Make Mumbai minority friendly

Sep 21, 2011, 06:24 IST | Ranjona Banerji

It is an honour and a privilege to live in a city like Mumbai, India's most cosmopolitan. However, one must add some caveats here

It is an honour and a privilege to live in a city like Mumbai, India's most cosmopolitan. However, one must add some caveats here. You cannot be a Muslim (cannot buy or rent a home), be gay (cannot have a party), drink (unless you are over 25), be female and work in a bar (home minister gets offended), dance till 3 am (because this implies that you are a terrorist).

However, it is a very good city in which to be a criminal --  at 11 per cent, Maharashtra has one of the lowest convictions rates in the country. The latest raid on a 'gay' party is one more example of the police wasting its time and our money. It is not even correct to call this 'moral' policing because that implies that being gay is somehow immoral.

Personal choice:  Every person has a right to live the life they choose,
and sexual orientation cannot be punishable by law

The Delhi High Court has decriminalised homosexuality but the question of whether it should ever have been criminalised is moot. Like so many of our laws, this is a throwback to our colonial past and in urgent need of overhauling. Yes, there are people who get offended by the idea of non-heterosexual people but that is hardly justification for driving them underground or making them suffer.

Every person has a right to live the life they choose and sexual orientation cannot be punishable by law. More and more research over the years is pointing to sexuality being more genetic than choice. But that's another argument altogether.

Let's look at the obvious here. It's money of course. You target a group of potentially vulnerable people and bring up some obscure legal provisions to do with licences and permits. All these hark back to the good old days of prohibition when gangsters ruled Bombay and there was so much cash on the side to be made. Part of the reason why prohibition is not lifted in Gujarat has more to do with police bribery than any underlying moral concerns, the loss to the exchequer notwithstanding.

Mumbai walks a fine line between being 'cosmopolitan' and prudish. The courts have been asking the police to explain their illogical stance regarding timings for night clubs and discos in the city -- some are allowed to stay open till 3 am, others till 1 am and many are raided at random.

The usual police excuse is that bars and discos are teeming with criminal elements and they are trying to cleanse society of such things. This is a joke, clearly. Of all the terrorist attacks and bomb blasts in the city in the past decade, few have reached any sort of conclusion.

At 11 per cent conviction rate means that 89 per cent of those caught by the police in Maharashtra are let off for lack of evidence, shoddy investigation and so on. That is most certainly not a joke. In fact, it's criminal.

It's common at times like these to talk about "sensitising" the police. Yes, that's imperative. But the problem perhaps lies in our inability to understand our democracy and our Constitutional rights. A true democracy is not one where 'majority rules', but one where minorities and their rights are looked after, and this includes sexual minorities. To punish or pillory a group of people for being different is surely undemocratic and morally reprehensible.

Thankfully, all this talk about making Mumbai 'world class' has stopped. But it is time to upgrade our laws to walk in step with the 21st century, stop victimising people and most importantly, to get the police to do the job for which they are paid. Now that's a tough ask, I grant you that. Still.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist

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