In Defense of Dhoble ….

The Untouchables (1987), the film based around the era of prohibition in the USA, tells the story of a unit of policemen who take down Al Capone. The film is set in the city of Chicago and opens with these lines :

1930. Prohibition has transformed Chicago into a City at War. Rival gangs compete for control of the city’s billion dollar empire of illegal alcohol, enforcing their will with the hand grenade and tommy gun. It is the time of the Ganglords. It is the time of Al Capone.

Prohibition was deeply unpopular and people were willing to break the law to get their drink. Organised gangs took it on themselves to supply alcohol to the population.  (Talk to anyone in Gujarat and they will tell you how easy it is to break prohibiton laws. You get the best alcohol home delivered.)  The State lost  on excise, and the alcohol ‘dealers’ made a killing and the whole system was paid off to look the other way. In that atmosphere a crack unit of men who could not be bribed, bullied or touched (the Untouchables) is set up to take down organised crime and impose the law.

Agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his band of Merry Men – Sean Connery, Andy Garcia amongst the most prominent) track, corner and confiscate alcohol – much to the irriation of the ordinary citizen, who sees nothing wrong in breaking a stupid law, … and the anger of Chicago Mob Boss Al Capone (Robert Di Niro) who sees prohibition as a way of making a lot of money. The film follows the tale of honest  cops who are trying to impose the law. An unpopular law. But a law all the same.  And, the way to impose the law is to go after those who break the law. They could be the big fish  – like a Capone – and then there are the small fry. The good cops make no distinction between these. The bad cops take money to look the other way, after being paid off to do so.

At the end of the film – after the bad guys lose and the good guys win – a reporter tells  Elliot Ness that Prohibition was going to be lifted and what was he (Ness) going to do …. Ness responds “I think I will have a drink”.


Somehow the movie came to mind when looking at the media outrage on Mumbai cop Dhoble. The English language tabloid Mumbai Mirror,  is aghast that Dhoble is imposing the law.

Assistant Commissioner of police Vasant Dhoble, 57, raided the hip café and brasserie, Zoe, on Friday night on grounds that the restaurant was playing music without a proper performance license and that the establishment had violated an archaic 1960 rule that specified only 166 people per 1000 square feet in a restaurant.

Unfortunately for him, Dhoble doesn’t look like Kevin Costner, Nor is he part of the Page 3 curcuit.And both allow a certain daily to crack jokes at him. But, Dhoble  seems to have a farily stellar record, not in moral policing but, in ensuring that establishments follow the law.  Let me ask a question that has been bothering me – what would happen if there were twice the number in the restraunt and a fire broke out ? India doesn’t have, or doesn’t follow, safety measures such as  having fire exits or even fire extinguishers (that work). Why is this an archaic rule? Should the paper be hyper ventilating about the lack of hygiene or safety in public spaces – that put its target audience at risk – or should it be targetting a man doing his job ? btw 166 people per 1000 square feet is approximately 6 sq.feet of space per person (thank you Madhu Menon) . Also, many operate either without licenses or appropriate licenses. Finally many are in residential areas where sound of traffic, horns, loud music and people dispersing in the wee hours of the morning disturb residents. In many of these cases it is a clash of rights. Whose rights are paramount. My right to party or your right to sleep ?

The second issue is on age limit – 25 for being served alcohol in a public space. That seems rather excessive. That law possibly needs to change. What should it be the Minimum Age to have a drink ? 16 (are you ok with your kids drinking at 16)? 18 ? 21 … In Europe it is 16 for beer, 18 for spirits. In the USA it is 21 for anything. That number can be arrived at, but this concept of people doing what they want without anyone asking questions is a bit much. There are rules, and there are laws and those either ought to be repealed or followed. Also there is the issue of the liqour license. There is outrage about needing a license. Fair enough, but i am surprised there is no outrage about us having to sign a false declartion to get the license. The license tells you to swear (which is what you are doing when you sign it) that you need alcohol for medicinal reasons. And, people are signing to obtain the license. The Government of Maharasthra is asking you to make a false declaration and you are happily signing it.?I am more outraged at that than having to obtain a liquor license. How much effort will it take to walk down to the nearest MLA’s office and tell them how displeased you are ? how long will it take to jot down your issues on a post card and mailing it to this address – Prithviraj Chavan. Chief Minister Maharashtra, Mantralaya, Mumbai . 10 lakh irritated letters and see things change.

None of us (me included) wants to make that attempt. It is easier to target a cop who is doing his job. But, the logic that a cop look the other way when a law is being broken is dangerous. What does the cop do when a bunch of 18 year olds want to shoot themselves up with heroin for fun ! or do whatever they want with Ecstasy or LSD or  the latest  designer ‘recreational’ drug – look the other way? and what happens when the young die ? or people in an over crowded restraunt or bar burn to death  in the event of a fire? Who is responsible ? Would the same media not ask ‘what was the police doing ? ‘

The role of the media is to be watch dog when the rules are being disregarded. It is a commentry of our times that the media targets those who uphold the law, at the same time as calling for stricter ‘anti corruption laws’ against politicians, and wants to give people like them a free pass.

I neither know ACP Dhoble nor anyone the police. I happen to think that they have exceedingly archaic views on women and that is objectionable. But i would rather invest time and energy in training the police to ensure attitudnal change, rather than go after a cop doing his job. And, finally it would have easier for the cop to take money from the establishments to look the other way !


(declaration : i do visit bars and enjoy a quiet drink).

26 Replies to “In Defense of Dhoble ….”

  1. why do writers think they know all. i wish their children should have been caught in the raid like other children of ordinary people. time has come when we stop reading the point of view of columnists and interact amongst our selves more. the dependency from journalists and politicians to get our voices across should diminish. time has come to move beyond twitter.

    1. Start following people whose opinions matter and you’ll find that the Twitterverse is still a chirpy place to be in.

  2. You are absolutely right!
    Dhoble was doing his job.
    It is funny! Had he closed his eyes, took a bribe and went his way, then too he would have been targeted.
    Police cannot wear kid gloves while doing their duty.
    Those who have been charged did break the law. However ‘archaic’ it may be.
    As you say, change the law.
    Let us all drink.
    I too will join for a sip.

      1. Rightly said. Nobody is looking at faults of erring pub and bar owners who keep their establishments open beyond prescribed limit. It is resulting in to drunken driving and ultimately hit and run !!

  3. so a bunch of Rich folks in a restaurant/bar/”discotheque”/lounge are at risk with 166/1000 sq ft..but daily commuters are ok @ 1400/1000 sq ft? while your analogy with untouchables might strike a cord with some..this is not about partying..or the right to do so…in a country devoid of entertainment..and a city being exorcised of it..what are the citizens to do? the city had over 200 cases of rape last year..more murders…the shiv sena illegally enforced a bandh on citizens..the BEST seems to think they own the road…more than 1 death per day on locals…hooch deaths all over the country…yet i dont remember the last time someone died of dancing..or in a stampede in a public place…dont remember the last time a “rave” launched a riot….branding women prostitutes cause they didnt pay cover to enter a bar…or parading 100 people in front of the press for “drugs” …not having forensics at raids..this is a big one…the claim of 100 gms of cocaine..etc..was made within minutes of conducting the raid…who determined it was cocaine? who measured it? who ensured that this guy “doing his job” didnt just plant the drugs? who authorized videotaping of citizens? even this is massive violation of my rights…how can the police videotape citizens without a warrant? or any court permission? who gave them THAT power? what stops him tomorrow from tapping my phone and then using it against me? what stops this guy from framing citizens he thinks are “immoral”…his credentials are laced with corruption, murder, extortion, mafia links, and thuggery…this is not about a “guy doing his job” ..this is a guy building his retirement portfolio…

    1. thank you for your comment
      i hold no torch for Dhoble – but if this sort of stuff needs to be avoided in the future, then the laws need to change.

  4. Written amazingly, and a kind of an Eye opener or i would say something that made me realize that just criticizing on Social Media won’t do any good. But we will have to work for our own good! 🙂

  5. I’m curious as to why you specified Mumbai Mirror was an ‘English language tabloid.’ What does that have to do with anything?

    Dhoble is upholding the law, yes. The laws should be changed, yes. Things could get crowded and dangerous, yes. But Dhoble himself has stated that he is not only interested in upholding the law but in stopping ‘immoral activities’ like girls dancing and drinking. Last I read, two mothers had been forced into a remand home on suspicion of prostitution, just because they had attended a party with a cover charge only for men. Where exactly does following the letter of law mean that it can be applied indiscriminately, to humiliate and harass people who just happen to be rich and dress a certain way? All questions worth raising – which your Untouchables analogy doesn’t really cover.

    1. but it is. and its coverage is tabloid like. so instead of figuring the law that is wrong they are targetting individuals.
      Also, the cops to sentence people – the courts do. there is a systemic problem here that needs to be addressed. do look at the statement put out by Zoe that says that they were not raided

  6. I am glad you wrote this. Because I did not. I thought all these things in my mind and decided to keep quiet about it – I hardly have the time to take on a Twitter onslaught but that’s a poor excuse for not pointing out that there is an equally important other side to the story. For that, I respect you.

  7. Brilliantly written. I couldn’t agree more!!!

    If the law is archaic, get it changed. I couldn’t believe the amount of outrage AGAINST Dhoble – I’d have expected people would’ve questioned the establishments involved, for their violations. Like you say, if sth goes wrong (a fire, for example), who’s then going to be blamed? The police, for allowing the bar to operate!

    Your last sentence sums up society well. If he’d just taken money and looked the other way, he wouldn’t be the devil today. That’s what our society wants – we encourage corruption when it suits us. And then bitch about it!!!

    Very well written, Harini. Thank you for articulating this so well – I wanted to say much the same but wouldn’t be able to do it with a fraction of the eloquence you’ve done it with. 🙂

    1. thank you:D
      I was telling a newspaper reporter today that outraging on the ACP is futile. if he is moved, the law still stays… agitate for the law to be changed. also, maybe you need different rules for pubs in residential areas and different ones for those in industrial areas (later closing time etc)..

  8. Isn’t it really convenient to compare India to the superpowers of the world, so as to speak, when one wants to? Such people can stick their moral flag up their body part of choice. Just unfollow her. Why get off Twitter? There are people whose opinions matter.

    Declaration: I do not respect people whose articles are ridden with typos and call themselves writers.

    An editor

  9. Perhaps you should ask yourself another question. Are Dhoble’s actions motivated by a desire to uphold the law? (His career history has shown that he doesn’t have much regard for it.) Or are they politically motivated? Even if they’re not politically motivated, can’t you sniff the slightest hint of agenda?
    You say blame the law not the cops. It’s common knowledge that outdated laws are kept alive only to harass people. There have been countless editorials and news reports on how the police enforce such laws only when it’s convenient. Otherwise bars would be raided every night. Liquor stores would be shut down. Why are these still around? Because the government, the cops and the excisewallahs make a killing from them. Is that lawful behaviour? So perhaps instead of naively assuming that Dhoble is ‘just doing his job’ you should ask yourself all these other questions.
    Finally, it is true that most establishments are fire hazards. Fire safety measures should be followed. But the law that Dhoble brandished in order to fine Cafe Zoe is also outdated. You can’t have such an expectation in a city where the real estate prices are what they are.

    Declaration: I’m a journalist. And I don’t appreciate myopic commentary.

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