(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
Ever since Mumbai’s latest self-appointed moral guardian, ‘Herr Inspektor’ Vasant Dhoble started his blitzkrieg to rid Mumbai of unsympathetic scum like people trying to have an overpriced drink, he has been heralded as a pioneer. Look, someone is finally doing something! Someone brave enough to apply the law! Stop waiting and make him Prime Minister already! Those who support Supreme Commander Dhoble and Brigade of the Righteous are upright citizens who believe in the rule of law and those who don’t are probably know-nothing elitists who hate democracy, freedom and punishing criminals.
In Maharashtra, possession, consumption or transportation of alcohol without a permit is illegal and can invite a fine up to fifty thousand rupees and/or a prison sentence for up to five years thanks to the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949. In some states, you cannot keep more than two litres of liquor in your house. You cannot bring a copy of the Satanic Verses into the country because of a customs ban. Doordarshan has repeatedly used provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act 1865 to claim its right to broadcast all important sporting events in the country. In 2010, the Indian government used a provision of the IT act - which allows it to ban websites that threaten “the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence and security of the state” or that endanger “friendly relations with foreign states” – to briefly block an adult website displaying pornographic images in cartoon form. A website which displayed cartoons against corruption was refused hosting privileges by a service provider after a complaint by an official from the crime branch.
Yet, like good, obedient members of the proletariat, we have been led to believe that the police are not trying to harass us, they’re just doing their job. It’s the law, stupid! If only the law wasn’t structured in such a way, the police would not have to arrest you under sub-section Fuck(U) of the What You Looking At Punk Act, 1860.
The problem here is not just the bad laws in our books. It’s also the careful selection of which laws to enforce. Using the example of the raids conducted by the Right Honourable Captain Dhoble, how did those places skirting the law exist in the first place? Did they exist in a parallel dimension not hereto visible to honest, non-self serving police officers? Did they follow each and every law in the books in its letter and spirit until the day they were suddenly raided? What about raiding those people in the government who benefited from the very establishments who were allowed to function despite violating the law? Why aren’t those people paraded in front of news cameras for teevee viewers to cast their judgement on and tut-tut at the deploring state of morality in the country? It’s easy to bully juice vendors with hockey sticks. What about those establishments which flout a lot of laws but are spared because they are either owned by the politicians in power or by people close to them?
As anybody who has tried to run a business in this country will tell you, the law is structured in such a way that even if everything is in order you will be violating some asshole provision or the other. They will always find a loophole. A few weeks ago, I was at a popular market in Delhi when it was being raided by officials from a government department. These officials received ‘gift vouchers’ from all the shops in the market. As the owner of one of the shops later explained to me, if your papers are not in order, you pay fifty thousand rupees. If your papers are in order, you pay five thousand. You cannot conduct business in this country without having to give a bribe at one stage or the other. Anybody who thinks that should sign up for my very profitable home business in which all you have to do is sell some exclusive world class products and recruit lots of other people to do the same and then sit back and watch the money roll in and no it is not a pyramid scheme why do you ask?
We’ve had various law commissions over the decades who have recommended removing the old laws from the books. Some of these laws are older than AK Hangal! And yet they persist. They do so because they’re part of our government-industry complex. You’re going to have to take away those laws from the cold, retired hands of all those officers from the various government departments who have ‘invested’ a lot of money to be transferred to lucrative posts. The law is blind; and for those who can afford it, it’ll play dumb too.
Those who think just repealing the laws will fix the problem, please pick a number and get in line. A concerned official will be with you shortly.
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