The Pioneer | February 1, 2009 | Coffee Break
The outrage over a bunch of hooligans describing themselves as foot soldiers of ‘Sri Ram Sena’ attacking young men and women at a Mangalore pub called Amnesia on January 24 is entirely justified. It is hogwash to suggest, as the Sri Ram Sena and its chief, Pramod Muthalik, have done, that the hoodlums were merely protesting against “dancing and drinking (by women) which is against Indian tradition and culture”. Nor is there any reason to be persuaded by Muthalik’s explanation that perhaps his lads with knuckle dusters got a bit carried away but they didn’t really mean to grope and molest the terrified women. Muthalik and his army of hoodlums justly deserve the opprobrium that is being poured on them (and their sympathisers); hopefully the courts will deny them bail and mete out exemplary punishment so that others are not tempted to stage a repeat performance of their shocking misdeed anywhere in the country.
Having said that, let’s also call a halt to the media propaganda which would have us believe that this is the first time the ‘moral police’ have run amok or that the attack on Amnesia is a manifestation of ‘Hindutva’ under the benign gaze of the BJP Government in Karnataka. That’s bunkum. Many of those waxing eloquent on the need to rein in ‘Hindu groups’ on the rampage and how the distasteful incident at Mangalore will ‘damage’ India’s image abroad are either wilfully seeking to mislead public opinion or are blissfully ignorant of similar incidents in the past — and we are not talking about the Congress-NCP Government in Maharashtra imposing a ban on nautch girls and women serving liquor at sleazy downmarket bars in Mumbai.
The short and stocky, cigar-chomping Jatin Chakraborty, better known as ‘Hartalda’ for his bandh-organising skills, who was a senior Minister in the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government of West Bengal, had kicked up a storm in 1983 by refusing to give permission for a charity show at Kolkata’s Mahajati Sadan where pop singer Usha Uthup was scheduled to perform. The RSP leader, whose lasting contribution to Kolkata as PWD Minister was to get the onion dome of Shahid Minar painted a hideous red and thus reduce Ochterlony Monument to a gross phallic symbol of Communist power, had then famously declared he would not allow “apasanskriti” at any Government-controlled auditorium.
For him, Usha Uthup’s “disco music” was nothing but “perverted culture” and those who attended her concerts were “uncultured”. Usha Uthup sued him for defamation and newspapers (there were no 24x7 news channels in those days) were scathing in their criticism of Jatin Chakraborty playing ‘culture cop’, but he remained unfazed. Neither the CPI(M) nor Mr Jyoti Basu, who was then Chief Minister, bothered to so much as lift a finger in admonition. Hartalda did fall foul of Jyotibabu, but that was only after he refused to give a huge contract to Bengal Lamp to supply electricity bulbs to PWD. The Chief Minister’s son, Chandan Basu, was an alleged beneficiary of that proposed deal which violated all norms of Government procurement.
But this was not the first time that Usha Uthup was accused of ‘debasing’ culture. If memory serves me right, she was also denied permission to stage a show in honour of Mother Teresa at Rabindra Sadan in Kolkata. On that occasion, too, the reason given by authorities was that her music had little to do with ‘Indian tradition and culture’. The Left Front Government was fully at ease (and presumably remains so) with such separation of what is from what isn’t Indian tradition and culture. That a Marxist Minister, the indomitable Subhas Chakraborty, organised a concert in the 1990s where Bappi Lahiri sang “I am a disco dancer” to the lewd gyrating of hips by party cadre was more a reflection of the lumpenisation of the CPI(M) than the Left commissars relaxing their grip on what is and isn’t permissible in the public domain.
Of course, leftists playing ‘culture cops’ is no justification for ‘Hindu’ hoodlums running riot on Valentine’s Day or heckling young couples sneaking a moment of privacy in public parks. Just as Marxism is not threatened by Usha Uthup’s foot-stomping music or Bappi Lahiri’s crude lyrics, Hinduism is well insulated from those who find merit in emulating Western trash culture. This is not a value judgement, but a statement of fact. More importantly, the state has no role, whatsoever, in deciding what is and isn’t morally permissible so long as those involved are adults and their actions do not offend others.
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa may be labouring under the mistaken belief that it is for his Government to uphold Indian tradition and culture by putting a check on ‘pub culture’, but his daughter, Umadevi, who is a successful entrepreneur and does not go pubbing, disagrees with him, as would any citizen aware of his or her rights in a free, open and plural society. “It’s for women to decide if they would like to visit pubs or any other public place and Government, politicians or outfits like Sri Ram Sena cannot restrict their movements,” she told a newspaper, “If she’s an adult woman, it’s for her to take a call on whether to go to a pub or not.” If Mr Yeddyurappa wishes to be more circumspect with his comments in future, he should turn to Umadevi for advice.
The issue, really, is one of hypocrisy: As a people, we are a nation of hypocrites for whom to preach and to practice are two separate, mutually exclusive ideas; our politicians can be no different. There is nothing Hindu about Mumbai’s ‘culture cops’ or Mangalore’s ‘moral police’, nor is the molestation of women a manifestation of Hindutva, as is being claimed by the lib-left intelligentsia. The Taliban do what they do because they are guided by their perverse interpretation of Islam. Muthalik’s gang has no such interpretation of Hinduism; what they have is a distorted notion of social hierarchy that has nothing to do with either culture or faith. Indeed, culture is too profound an idea, as is faith, to be comprehended by those who ransack pubs and those who froth at the mouth in feigned anger. To score political points over the incident at Mangalore would be to reduce ourselves to the level of Muthalik’s goons.