The contrast couldn’t have been more stark. We woke up yesterday to the salutary sight of several women army officers saluting President Pratibha Patil as Republic Day rolled out. And alongside came news that a bunch of hooligans had beaten up girls who were having a good time at a pub in Mangalore. A group calling itself Sri Ram Sena was apparently offended at what it decreed was ‘obscene dancing’ by the girls and proceeded to take the law into its own hands. This is not the first such instance in Karnataka that is considered among the most cosmopolitan states in the country. The culprits have been rounded up. But the real test lies in how they will be dealt with.
For starters, it should be made clear that they are not the custodians of culture, religious or social mores. They are goons who have broken the law and should be made to pay for it according to the rulebooks. We have seen a rash of self-appointed moral guardians telling people what art is ‘acceptable’ and what they should wear or read. Such proscriptions have no place in a diverse democracy like ours. To treat incidents like the one in Mangalore as an aberration would be dangerous. The kid glove-treatment meted out to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and its parochial campaign has done incalculable damage to the cosmopolitan nature of Mumbai. Similarly, this attitude of ‘boys will be boys’ has led the Shiv Sena and its ilk to attack couples on Valentine’s Day and prescribe how good Indians, especially women, should behave.
Yet, the same good men who are so free with their diktats express horror at the Taliban and its cohorts laying down sartorial and social codes for people. Quite clearly, the Sri Ram Sena, for all its allegiance to a benevolent God-King, is closer to the misogynistic, liberty-hating Taliban than it thinks. Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury has already held the B.S. Yediyurappa government responsible for action against the culprits. That is all very fine. But let this not please degenerate into a political slanging match in which the real culprits are taken off the spotlight. If the women in the pub had broken no law, it’s nobody’s business what they may have been up to. Arming oneself with a quasi-religious tag and going for such soft targets within the citizenry isn’t to be tolerated. In fact, it is the Sri Ram Sena goons who have broken the law by attacking people and should be made an example of to deter future self-righteous busy bodies who give Sri Ram and India a bad name.