A crackdown on a rave party, where use of cocaine and charas is suspected to have been consumed or actually has been, is one thing. But using the Prohibition Act to list drinking without permit an offence and booking them, is absurd.
Just as the official machinery and the tipplers find it an exasperating routine, so do the restaurateurs. They just serve what is ordered and perhaps prepare fake permits to match the day’s quantum of liquor served. As do the retail liquor outlets for the booze sold. It is mentioned in the bill.
Only if requested for a receipt for the stuff bought, would the seller then seek the permit from the Excise Department; restaurants don’t. Totaled up, the huge sales and fewer permits would show only a few names having guzzled more than what the most rabid alcoholic would have.
This permit is a sad carryover from the days of Prohibition when the likes of Morarjee Desai decided what is good for the public; if drink you must, then a doctor’s certificate saying it was absolutely essential for the health of the individual was a prerequisite or the permit was denied. That rendered all places where liquor could be served into Permit Rooms, a nomenclature unique to Maharashtra.
The insistence on a permit only when other offences are being registered – in this case, consumption of drugs – raises serious doubts about the purpose of the law of permits. It is just an added harassment in which the policemen display their power. Just like a police officer would visit a bar – this happened, really – and grab the microphone from the crooner and give homilies on drinking.
Equally silly are two other requirement that is anti-Bacchus. One is the need to have a separate police permit to hold an event in a hotel; a few friends cannot get together and enjoy an evening, including a bit of dancing, a few popular numbers to make it nice. Two, if you want to party by hiring a hall, and even if you have the permits, you’d need to get a pre-approval for a fee to the Excise guys, probably a bribe too. It takes the fun out of it.
That microphone-grabbing is what constitutes moral policing amid the failure to actually find and crackdown on other crimes, the true and legitimate calling of the law enforcement departments. The dabbling in the grey areas like what amounts to ‘indecent exposure’ or ‘indecent dancing’ adds to their muscle which translates into higher haftas. The victims like to settle for the latter and the cops know it.
Maharashtra, and especially Mumbai, is notorious for moral policing in its various avatars which includes asking young couples not to hold hands in public or steal a kiss; they are, even if married, cannot find privacy in their tiny and overcrowded homes. Credit goes to two politicians. The first is Pramod Navalkar, a Shiv Sena leader who found several things at odds with ‘traditional Indian norms’: the Valentine’s Day for love is not to be professed openly, implying that only reproductive sex behind closed doors mattered.
The spur he provided to moral policing continues to hang over Mumbai and some major cities in Maharashtra and there are those who would be happy to carry forward the legacy. If there is Navalkar’s true successor, it is Raosaheb Ramrao Patil who used the Home Ministry assignment over-enthusiastically. They perceived the protestors to be libertines or social deviants.
When such powerful politicians determine what is good and what is not and using extra-judicial methods try to enforce it, policemen become by-standers, and are hard put to manage other crimes by forensic detection and rely only on lathis and confessionals to pin people down.
They apparently have not seen cleavage in movies of all languages, Hollywood, Bollywood, Kollywood, Tollywood et al. They have not seen perhaps their own children in kindergartens being made to dance in ‘cultural shows’ to their explicit and pulsating numbers whose common denominator is the heave, grind and the lasciviously suggestive thrust. By their interpretation of what is moral and what is not, Bollywood ought to have been shuttered down by now.
This list can grow longer than the arm but the point is that moral policing by policemen is extra-legal coercion; those by politicians are unacceptable vigilantism. When the two blend, then the risks to the citizenry’s individual right within the four corners of the law get enhanced. Law as an instrument of social order takes a holiday with only courts as a recourse. And not all can afford them so they live with the discomfort.
What, however, is forgotten in this entire hullaballoo is that there is no such thing as legally permissible moral policing. There is, of course, something called legal policing which itself is woefully weak and calls for major reform. People should be allowed to do their own thing on which no state or individuals can impose restrictions on people as long as no existing law was broken. If a law existed, then people are duty-bound to follow it in letter and spirit.
Like, for instance, rave parties are a strict no-no. The requirement to possess a permit to drink, which can only be valid in Maharashtra in Wardha district which has a prohibition law in place, though largely violated, is absurd. The drink-with-permits is quite silly because the state keeps increasing the taxes on booze not because it wants to make it impossible to drink but to earn higher revenue and then wants you to get an approval from the doctor to drink.