Every now and then, Mumbai gets a sudden attack of morality and then the city’s administration and law and order machinery goes after what it terms of public indecency. During the 1990s, when the Shiv Sena and the BJP used to govern the state, there were drives against PDA (public displays of affection); couples quietly sitting on the Marine Drive promenade were told to stop doing whatever they were doing and driven away.
Under the Congress-NCP government, Home Minister R.R. Patil banned bar dances, throwing thousands of girls out of work. He found their work immoral.
Now it is the turn of the Devendra Fadnavis administration. Is the state government gearing up to clamp down heavily on “public indecency”? It is a valid question, after the raid and subsequent humiliation of 40 couples who were rounded up from hotels in Madh and Aksa beaches in the remote northwest part of the city known as Malvani. The areas are secluded and are popular with picnickers and couples who want a bit of privacy in the many guesthouses and lodges there.
Just last month, several policemen from the area were suspended after spurious liquor – brewed in their jurisdiction – killed 100 people. The manufacture and sale of the moonshine was going on for years under their very noses.
All of those picked up were adults, and presumably consenting ones—one of them was quoted as saying she had checked into the hotel after showing an ID card. There was no subterfuge here and clearly, no public indecency, considering they were in hotel rooms.
This did not stop cops from landing up on Thursday afternoon and knocking on the hotel rooms. The couples were marched to the local police station, made to hang around for 5 hours and fined—for what precise crime no one knows. Some alleged they were slapped for objecting; others were made to call up their parents. Clearly, the cops were out to humiliate the victims, since nothing is apparently worse than shaming someone for the crime of wanting some privacy in crowded Mumbai
The social media, already fighting against burgeoning interference in the lives of Indian citizens, hit out at the raids:
Nice. I've always wondered what it'd be like to live in Saudi Arabia. https://t.co/L036KGNwFC
— Ashish Shakya (@stupidusmaximus) August 8, 2015
"We are arresting you for public indecency…"But sir, I'm in my home"… "Home is on a road, road is public… Chalo jail" #MumbaiPolice
— Ashwin Mushran (@ashwinmushran) August 8, 2015
It's raids like these in Mumbai that lead to the police's caricature-like portrayal in films. And do nothing for its global city aspirations
— Ashok Lalla (@ashoklalla) August 8, 2015
The govt wants a monopoly in screwing you. No sex No porn. Only govt can screw you from now on
— Priyashmita Guha (@priyashmita) August 8, 2015
Mumbai’s famed tolerance is already under strain. Night life is almost non-existent and the ban on beef has come as a dampener for not just tony restaurants but also for the scores of cheaper eating joints which catered to a poorer section of society. The heavy-handed raids are making citizens wonder: is Devendra Fadnavis’s government out to play nanny?