The Maharashtra government, whose decisions have contributed considerably to the larger national debate on intolerance, finds itself in a fix again.
Shoppers flock to Hill Road in Bandra to pick up their Christmas decorations. Pic/Swarali Purohit
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the Congress's demand for an alcohol ban on December 24 (Eid-e-Milad) has left the city's Christian community unhappy as it falls on Christmas Eve.
AIMIM legislator from Byculla, Waris Pathan and Congress MLA Arif Naseem Khan (right), had written to the CM, demanding a liquor ban on December 24
While the AIMIM and the Congress cited religious sentiments of Muslims for their demand, the Christian community said wine is an integral part of Christmas festivities, and not an indulgence. Responding to AIMIM leader Waris Pathan's statement that the ban can be lifted at the stroke of midnight, the community said mass was no more a midnight event in Mumbai and that Christmas prayers begin early and end by 11 pm thanks to noise rules in the city.
Though the archdiocese sought to play down the issue, insisting alcohol doesn't play a major part in festivities, citizens said the ban will affect the Christmas Eve spirit.
Earlier in the day, the AIMIM accused the Congress of hijacking its idea for the ban, wondering why the Congress-led Democratic Front never enforced an alcohol ban on Eid-e-Milad in its 15-year rule. The AIMIM said the demand has been made keeping in mind the meat the Congress government had imposed during the Jain community's Paryushan Parva, which the BJP too has continued after coming to power.
Pathan, the AIMIM legislator from Byculla, said he and fellow party legislator from Aurangabad Imtiaz Jalil first raised the demand.
"The Congress banned meat during Paryushan Parva, but did not pay heed to our community's demand for declaring a dry day on Eid-e-Milad, which is the Prophet's birth and death anniversary. This is the Congress' discrimination against the Muslims and it is doing this now only to appease voters ahead of the Mumbai civic elections," Pathan told mid-day.
The Congress, on the other hand, sought to claim credit for the demand. MLA and former minority affairs ministers, Arif Naseem Khan, accused the AIMIM of stealing his party's idea and misleading Muslims.
"When many Muslim non-profit organisations approached us, I thought of taking it forward with the help of opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Samajwadi Party chief Abu Asim Azmi. I wrote a letter on my letterhead and all of us handed it over to CM Devendra Fadnavis last Friday," said Khan, adding that AIMIM swung into action only after they submitted a letter to the CM.
"The government should close down all liquor shops on the occasion of birth and death anniversary of Prophet Mohammed. Liquor is banned in Islam and, considering the religious sentiments of the community, the ban should be imposed," says the MLA's letter to Fadnavis.
Not against Christians
Both Pathan and Khan, however, insisted that the community and their parties were not in favour of marring the spirit of Christmas.
"Dry day regulations could end just before the Christmas mass starts at the stroke of midnight. The government may plan the declaration in a manner that does not hassle our Christian brothers," said Pathan.
He, however, seems to have forgotten that Christmas mass in recent years begin between 9 pm and 10 pm and end well before midnight, thanks to the noise laws in the city.
He said Eid-e-Milad and Christmas will not clash from next year. "Eid-e-Milad will be celebrated 10 days before Christmas next year. It will keep going back by 10 days as per our calendar," Khan said.
At the time of going to press, government sources said a decision was yet to be taken.
"The opposition has made it a political issue. The government will have to consider the political repercussions before taking any step," said a senior bureaucrat, requesting anonymity.
Voices of the youth
Christina Aguir, 25, Malad resident
This is like the Grinch stealing Christmas. As long as we are drinking in our houses, celebrating and not harming anyone, I don’t see the need for a ban. The celebration of the festival is incomplete without a drink to warm the bones on a cold winter night.
Albert D’souza, 23, Andheri resident
It’s Eid, so let them celebrate their way; it’s Christmas, so let us celebrate our way. We are already suffering because of the beef ban, this will make it worse. The joy and fun of Christmas will be robbed if this ban goes ahead. I have nothing against Muslims, but they don’t drink anyway, so how does it affect them if others drink or sell alcohol?
Premika Rozario, 25, Colaba resident
No celebration is complete without alcohol in my house. It cannot be a dry Christmas Eve - how can they even suggest this? Each community needs to respect the other, not curtail them.
Brent Gomes, 22, Borivli resident
Christmas Eve is a day of celebration and this ban affects the essence of it. We live in a country of diversity. Everyone should be allowed to practice and follow what they believe in, and restrictions should in no way be imposed on others, especially in a case like this.
‘A loss to business’
Meldan D’Cunha, Chef, Restaurateur, Soul Fry (Bandra), The Local (Fort)
If it has not been a dry day before, how can anyone define a dry day at any time? If someone doesn’t want to drink, they should not drink. If someone doesn’t want to enjoy, don’t enjoy. It will be a loss to business and more than that, it will also be a loss of revenue for the government.
Chef Rohan D'Souza, Head Chef, Radio Bar (Bandra) and Silver Beach Cafe (Fort and Juhu)
It’s very unfortunate that both the festivals clash with due respect to both religions. Christmas is one big festival in the Christmas calendar when Christians let their hair down and look forward to it months ahead. Since Christmas headlines the festive spirit leading up to New Year, it's not only celebrated by Christians but by a lot of faiths. A dry day will definitely dampen the festive spirit. A brand like Radio Bar would do a 70% sale on spirits and wines and Silver Beach Cafe would do a 50% sale on spirits & wines.
Pankil Shah, Co-owner, Woodside Inn - Colaba and Andheri
While it is not passed yet, if it does it will definitely hurt the restaurant industry. Right now, it is peak season for us, and a lot of restaurants depend on the period between December 24 to January 1 to cover costs, through the year. We do see 15-25% jump in revenues during this time because there are a larger number of footfalls as it’s the holiday season. More so, Christmas Eve is something you always celebrate because December 25 is a holiday.
Ashish Sajnani, Director, OPA Hospitality and KSW13 Hospitality
December 24 is celebrated not only in our city or India but also across the world every year. If you cannot raise a toast or celebrate, then who would like to go to a restaurant or a pub? We would not earn revenues on that day. At one point, the government is keen to make Mumbai an international city and on the other hand, to give into demands for religious appeasement would be going against secular interests.
Fr. Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay, said , “The focus of Christmas is the birth of Christ. We do not want to get into the dry day debate. When the body of Christ is received the celebration is complete.”