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January 10, 2001
Let's stop sermonising
Last week I read about this Dahisar cop called Vinayak Kakade and his assistant, one Rane who turned up at a small suburban hotel on New Year's eve and forcefully picked up its manager and six dancing girls performing out there and took them to the local police station where he filthily abused them and then beat them up. For what crime? He claimed that the festivities in the hotel had continued beyond one in the morning, the city's stipulated shutdown hour for all restaurants apart from those sited within the privileged 5-stars.
When the manager tried to point out that the government had relaxed the shutdown hour for year-end parties to four in the morning not just in Dahisar but all over Mumbai, he was even more mercilessly beaten up and forced to do horrible things to himself in front of the others, just to demean him further. The girls were, of course, not just beaten up but sexually intimidated as well. Clothes were torn off their bodies, lewd comments passed. All this, in front of other policemen at the thana, who knew very well that no crime had been committed by the hapless victims.
This is not a new story and it is certainly not unique to Mumbai. It happens all the time, in our cities, in our villages and small towns. We read such reports every day. Of brutality and unnecessary savagery by those whose salaries you and I pay to maintain law and order in our society. It is precisely this, coupled with all-pervasive corruption, that has made the police force so widely hated in our society today. In fact, the truth is that our Mumbai police is much better than the force anywhere. Can you imagine dealing with the cops in Bihar or UP?
But the reason why policemen go out of hand is because of their political bosses. It is they who control the system. It is they who sell profitable postings, who demand a cut in the hafta. It is they who get their rivals eliminated, their underworld benefactors protected. I know some very brave policemen who have stood up to the men in khadi and faced Siberian postings or public humiliation.
It is these politicians who create bullies like Kakade because they think they can masquerade as moral watchdogs to woo the middle-class vote. And we are silly enough to allow ourselves to be manipulated by the sermonising prigs. We forget that there is a clear nexus between the khadi and the khaki. They work together to exploit our deepest fears about promiscuity and cultural degradation. To protect our hypocrisies, we conveniently ignore the fact that far more dangerous than the dancing girls in any restaurant are the cops who terrorise them and try to deny them their livelihood. Or, what is worse, try to grab a share of it.
Every citizen of India has a right to his or her livelihood. Particularly those who are poor and weak and lack the patronage of the state. To demean a profession, however humble it may be, however apparently graceless, does not befit a society that has dumped more than 65 per cent of its own under the poverty line and provides them no succour apart from vapid political slogans at election time. If we cannot feed or clothe these people or give them shelter, the least we can do is protect their rights as citizens instead of sermonising to them on what is right, what is wrong. I puke every time I see netas blabbering on about issues of morality before an audience that does not know where their next meal is going to come from.
Each time a cop arrests a dancing girl in a hotel or a bar, each time a streetwalker is picked up and charged for soliciting, each time a poor drug addict is taken off the streets, the law enforcer thinks he has the moral right to tear their clothes off them or demand free sexual favours. There are cops who have kicked pregnant sex workers in their stomachs. There are others who have shot them under the waist to make a point. This happens because their political mentors have taught them that those who live off the mean streets are easy meat. If you bully them, intimidate them, sexually harrass them, no one will come to their rescue because the middle classes are too busy posturing on moral issues.
But if we are not careful, this could lead to another kind of Talebisation. Where we are not ready to respect a girl from a poor home simply because she goes to a bar and dances to some silly Hindi film number to feed her family or pay for her education. There are simply not enough jobs to go around, particularly for women, and if some of them choose to follow professions that we, the middle classes do not exactly approve of, who are we to mock them or call them dirty names?
This chauvinistic and dubious moralising must stop. This cultural policing. We are all products of our circumstances and each one of us has the right to do a job that keeps us and our families going, as long as we are not doing anything illegal. There are perfectly decent laws in place and the courts are quite capable of deciding what is good for India, what is not. We do not need politicians to exercise extraconstitutional moral authority.
In any case, you cannot teach the virtues of not stealing to a scavenger who picks up his meal from the local dustbin. Just as you cannot go around forcing sex workers to understand the importance of a single partner. The simple fact is that three quarters of those who live in this brave city go to bed hungry at night. When we cannot take care of that, how can we dare to judge them?
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