Moral policing is not new to Mumbai. After all, the esteemed home minister in the last government (and here he is again in this one) made it a personal mission to rid Mumbai of the terrible menace of dance bars and dance bar girls. Both these were corrupting our senses and mainly our gangsters and definitely our policemen. It was under the same man’s watch, by the way, that the city was flooded in 2005 about which nothing was done either then or thereafter and in 2008 when a bunch of terrorists skipped into the city and spread death and mayhem at will. Incidents like these happen in big cities, we were told.
The corruption of the Mumbai police however started long before RR Patil arrived in Mumbai from whichever small town he belongs to. And it has only grown. The western suburbs are the most lucrative and senior police officers fight to get posted here. Make no mistake —every little bribe you think you are forced to pay to some constable or sub-inspector is shared all the way up to the top of the police tree, like a tip in a restaurant.
The case where a young boy was made to pay Rs 3,000 (he brought it down from Rs 6,000) in Bandra for having a party at home is one more in a list of transgressions. Add to that Tuesday’s story of women sitting in a restaurant being picked up as sex workers and put into some female correction home. It is not against the law to be a sex worker sitting in a restaurant and enforced rehabilitation is not accepted government policy either. What this signifies is a police force running amuck and a political establishment which is not bothered. The last three chief ministers of Maharashtra are accused of being involved in massive land scams — not much time to watch what everyone else is up to, then.
It is also interesting that the current slew of moral policing arrests and raids have come under the watch of the new police commissioner. We had a break from this harassment for a few years. It would be interesting to hear what explanation Arup Patnaik has for this over-zealousness of his subordinates. We have already heard the wishy-washy harrumphing from senior officers when it was discovered that murder accused Vijay Palande had got away with several misdemeanours for years because of a cop relative.
It is possible that with bars closing down or customers shrinking at bars because of the high cost of alcohol in Maharashtra, regular police haftas have been dipping. The competition for the spoils with the excise department has probably escalated. The upshot is that we no longer need the underworld in Mumbai. We have a police force which effectively fills that role — coercion, intimidation, extortion and violence. And scant respect for the law. That is what we have seen in Mumbai over the last few months.
The problem of course is because people who visit pubs, bars and restaurant are either the elite or are seen as morally reprehensible, this outrageous police behaviour is not going to get much attention. Simple matters like rule of law and human rights are not yet well-respected by the Indian establishment. So it is likely that nothing will be done until the money collected reaches critical mass and then things will slow down. It will of course help if some enlightened politician takes a look at Mumbai’s archaic laws and brings them up to date. I know — that is wishful thinking of the most absurdly impractical kind (might as well wish for the monsoon to arrive on time).
Until then, corruption masquerading as morality and patriarchy will encroach on our lives regularly. By the way, please note that I have not mentioned jokes like “world class city” even once.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter@ranjona