Tag Archive for 'Moral police'

Inspector Killjoy

The Economist on India’s archaic anti-alcohol laws:

IF A Bollywood scriptwriter had to dream up a killjoy cop, he would base him on Vasant Dhoble. Over the past month Mumbai’s police have been shutting down parties and confiscating bars’ music systems in a drive to regulate the city’s nightlife. Leading the drive has been Mr Dhoble, the head of the city police’s “social services” division.

A stocky figure in his 50s sporting a moustache, Mr Dhoble has gained cartoon-villain status among hip Mumbaikers. An anti-Dhoble Facebook group has attracted over 20,000 members. Urbane newspapers witheringly describe him as a teetotal vegetarian. Bloggers have shared video footage that shows him roughing up employees at a juice bar, armed with a hockey stick. More

God in God’s Own Country

In July, activists allegedly belonging to a fundamentalist group called the Popular Front of India cut off the hand of T.J. Joseph, a professor of Malayalam at Newman College, a Christian minority institution in Kerala, for setting an exam question that they said contained a controversial reference to Prophet Mohammad. Earlier this month, his college sacked him. Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express:

The macabre story that unfolded in Kerala over the last few weeks is a harbinger of how complicated and threatening currents of religious politics are likely to remain. Some fanatics, allegedly associated with the Popular Front of India (PFI), chopped off the hand of Prof T.J. Joseph of Newman College for setting an exam question that was seen as containing a controversial reference to Prophet Mohammad. The college then terminated the services of the professor. Mahatma Gandhi University, the affiliating institution, has correctly served a notice to the college questioning the professor’s dismissal, but the Archdiocese has supported action against the professor.

It is always difficult to gauge the significance of any incident in the context of wider politics. But this story encapsulates many challenges of religious politics in our time. First, it provides more evidence, if any was needed, that a prolonged exposure of a state to left of centre and so-called progressive politics does not necessarily diminish religious sensibilities or fundamentalist sensitivities; it merely redirects and sometimes enhances them. This is for two reasons. Left politics and progressive politics in India have often been premised upon politically managing community identities rather than transcending them. This has often required reinforcing a sense of identity amongst communities, which in turn has required often deferring to their sentiments, even when these go against the grain of constitutional values. Just think of the CPM’s handling of Taslima Nasreen in West Bengal, another state where communal attitudes are slowly simmering under the facade of communist rule. More:

At top university, a fight for Pakistan’s future

An attack on a professor revealed a power struggle between an educated class and those pushing an intolerant vision of Islam. Sabrina Tavernise in The New York Times:

Lahore: The professor was working in his office here on the campus of Pakistan’s largest university this month when members of an Islamic student group battered open the door, beat him with metal rods and bashed him over the head with a giant flower pot.

Iftikhar Baloch, an environmental science professor, had expelled members of the group for violent behavior. The retribution left him bloodied and nearly unconscious, and it united his fellow professors, who protested with a nearly three-week strike that ended Monday.

The attack and the anger it provoked have drawn attention to the student group, Islami Jamiat Talaba, whose morals police have for years terrorized this graceful, century-old institution by brandishing a chauvinistic form of Islam, teachers here say.

But the group has help from a surprising source — national political leaders who have given it free rein, because they sometimes make political alliances with its parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s oldest and most powerful religious party, they say.

The university’s plight encapsulates Pakistan’s predicament: an intolerant, aggressive minority terrorizes a more open-minded, peaceful majority, while an opportunistic political class dithers, benefiting from alliances with the aggressors. More:

In an Indian city, moral police diktat: no lingerie ads

A story in The Times of India says activists of a right-wing Hindu outfit are parading the streets of Bhopal asking storekeepers to “tear down hoardings advertising lingerie and cover up mannequins showcasing women’s undergarments.” The storekeepers are being told ‘‘not to display lingerie in public.’’

‘‘Your mannequins should wear sarees, not underwear. From now on, keep all undergarments inside. Show it to the customer when he or she asks for it. Five days from now if undergarments are still hanging outside, we will light a bonfire of the lingerie,’’ threatened the leader of the group.

Bhopal is about 350 km (six-hour drive) from Khajuraho, the temple city famous for erotic sculptures.

Bring on those chaddis

As the pink chaddi campaign gathers steam, opinion is divided on the way forward. Sagarika Ghose in the Hindustan Times says the battle for freedom and progress needs to go beyond flinging underwear at maniacs.

Both the zealot and the sex symbol claim to be the defining face of a new India. Pramod Muthalik, the Sri Rama Sene chief, claims to represent a tidal wave of public revulsion against Western culture. In sharp contrast, bare midriffs and cleavages stare down from hoardings as if to declare proudly that it is they who represent the aspirations of every young Indian. A Facebook group, ‘A Consortium of Pub-Going Loose and Forward Women’ (a group to which your columnist also belongs) is now planning to send ‘pink chaddis’ to Muthalik in protest. Undoubtedly, the Sene’s actions are loathsome and unacceptable, but sending pink underwear to perverts is pretty undignified too.


Also in the Hindustan Times, Amrita Nandy-Joshi says the battle that started in Mangalore is all about parorchial definitions of what makes a ‘good woman’.

The controversy that started at a Mangalore pub seems to resemble a frantic chase scene from a slapstick film, where characters forget who was chasing whom and why. While the Sri Rama Sene shooed women out of the pub, members of the National Commission of Women chased the pub owners to check if they had the requisite licence.

Miles away, Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot, bristled against the pub and mall culture, while Union Minister Renuka Chowdhury threatened to lead women for a ‘pub bharo andolan’. Women’s activists swarmed out with placards, as television screens flickered with public reactions. To heighten the drama, Pramod Muthalik warned that he and his men would forcibly marry off couples found dating on Valentine’s Day! Amid the uproar, a central and thorny issue has long stood neglected — the colonisation of a woman’s body and the spaces around it, all in the name of ‘honour’.


Previously on AW:

The pink chaddi campaign

The idea of indignation

In Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury tracks the underlying psychology of vigilantes across the country

coverstory2In Mangalore they beat women for drinking. In Pune, they tear priceless manuscripts because they feel a historian has insulted Shivaji. In Delhi, they spit on a man at a podium because they feel he is a traitor to the nation. In Bhopal, they break a school because they feel the principal has violated the national anthem. In Bombay, they raid and pillage because they feel outsiders are stealing jobs and thwarting their mother tongue. In Orissa, they burn houses and kill people because they feel their faith is in danger of dwindling. In Gujarat, they rape and kill thousands because they want to teach a community a lesson. They pull artists’ hair, threaten writers, slap women, hit men, burn paintings, ban films, tear posters, pulp, burn, rape, kill, beat. As a matter of routine, they spill into the street.


Creating a new constituency

Why has the urban Indian woman failed to enthuse politicians? Namita Bhandare in Mint.

The pub culture debate with new votaries jumping into the fray with each passing day—health minister Anbumani Ramadoss being the latest—refuses to die down. So, here’s my take for what it’s worth.

First, my first reaction to outfits such as Shri Ram Sene and people such as Pramod Muthalik is to dismiss them as a bunch of right-wing crazies. There’s no shortage of this breed that sees itself as the custodian of Indian culture—at least its vision of what that culture should be. You cannot engage this creature in any sort of meaningful debate in civil society. And to give it any sort of publicity is to play into its hands.


‘We were molested in the name of God ‘

[Updated January 29, 2009]

Ashok Gehlot joins the fray. Now he wants pub and mall culture banned.

Members of a self-styled pro-Hindu moral brigade forced their way into a pub in India’s coastal city of Mangalore on Saturday and assaulted some young girls for “violating traditional Indian norms” and behaving in an “obscene manner.”

The men belonging to the right wing group called Sri Rama Sene (Lord Ram’s army) beat up the boys and the girls who were dancing in the pub, Amnesia – The Lounge. Mangalore is 350 km from Bangalore.


One of the victims of the attack, a young woman, told PTI that the activists called them “prostitutes”. “We were just having a good time and next you know people pulling your hair, hitting you and calling you names like prostitutes, whores…,” the victim told a news channel. “Those people (attackers) simply came in and started beating the girls. It was a bad scene. Our waiters tried to stop them but they did not listen and kept assaulting the girls,” the pub owner told reporters. The police has arrested ten suspected activists of the group.

From The Hindu:

“The entire scene has been playing out in my mind over and over again,” said a woman who was in the pub. She was sitting at the reception counter when the mob entered the compound and was witness to the incident from beginning to end. She said that before barging into the pub, the mob went into a huddle and prayed silently. They then began raising slogans ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai,’ ‘Jai Sri Ram,’ ‘Bajrang Dal ki Jai’ and ‘Sri Ram Sene ki Jai.’

From NDTV:

Pramod Muthalik is the man who laid the foundation of the right-wing Hindu group called the Sri Ram Sena. “Whoever has done this has done a good job. Girls going to pubs is not acceptable. So, whatever the Sena members did was right. You are highlighting this small incident to malign the BJP government in the state,” said Pramod.

In The Times of India: We’re custodians of Indian culture, says Sri Ram Sena founder

Pramod Mutalik told TOI that women were being misused and misguided. “We oppose this. Women have to be protected as the law has failed. Parents are worried about their wards going astray in materialistic pursuits. We are the custodians of Indian culture,” he said. Mutalik is the national president of the right-wing political group, Rashtriya Hindu Sena. The SRS, founded in late 2007, is its militant outfit. When it was pointed out that several girls had been assaulted by the SRS activists, Mutalik said, “I apologize if such a thing has happened. The mode of execution was wrong. But there is no need to raise such a hue and cry about the incident.”

The Mangalore incident is not a one-off, writes Dhiraj Nayyar in The Indian Express

The self-appointed custodians of Indian culture and values raised their ugly head on Monday, when a bunch of hooligans called the Sri Rama Sene attacked young women in a pub in Mangalore. The women’s alleged wrongdoing: drinking and dancing, which the group sees to be a perversion of Indian culture and tradition.


No cheerleaders, please. We’re Indians

[Updated on May 2]

Namita Bhandare in Mint

Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that the moral grandstanding on the Indian Premier League, or IPL, cheerleader controversy has the elements of a pre-written script with the dramatis personae mouthing predictable lines? First, the cast of characters: Siddharam Mehetre is Maharashtra’s minister of state for home. He finds cheerleaders and their performance “absolutely obscene” and out of place in a country where “womanhood is worshipped”.


Maharashtra’s moral police wants to ban cheereaders from IPL matches played in the state for their ‘vulgar’ and ‘obscene’ performance. Some conservative politicians would not like these girls to perform at the Indian Premier League’s upcoming matches in the state’s capital city, Bombay (Mumbai).

Many IPL franchisees have brought in foreign cheerleaders to add a bit of US-style glitz to the popular game. While cricket fans are not complaining, these politicians are not amused. They say that in a country where “womanhood is worshipped,” cheerleaders are “an affront” to Indian culture. And they ask: “How can anything obscene like this be allowed?”

Result? The state government gives in to the moral police. The franchisees will have to apply for permits before cheerleaders can be allowed to perform in Mumbai. If the cheerleaders “indulge in obscenity,” the franchisees will be fined.

However, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, who owns the IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders, does not find anything vulgar about cheerleaders. “I am also a family person, I do not see anything negative in it,” he said

National Commission for Women Girija Vyas said “we should promote our culture by bringing folk dancers and musicians in these matches.”

More here, here, here and here

And as for the cheerleaders themselves, they have some harrowing stories: “It’s been horrendous,” Tabitha, a cheerleader from Uzbekistan, told the Hindustan Times. “Wherever we go we do expect people to pass lewd, snide remarks but I’m shocked by the nature and magnitude of the comments people pass here.” Another cheerleader, Christy, told The Telegraph, Calcutta, “If they want us to be fully clad, we don’t mind.”

More here:

Body politics: bahu okay, others bawdy

From The Telegraph, Calcutta:

From the Indian Politician’s Dictionary, edited by Amar Singh, Amitabh Bachchan’s “younger brother”:

Single standards: If Mumbai bar girls are banned, so should be the Indian Premier League’s pom-pom girls.

Obscene: What the Washington Redskins wear, but not what “bahu” Aishwarya Rai wore in Dhoom:2

[Photos: Left, a cheerleader at an IPL match in Bangalore; right, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in the movie Dhoom:2]