Mumbai's police action against couples in a lounge bar has rightly set off a wave of protest. Here's what you need to know about the incident, before you too fall victim to 'moral policing'. Toral Varia reports
Mumbai's youth are not going to forget last Saturday night's police raid on a lounge bar in a western suburb, which saw around 30 persons being booked and fined for 'indecent behaviour' in a hurry. The incident has caused outrage in the city, with some of the victims of the police action even setting up a Facebook page to register their outrage.
After the resounding online responses, this group is already contemplating conducting seminars, taking out rallies, filing a Public Interest Litigation in the Bombay high court and even approaching the National Human Rights Commission.
Here are some angry reactions from the page:
"I don't know why cops are after innocent people. Every time you go out past 12 they will stop and start questioning you. Why are they against people partying? They should rather concentrate on smuggling, terrorists, safety of children, women etc.
-- Vivek Kulkarni
"I have faced moral policing too, many times, in Mumbai. So much so that, now I have grown used to it. Last time they caught me, the day after India won the World Cup, I was returning home at around 4 in the morning. "Then they started questioning me: Why so late? Why have you drunk?"
But I am used to them, so I just told them that I didn't have a single rupee to give them. They abused me, but eventually, let me go.
-- Debayan Pal
Can Mumbai police publish a list of 'decent dancing steps' or tips for how you should behave when you are among friends'? If they cannot they should apologise for what they have done with our friends at ORO.
-- Ankur Shrivastava
If someone from the police force does something like this, they are let go .well, because they are from the police. We know how to be in limits Mumbai police. This is not the 80s or 90s
We need to raise a voice against this.And not only just against the police, but also but also against certain political parties who indulge in such moral policing
It's not just their country; it's our country as well!
-- Deepesh MJ Lad
Enraged by the moral policing by the local police officers, DJ Jenney, who also had to pay up a fine, started the page shortly thereafter. And it doesn't end here. Jenney, along with several others who were present at the bar that night, are now all set to launch a massive public campaign across the board.
On July 3, a police team headed by Deputy Superintendent of Police Dr Mahesh Patil from Mumbai's Bangur Nagar police station raided Oro Lounge and Kitchen, a suburban lounge bar at Malad, a north-western Mumbai suburb, and rounded up 70 persons including the management, diners and the DJ.
After the raid, 31 of these youngsters were fined Rs 1,200 each under section 110 the Bombay Police Act for "indecency".
This is what section 110 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, states:
'Behaving indecently in public. No person shall willfully and indecently expose his person ill any street or public place or within sight of, and in such manner as to be seen from any street or public place, whether from within any house or building or not, or use indecent language or behave indecently or riotously, or in a disorderly manner in a street or place of public resort or in any office, station or station house.
'Any police officer specially empowered on this behalf by a competent authority may arrest without warrant for an offence specified in Section 110.'
Ironically, the Bombay Police Act does not even define 'indecent behaviour'. It advocates subjective application of the law based on a police officer's views on morality. And it appears that the detention was indeed a subjective application of the power that an officer is entrusted with.
On speaking with several eyewitnesses, rediff.com has gathered that the lounge did not have a valid DJ license to operate a discotheque inside the premises. A fact confirmed by DCP Patil as well.
Patil told rediff.com that the establishment did not have any valid licence to even operate the place, "and hence we took action."
But how does that become a case of indecent behaviour? rediff.com asked him.
"The place was illegally operating and everyone there was dancing indecently," was the reply. But he failed to describe what exactly he meant by that.
An anonymous post on the Facebook page states, "Out of the 70 people fined Rs 1,200, about 50 per cent hadn't even had drinks. They were employees from the call centre hub Mindspace that houses almost over 1 lakh BPO professionals who dropped in to have dinner after their late shift."
"The salaries had just come in and people wanted to have a good time by having some food and a couple of drinks. Is there anything wrong with it? All the women were decently dressed. There was no vulgarity at display. Everyone was only relaxing," recounts Jenney.
"It is a question of basic right to life, privacy and personal liberty. All the boys and girls present at the bar were dressed appropriately. No one was indulging in indecent behaviour. Do the cops ever arrest those who drink and indulge in vulgarities during Holi or Ganpati festival?" asks Maneesh Singh (name changed), another victim of the police action.
"The sole aim behind setting up the page was to create awareness among the youth so that next time the cops don't get away with doing something as bizarre as this," Jenney added.
"The officers even slapped the owner of the place. There were seven girls including the DJ. But there was not one single woman constable during the raid. They arrived only at the police station," says Maneesh.
As per the law, a woman constable should be present while initiating any police action against women.
While Jenny, who was a guest DJ, managed to get away within four hours of the incident, there were others who were struggling at the police station until as late as 8 the next morning.
Many of them tried to reason it out with the police that it was an issue they needed to sort out with management, and it was unfair to target the customers.
"But the police was just not willing to listen. They kept saying fine bharo ya fir do din jail mein raho!," says Jenney.
Advocate Anand Grover, a senior counsel from Mumbai, expressed complete shock at the manner in which the police have acted. "I am shocked by what has happened. Eating and drinking are certainly not indecent behaviour. This is complete high-handedness. The police can enter the premises or conduct a raid only when they have enough and solid information of a cognisable offence taking place there."
The Mumbai police claims that they were well within their rights to take action. But they likely to find it extremely difficult to justify the moral high ground taken in this particular case.
The Bombay Police Act dates back to 1951. Advocate Amit Desai feels that it's time for India to review its acts which empower the agencies so. He believes that it's essential for the laws to adapt and be in sync with the times.
It's a debate which is soon gathering moment among various sections of the society. And with the youth actively participating in the campaign, the debate is only expected to grow.