September 06, 2012

Patriarchal police's 'moral' lathi in Pune and inaction against hate speech in Bombay

A method in police madness 

Monobina Gupta
05 September 2012, 08:53 AM IST

There's a method in the police madness we witness everyday, all around us. Like all methods born out of certain conditions, the police syndrome too comes from the force's hubris, deep-rooted conservatism, and its abiding faith in the notion of patriarchy. Even in saner times, the ordinary citizen wouldn't hold the police in great esteem, perceived more as a legion guarding VIPs and VVIPS, than you and me. But these are extraordinary times scaling the heights of madness. The ubiquitous third eye of the camera hovering over us, every second day is throwing up disturbing visuals of police aggression and violence; of their intrusion into people's private spaces and their wielding a patriarch's 'moral' lathi.
Recently Mumbai and Pune have figured as some of their favourite hunting grounds. When ACP Vasant Dhoble shot to fame brandishing his hockey stick as a weapon of intimidation, barging into bars and restaurants, Mumbaikars came out on the roads and held marches protesting such bullying and uncivilized behaviour. But the political establishment, barring the Shiv Sena (which had its own petty axe to grind), rallied around Dhoble. It was as if the fabled city of Mumbai, the dream of many poets, and authors, the site of social reforms and radical movements, has been ensnared in a deadly trap set by the very institutions meant to ensure the freedom of its citizens.
The alarming thing about such incidents lies in their multiplicity, their unfailing ability to reproduce the terror through many wings of the state and its institutions. Not one, but many 'Dhobles' appear to be strutting around the streets, waiting to strike at the unsuspecting citizen or the reveller. Just a couple of days ago, the police broke up a party in Pune's Maya Lounge, manhandling the participants. It was the second such incident in a fortnight, the police taking action against a party, they claimed, was illegal. Their extraordinary alibi: Maya Lounge's eatery license had expired several months ago. So, you beat up and humiliate the partygoers? Instead of taking necessary legal action, you penalize the revellers?
What kind of a bizarre argument is that? Using redundant laws to target 'Others' is an old tactic of stakeholders with a committed interest in preserving the old power structures. It's even more frightening that older people are not the only puritanical and conservative lot, who are even outright regressive in their notions. Large sections of the young are following in their footsteps. The motives are diverse: young politicians prefer to nurture regressive casteist, patriarchal set-ups to win elections and keep themselves in power. Hence, all the hemming and hawing: the sidestepping of controversies. There's been no generational shift in terms of radical ideas. The recent rulings by Haryana khaps instructing young women not to carry mobile phones or go out alone went uncontested by the young MPs from this region. Some obliquely, and others not so obliquely, defended the khaps.
Let's return to Mumbai. Here we have Bal Thackeray and his nephew Raj working overtime, trying to turn Mumbai into a city of darkness. And the state government is playing ball. Under the benevolent eye of Maharashtra's Congress-NCP government, Raj Thackeray recently organized a massive rally in Azad Maidan, thundering his inflammatory speeches against migrant Biharis, who keep the city running through their labour. It's hard to miss the hypocrisy in all this. When it comes to pushing their way into bars, restaurants and even private parties, the police drag out antiquated legislations and penalize innocent citizens. But when speeches exhorting hatred against communities and minorities blare across the city, the government and the law enforcers turn into silent spectators: despite the existence of a law which makes the rendition of a hate speech a punishable crime.
That's the tragedy of the times we live in.