing. Ms. Chandriani broke the law - period. Who are you or I to judge whether the liquor was for the choclates or to fuel the next party? That's irrelevant - the law is clear on the two bottle thing - does it say you can keep more than two if you make choclates? I doubt. So let's follow the law, and let's applaud the cops for doing their job. Yes they're a bit overboard at times in how they're doing it, So?

from:  Rajeev Iyer
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 11:23 IST

Really a very irrational article. What the author wants to say? Police
should be lenient? They should allow people to drink and drive and
kill pedestrians? You should know that laws are not made by police. If
police is following the laws strictly then its not called moral
policing. Its good that at least some cities in India have police that
is active. And I do not get your logic? Are you trying to relate drug
abuse, prostitution and liquor to modernity? I am also going to live
in Mumbai for some years and I am 24years. So if I keep 20 bottles of
liquor violating the state rules only then I am modern? Please let the
police follow its duty. Do not discourage them.

from:  Abhinaw
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 09:27 IST

Agreed that the Mumbai police and bureaucracy is going a bit too far in enforcing the rules. But what happened to the people's behaviour and responsibility, who are directly involved in crimes, drunkard driving, domestic abuses. There have been an alarming increase over the years on this crime figures, which are mostly done under the influence of alcohol.
It has been the lapse totally on police and bureaucracy in Maharashtra to let this loose happen for many years and suddenly the awakening! Officers like Dhoble are an asset, regardless of their style of operation. No need to have soft corner for prostitution in guise of younger people and partying. Immoral activities in any form cant be accepted and its against the law. Will the media stop demonising this issue? ( Media has an immunity in the respect it wishes)

from:  Syed Kabeer Ahmeds
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 09:10 IST

What is so great about drinking alcohol and making noise during night and disturbing locals? Why rich people with dubious source of money allowed to consume drugs without questioning? why women should be encouraged by media to earn money in dnacing bars? It seems media has lost all sense of balance and become "schizophrenic " and criticizing police and government just for the heck of it. Mr. Dhobale is doing great work. he should be complemented. Otherwise there are hundreds of dance bar and rave party organizers who will be ready to pay thousands of rupees to police for allowing illegal activities in their bars and houses.

from:  Anil P.
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 08:41 IST

They can just consume liquor at home peacefully. Why they have to create such a noise in their neighbourhood. I don' think people complains about people who consume liquor as such, they seem to complain about those drunks who have lost the idea of dignity of public places.
There are reasons why many people who do not want to see a drunk roaming in their neighbourhood.

As for the police high-handedness, take them to court.

from:  Dilawar
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 06:02 IST

"He has nothing to say about why his officer should use violent tactics
to scare innocent citizens."

Let's assume the said citizen was not innocent. Does that justify
violent tactics? The qualifier of the happy path scenario on one
instance is what results in the slipping of rights in others.

from:  Neel
Posted on: Jul 7, 2012 at 01:53 IST
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