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Licence to hit

This is a piece about our cops - actually rock music and our cops, a relationship fraught with unease and turbulence - but let me start off with some nostalgia. Nostalgia and our cops seems unreal, doesn’t it? My tale starts in the late ’70s, we were in our late teens. The band The Police had came to town. It was first foreign rock gig in Bombay.

Five thousand of us expectant, excited rockers thronged Rang Bhavan - and as the serpentine queue wound its way into the venue, one of the khaki clad hawaldars asked me “Who is thees mujeek group?”

“The Police,” I answered.
“Nahi, nahi, how it is poseeble, Police hum hai,” he quipped and went back to lazy star-gazing in his Black Maria van, parked under the trees at Dhobi Talao.
It was a moment of mirth for a frenzied crowd that waited outside for the next two hours, with the cops waiting patiently too, ready for the slightest outbreak of violence. And we felt safe, I have to say. Jazz, rock and the khaki brigade co-existed in harmony, for a while. And then trouble began. Exactly twenty years later.

Rock became a bad word. It went against our Indian traditions, apparently. It seemed to create negative passions in teenagers, leading to violent behaviour.
The cops, acting on a petition from some NGO, lobbied to end rock shows at this historic auditorium. The plea - loudspeakers 50 metres from a hospital have to be banned. The area, after all is a Silence Zone.

Ironically, the State Government had no objections to the music. No resident, no patient from Cama Hospital had ever complained. And still the cops pushed their proposal forward. Cops vs concerned music lovers. The outcome - the cops had their way, and Bombay lost her heritage music venue and bands, their platform. And the police had an adjective added to their title - moral.

Cut to the present. Two news reports piqued my interest last week. At the Enrique Inglesias concert, a police inspector attempted to get nearly 50 of his ‘ticketless’ guests in for free. An event organiser asking to see their tickets was beaten by the inspector, causing him to suffer from partial deafness.

The same day, a top cop demanded that a law be passed that if an ordinary citizen hits a policeman, they must surrender their passport. Two stories, same newspaper. Modern times. So I asked the uniformed gent in question, what is your sentence when you beat up one of us?

What will you give up, sir? What will you surrender? Your lathi? Your licence? Your badge? Your right to protect?
When did slapping a petty thief in the quiet of a police chowki, morph into an open violent demonstration of entitlement?
When did the uniform turn unruly? When did protector turn persecutor?

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 @gmail.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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