Jun 152012

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).

Aug 012009

Delhi High Court on 2 PIL’s against Star TV’s show – Sach Ka Samna

“In this land of Gandhi, it appears that nobody follows Gandhi… Follow the Gandhian principle of ‘see no evil’. Why do you not simply switch off the TV? … “We are not sitting here for moral policing… You approach the Parliament and get the remedy. The courts cannot be expected to deal with issues that involve different individual perceptions”…… “Our culture is not so fragile that it will be affected by one TV show. Moreover, nobody in his individual capacity can be allowed to take upon the social order and ask for directions.”

Madras High Court on health spas where one gender (read women) serve the other (read men)

“a majoritarian impulse rooted in moralistic tradition cannot impinge upon individual autonomy”.

Kudos, well said and about time.
I would just like to see one other thing – the next time a political party or a bunch of people use violence to protest against ‘insults to our culture’ … throw the book at them. They have just violated the sanctity of the only ‘sacred’ book of the ‘Republic of India’ by violating our Fundamental Rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.