HOCKEY STICK – THE MOST DREADED WEAPON IN MUMBAI
The well-knownadvice, “don’t shoot the messenger,” was expressed for the first time by Shakespeare in his play Antony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra threatens to treat the messenger’s eyes as mere balls when the latter brings the news of Antony’s marriage to another woman. The messenger’s famous reply was, “Gracious madam, I that do bring the news made not the match.”
Our very own “Moral crusader with the hockey stick,” has somewhat assumed the role of the messenger in Antony and Cleopatra, who has brought bad news, that is the execution of The archaic Bombay Prohibition Act (BPA), 1949, only this time, the messenger is on a raiding spree, rounding up people from bars, restaurants and pubs, enforcing a law that is not only archaic but also extremely faulty. Yes, it is ACPVasantDhobleand his social service wing I am talking about.
In this article I shall discuss the legitimacy of police raids on public spaces, the legitimacy of our protests against the police and the loopholes in The Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949 that need to be done away with.
The police crackdown- How far is too far?
The city of Mumbai is shocked to the see the series of raids on restaurants and pubs, where women were rounded up from bars and restaurants for their alleged involvement in sex work and flesh trade. This included two women who were arrested in a restaurant by ACP Dhoble a few days back. They filed a case of defamation against the ACP. However, all charges against the ACP were dropped as the Bombay High Court ruled that Dhoble was well within his rights to arrest and investigate them. When Arup Pattnaik, Commissioner of Police, was questioned about the legitimacy of Dhoble’s crackdown, he said that Dhoble is a man of unquestionable integrity and that the police are doing their duties.
There are two questions that come to the fore. Why this sudden onslaught of raids when pubbing and drinking alcohol in bars were, subject to only certain conditions, perfectly alright until yesterday? The Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949, as we all know, is so archaic that most of us were not even aware of its existence. The fact that those restaurants, bars and other places where drinks are served need to have legal permit is alright. But rounding up customers, especially women, calling them prostitutes, and arresting them, and getting a nod for the same from the Commissioner of Police as well as the Bombay High Court is a tad too hard to digest. “I am too scared to drink after 8 for fear of getting beaten up by Dhoble,” said a male resident of Bhandup, who is an IT engineer working with a reputed company.
Another question that surfaces here is, can the police conduct in any manner they like, while arresting people from public spaces? The fact that women who are caught partying in pubs at later hours, or even men for that matter, are labelled as sex workers, gives a serious blow to their dignity and reputation. A video produced by a Pune based Industrialist, TehseenPoonawala, reveals Dhoble in poor light as he harasses four German tourists in a bar. They were forcibly arrested and shoved onto the police van as one of them cried, “But what have we done?”
Can we really blame the police?
Amid controversies and protests against the erratic crackdown of Police on bars and restaurants, the biggest question facing us is are we really in a position to blame the police?
How can we protest against the police when allthey are doing is following the law? The Bombay Prohibition Act may be archaic, but it is not obsolete yet. Instead of raging against the police, it is a certain set of laws under the Act that needs to be done away with. After all, the police are indeed doing their duty. We might argue that PritiChandriani, Mumbai based Chocolatier, was unjustly rounded up for selling wine chocolates without a legal permit. But it is true the BPA expressly states that a legal permit is necessary to preserve, serve or consume alcohol. The Special Permits and License Rules, 1952, provide that liquor chocolates can be sold to only permit-holders. Had Priti not claimed that the liquor chocolates were for her personal consumption, she would have had a hard time as she indeed breached an archaic yet enforceable law.
The Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949- Junk the archaic laws!
Though, certain aspects of the law with regard to licenses and permits that restaurants and bars must hold are legitimate and necessary, other aspects that require individuals to have legal permits for preserving, serving and consuming alcohol must be done away with.
One’s identification proof with proper date of birth should suffice as a legal permit to consume alcohol.
Lifetime permits, emergency permits are others are absolutely illogical and ridiculous.
The law that considers keeping more than 12 units of alcohol at home illegal is faulty. Where will the wine connoisseurs go? Given Mumbai’s aspirations of becoming a global hub, this kind of law must be done away with at the earliest.
Lastly, the regulations with regard to permit rooms in restaurants and bars for consumption of alcohol where only permit holders are allowed to go, which has never been followed and is not likely to be followed in future, need to be changed.
If the laws make sense, so will the police’s conduct.
Ergo,“Don’t shoot the messenger”, junk the archaic laws!
NEEL KAMAL MISHRA
SOPHIA COLLEGE FOR WOMEN