On vigils, vigilance and vigilantes
On April 15, as patrons peacefully sipped what I presume were glasses of juice, an unstoppable force met a very movable object. I’m talking about a hockey stick and a hapless juice center owner. The man at the other end of that hockey schtick, wielding it more deftly than Shah Rukh Khan did with Chak De, was Satan-incarnate, preserver of India’s moral values and guardian of the country’s feminine modesty, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Vasant Raghunath Dhoble (Social Service Branch).
Next up, Hurricane Dhoble hit bars and nightclubs in Mumbai to deal with the menace of prostitution. A ripple of fear ran through Mumbai’s already harrassed citizens, just trying to have a good time after having spent four hours getting to destinations two miles from their houses.
In June his hockey stick of justice turned up at Masala Curry restaurant where he detained eleven women (falsely, as it turns out) on charges of prostitution. The Courts ruled that he had followed the rule book and the police action was valid. The women were let off with a warning by the judge and wholesome advice to stay at home, make chapatis and press the husband’s (you’re not married yet? WHAT DO YOU MEAN? SHOW KUNDALI! GET MARRIED!) feet once he returns from office.
Hide yo women, hide yo straggling patrons, show yo permits, cuz ACP Dhoble’s comin for you violators.
The last two or three months have catapulted this humble policeman with modest offices in Mumbai’s Crawford Bazaar to national infamy. ACP Dhoble only answers to four entitities - god, his superiors, The Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act and the Bombay Shops and Establishments Act (1948 – drafted a year after independence). By his own admission, he doesn’t give a fuck about what people think of him. And people do think a lot about him. When news of the Amar Juice Center overcrowding raid broke, Twitter in India almost collapsed under the weight of the outrage. “High-handed”, “overzealous”, “Taliban-cop” were some of the monikers reserved for Morality Mama. I too, managed to get a couple of disdainful comments in, but lost interest as the story died down.
A few days later I was debating the high-handedness of auto-rickshaw drivers and the subject of archaic laws, regulations and their enforcement came up. Dhoble figured prominently in the examples. Today, I read about an Anti-Dhoble stir led by a Shehbaaz Khan, who vented his outrage by demanding that the Mumbai Police concentrate on stemming the flow of drugs at the “source” instead of penalizing blameless citizens just looking to puff the magic dragon for a few hours. (As another hilarious aside, a bunch of Youth Congress activists also demanded that Rahul Gandhi deal with Dhoble’s morality policing. *MEGASMIRK* Rahul baba couldn’t hear them over his humming of the Britney Spears classic “Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman”, his song of hope for the last decade or so.)
It was at this point that a weak zero-watt bulb started glowing in my head. Yes, the laws are archaic, yes the man’s moral stance is ridiculous and high-handed, his procedures border on police brutality, but in Dhoble’s own words “I was just doing my job”. Instead of tackling the laws that empower Dhoble to do his job, we’re attacking Dhoble. To be fair, Mr. Shehbaaz Khan’s protest did demand “amendments to archaic laws”, but the larger objective was to go after the messenger. Hey, Dhoble does deserve a bit of stick, preferably his own, for the way he has behaved in some of these raids. But then he was just doing his job.
Let’s concentrate on that for a moment. He was just doing his job.
Now rewind to another ridiculous circus played out a year ago, when a physically frail but ideologically superhuman entity called Anna Hazare was taken for a glorious ride, replete with fasts, Arindam Chaudhuri’s histrionics and a national movement that threatened to engulf Parliament. The misguided zealots wanted to establish an extra-constitutional body called the Lokpal which would magically eradicate corruption by making wrong-doers taste justice at the hands of
vigilantes. Sorry, what was that? They weren’t vigilantes? Wha…oh MEMBERS OF CIVIL SOCIETY you say. My bad. Correction people, the judgments would be handed down by morally upright, distinguished folk – Magsaysay Award winners, Nobel Prize winners (the 2009 Peace Prize winner operates drones, FYI), etc.
WE WANT CHANGE! cried the thirsty masses. We should do something. This is something. So we should do it.
I understood the irritation – systems aren’t working because they aren’t being enforced. Or, you need to grease palms to get the ball rolling. It’s fucking frustrating. That said, the Constitution is a darn good system and I’m sure many Anna supporters would agree it is.
What India needs (my apologies for such a sweeping statement but what else is there to say?), are more people who just do their fucking job and do it well. Like ACP Dhoble. Laws need to be changed and they can be changed. There are provisions to do so. Haranguing the messenger is pointless (there are many articles that concentrate solely on Dhoble’s past misdemeanors; playing the man, not the ball). Burn that fucking Establishments Act (1948) to cinders and amend the law to explicitly state that seven thousand revelers are allowed to pack a ten square foot space by standing on top of one another because they’re fucking happy and you should just fucking understand. OK, GRANDPA?!
If that happened, I’m pretty sure Dhoble would stop by, consult the amended rulebook, count carefully to six thousand nine hundred ninety nine, ensure he is off duty and join in with a glass of sugarcane juice (he’s a teetotaler).
And hey, just to prove to you guys he’s not all guts and bloodied carbon fiber composites, he apparently arranged a mass wedding of six bar girls he rescued and paid 50,000 Rs from his own pocket. Awwww!
Here’s to better Dhobles enforcing better systems.