MUMBAI'S MORAL POLICE How many of the suffering citizens of Mumbai, have either the facilities or the cash for this sort of "night life"?
A farmhouse at Igatpuri, near Mumbai yielded six skeletons. Expensive flats in posh suburbs at Andheri and Oshiwara were scenes of gruesome murders. Mumbai no longer needs horror movies or comics. Open the newspapers every morning, the horror stories hit you. Not just murder, but decapitation and further mutilation. A disgruntled man thought nothing of bashing to death six members of his family and burying their bodies. The inside pages have more — rave parties, chain snatchings (seven within two hours one day), rape, molestation and its lesser version called eve teasing on the roads, buses and suburban trains. Human life is cheap, people are killed over negligible amounts and minor irritations. Others meet the same fate for no reasons whatsoever.
That is today’s Mumbai. Its streets were once supposed to be paved with gold. In fact, the roads are full of potholes. As the city’s under-strength, underpaid and overworked police force struggle to handle the crime situation, a few people (Mr. Sidharth Bhatia in his article “Maximum City’s morality play,” editorial page, The Hindu, July 7, 2012) complain that police excesses against citizens who want to have fun and entertainment have affected the city’s night life, halting its progress to become a global metropolis.
How does a city qualify as “global metropolis”? By its smooth roads, clean environment, efficient transport, or what Mr. Bhatia calls its “night life”? How many of the suffering citizens of Mumbai, have either the facilities or the cash for this sort of “night life”? People here work hard, every stage of their daily routine is filled with problems and the one thing they need at night is peace and quiet. But even this is scarce because a minority with too much money and too little public awareness want to make a nuisance of themselves. When the police intervene, the cry goes up against “moral policing.”
For the past two months or so, Mumbai police has been active in raiding bars, breaking up parties which went on and on and checking the licences of restaurants, drinking joints and night clubs. They are only trying to enforce already existing laws being broken every night with impunity by the celebrity crowd that believed they were above the law. A Preity Zinta, Deepika Padukone or Farhan Akthar think they can carry on birthday celebrations or housewarming parties with loud music and dancing till 3 or 4 a.m. Finally the police stepped in only when other residents complained.
Socialite Parmeshwar Godrej’s party for U.S. TV star, Oprah at Juhu would have gone on until the morning but for police intervention. Mind you, the police stepped in only reluctantly. Celebrities have “high connections” both in the police and the media. Very often, reporting in the celebrity media is heavily biased, painting the police as kill joys breaking up innocent parties and ignoring major crimes.
Mr. Bhatia made several references to Assistant Commissioner of Police Vasant Dhoble, presenting him as a hockey stick-wielding maniac. He is accused of arresting innocent women on charges of prostitution. He has barged into parties and bars demanding to check their licences and whether drugs were being consumed. The hockey stick was no doubt there, but there are no reports of Mr. Dhoble using it. TV channels went to town with Mr. Dhoble, who enjoys the full backing of his commissioner. More and more people who have had their sleep and peace of mind disturbed by rowdy elements thronging the discos also back him.
Of course, the police did make mistakes. Why on earth did they barge into an Andheri Club and arrest some senior citizens quietly playing bridge? Women in bars enjoying a drink are not call girls. Not everyone at a rave possesses drugs. There was no need to arrest and fine courting couples (mostly holding hands).
Mr. Dhoble and other officers should brief their men on what is legal and what is not. Many of the current liquor laws are out of date and silly. But the police have to operate on what the rule book prescribes.
I am not a prude attacking “night life.” My two daughters were brought up in the city, did go out at nights (we kept awake till they returned), chose their own subjects of study as well as their own life partners. Being liberal is a state of mind, not boozing or dancing to the tunes of celebrity culture. Let us get rid of the pseudo sophistication that associates cosmopolitanism with drinking alcohol.
Forty years ago when I settled down in Mumbai from Gujarat, my friends from “dry” Ahmedabad while visiting me expected something more than tea, coffee or soft drinks. In surprised and injured tones they queried, “Thame drinks letha nathi, aah tho Mumbai chhe. (Why don’t you drink? This is Mumbai”). I had fallen in their esteem.
(V. Gangadhar is a Mumbai-based columnist.)