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Tera freedom mera freedom

So it’s come to this. People are rejoicing because ACP Dhoble might be away this weekend. Like kids wait for a stern father who spends Sundays checking their messy rooms and making them learn Sanskrit shlokas, to go on office tour so they can read after bed time and watch too much TV. The right to party is not a frivolous one. Pleasure and leisure are the necessary foil to our labour and anxiety, as night is to day. So I am in full solidarity with those who have taken out their modest protests against the new D company.


Illustrations/ Amit Bbandre

But I can’t help wonder if any of the new morchawadis would have considered going to any of the protest events that surrounded the crackdown on and ban of Mumbai’s dance bars back in 2005. I don’t ask this to be morally accusatory. I only bring it up because I wonder whether those out there in protest understand that they —we — have now become part of that cliché: and then they came for me.

In interviews to the press, many of those who’ve felt the heavy hand of the moral police on their shoulder, have said things like, “They were treating the party as if we were in a dance bar,” and “We are not prostitutes but respectable people.” What does that mean? That a crackdown would be okay if it were a dance bar? The fundamental difference being that in one you get paid to dance while in the other you pay to dance. So does being able to pay make you more respectable than those who get paid? If we carry such moralistic attitudes within ourselves and condone the moral policing of others, then we must remember that we have condoned moral policing first and foremost. Then really, why should we be shocked when the gaze of the moral police turns to us? It’s a democracy na.

For many years I lived in tenement housing and many of my neighbours were bar dancers. As the economic status of the residents improved suddenly they started saying things like, ‘we don’t want these people staying here, we ae respectable.’ It always made me queasy — because how much time would it be before they started to say, ‘we don’t want single working women, they’re not respectable’? In fact, today, as you wait for the lift in many a housing society, you are frequently offered reading material in the form of signs saying — no renting to single people.

When you don’t stand up for someone else’s freedom, then you automatically bring an axe down upon yours. So you cannot think it is okay to shut down gay parties or dance bars and then say your party should be kept open. The moral conflicts we see today are born out of very complicated processes. Even as we condemn the moralising, I don’t know that we should hasten to be self-righteous. We have to introspect on the economic blindness whereby we feel entitled to have hipster anti-parties in cafes near bastis where property is cheaper (because someone poorer than us lives there), instead of in the higher priced neighbourhoods we inhabit.

Because it’s not in late night bars alone that the cosmopolitanism of this city lies. It lies in an increasingly rare ability to see ways in which all of us who live here are connected, to share a commonality with groups of people quite different from us, to empathise with others through a set of ideas and ideals. Or, as the vamp said to the lady, mere freedom mein hi tera freedom hai.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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