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V for Voltaire

india Updated: Jun 22, 2012 15:42 IST
Serena Menon
Serena Menon
Hindustan Times
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There are two types of people in this city currently — those who think ACP (Social Service Branch) Vasant Dhoble is the main problem affecting our nightlife, and those who don’t.

Both sections agree in principle that the archaic laws are the real issue, but their perspectives differ. I would have dared say that the debate between the two has become the new temporary substitute for the Delhi versus Mumbai argument, if people weren’t getting as bored of talking about ‘nightlife’ as they are.

But last week, the police commissioner of Mumbai, Arup Patnaik, carried out a bonding exercise for those two sections. He reportedly made a statement that drew all the attention to him: “When Dhoble raided dance bars and hotels in little-known areas, his action was welcomed by all. He has suddenly become a high-handed police official after he searched and raided hotels and pubs in elite areas in suburban Mumbai.”

Apparently, there is no difference between a pub and a dance bar, or a sundowner and a rave party.

The sentiment is understandable; not everyone gets to inspire an Amul ad hoarding twice in a month. The two types of people (mentioned at the beginning) secretly bonded, grabbed a couple of beers and are now plotting their next step.

Mr Patnaik’s statement brings to mind another, made eons ago by a certain French writer, philospher and supporter of freedom of expression. Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Fortunately, this isn’t the 1600s. The saying in implementation here is more like, ‘I’ll dismiss what you say, even though you continue to defend it to your death. And if you’re the elite, then I'll just plug my ears and make you feel guilty!’

In light of the intense nightlife coverage by the media, an American who settled in Mumbai in 2002, wrote to me saying, “‘The right to party’ on its own smacks of elitism: you know how few can afford to pay for drinks costing Rs 500 bucks plus... and how the majority of mumbaikars cannot even afford the clothes which ‘club rules’ require of patrons?”

Is it fair to pity or patronise that ‘majority’? The amount of money a person earns should not ideally be the grounds for the implementation of any law or order.

When dance bars were banned, there were protests. The move did not make everyone happy. To top it all, the home minister and then deputy chief minister R.R. Patil made statements like, “The government considers such performance in an indecent manner is derogatory to the dignity of women and is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals.”

Wouldn’t it be a bit unjustified to say that shutting dance bars was a move “welcomed by all”? Similarly, isn’t it unfair to consider Mumbai’s plea for a nightlife impulsive and


Protection, not prohibition, is the need of the hour.