Keeping Us Safe
If you ever chance upon a diminutive figure in Bandra who is talking to herself while reading a newspaper, that would be me. To preserve what little I know of the English language, I’d abandoned reading newspapers a couple of years ago. I’ve recently restarted and these days, I try to read between three to four dailies. I’ve found the only way to make it through all of them is by pushing myself towards dissociative identity disorder; that is, by talking myself through the process of reading the reports. It’s a bit like being both the horse and Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer. I get stared at a lot as a result, but there is the occasional silver lining. For example, this week, thanks to Vasant Dhoble and Mumbai’s middle classes, I won a bet against myself.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Vasant Dhoble heads up the Social Service Branch of the Mumbai Police. For those who were unaware of the SS Branch till Dhoble entendres filled their virtual world, it is one of the most coveted departments as far as the city’s policemen are concerned. Its official responsibility is to prevent the city from sinking into moral turpitude, which translates to the possibility of bribes from a wide range of citizens, from street side sellers of pirated DVDs to owners of swanky nightclubs. Not that Dhoble sir, whose preferred weapon is a hockey stick, is looking for a bribe. Consider Dhoble’s fine career record for a moment. In the past, he’s been booked for a custodial death, “kept out of active posting” for his violent behaviour and in 2008, when Dhoble was working for the Crime Branch, he managed to lose 12 files that had information on Dawood Ibrahim’s gang. Isn’t this just the kind of guy who makes you feel warm and fuzzy and safe when you’re on Mumbai’s roads?
At present, Dhoble is in the news not for his earlier feats but because he’s been labelled as the murderer of Mumbai nightlife. His mission to harass both drinking establishments as well as those who frequent them has infuriated sections of the middle classes who figure that as citizens of a democracy, they have the right to go to a bar without being labelled pimp or prostitute. While Dhoble has shown up at various places in recent times, hockey stick and video camera in hand, his actions became front-page material once again last week when it was reported that he made Café Zoe pay a fine because it was violating a law from 1960 that is supposed to prevent overcrowding. The newspapers and the Internet were awash with outrage (even the Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna got into the act). Reading the articles, most of which were examples of how not to report a story, I asked myself, “What’s the bet that in a couple of days, there’ll be pro-Dhoble campaigns?” Myself replied, “What nonsense.” I had the last laugh.
The support came from unexpected quarters. Journalist Samar Halarnkar on Twitter may have been the inspiration: “So, bombay [sic] is outraging over Vasant #dhoble. Except he’s only enforcing foolish laws.” Soon enough, columnist Harini Calamur suggested Dhoble was just “a cop doing his job” and enforcing laws that were meant for our safety. The H-West Federation, which represents residents of Bandra, Khar and Santacruz (West), passed a resolution in support of Dhoble. “He is only doing his duty,” said the chairperson of the Federation. Blogger Gayatri Vishwanathan wrote, “If everything is ‘right’… no mai kaa lal can accuse you of doing anything ‘wrong’.” The fact that the justification for Dhoble’s actions and attitudes is the law is something by which I’m both appalled and amused. Because when you roam around Mumbai, the only laws you see being broken are the ones about overcrowding and the possession of alcohol permits, of course. And how cutely naïve is Vishwanathan’s faith in the system!
The city’s cops have never had a reputation of being clean. It’s perhaps naïve to expect those who must work with and against politicians, the underworld and terrorists to preserve a secure status quo to also be upstanding citizens. But to justify their behaviour by describing them as law-abiding is ironic, to say the least. It’s as though Dhoble is a remote-control cop, with the controls being in the hands of The Law. As though the police never, ever do anything that’s illegal. Arun Ferreira, one of the more articulate victims of police brutality, must be making things up when he says the police tortured and arrested him despite there being no evidence that Ferreira was a Naxalite. They went to the extent of lying in court in order to justify their custodial treatment of Ferreira. So much for being bound by law and doing one’s job.
Frankly, being of a vaguely antisocial disposition, whether or not Mumbai’s nightlife gets murdered is of little consequence to me. As long as the state doesn’t go dry, I’ll be nursing my drink and my multiple personalities at home, thank you very much. However, Dhoble’s brazen behaviour is alarming, regardless of whether or not you’re a party animal. He makes obvious a truth that the more affluent middle classes are usually shielded from: that the police are not necessarily your go-to guys in times of need. Whether your watering hole is a club in Lower Parel or a dive in Bhayander, the odds are now even and if the police pick your spot as their playing field, you’re no longer safe. In Dhoble’s actions lies the message that the police won’t shy away from flexing their muscles. They’ll just be enforcing the law; not vicitimising people or framing innocents.
Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently the books editor at DNA.Tags: Cafe Zoe, Mumbai Police, Mumbai rave bust, Nightlife, The Definite Article, Vasant Dhoble