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Our politicians must evolve with the changing times

On the subject of dance bars, politicians of all parties in Maharashtra seem determined to defy the Court. They may differ on everything else but when it comes to the right of adult women to dance in bars – and, remember, they do so fully clothed – Maharashtrian legislators are of one mind

columns Updated: Jan 27, 2019 08:21 IST
Dance bars in Maharashtra,Supreme Court
Pertie was exercised by the response of Maharashtra politicians to the recent Supreme Court ruling relaxing the stringent conditions imposed by the state government on dance bars in Mumbai(HT Photo)

“Would you accept our politicians are a rum lot?” That’s how Pertie began the conversation. He was exercised by the response of Maharashtra politicians to the recent Supreme Court ruling relaxing the stringent conditions imposed by the state government on dance bars in Mumbai. Now that’s not a subject at my old fingertips but a little digging around soon put that right.

Dance bars were first banned by the Vilasrao Deshmukh government in 2005. The ban was overturned by the Bombay High Court in 2006, a verdict upheld by the Supreme Court in 2013. However, in 2014 the state government issued an ordinance once again banning bars, which the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in 2015. Then, in 2016, the state government imposed a series of deliberately stringent conditions which would effectively prohibit, rather than just regulate, dance bars. The idea was to throttle them. These conditions have now been substantially relaxed by the Supreme Court. It’s the way Maharashtra politicians have responded to this that had worked Pertie into a froth.

“According to the Maharashtra finance minister, Sudhir Mungantiwar, the state government is now thinking of yet another ordinance to overturn what the Supreme Court has ruled. Doesn’t this amount to deliberate and repeated defiance? Surely, at some point, Maharashtra politicians have to accept a Supreme Court verdict and abide by it? They can’t keep issuing ordinances or regulations to overturn the Court.”

Clearly Pertie has a point. Actually it’s corroborated by the fact that on the subject of dance bars, politicians of all parties in Maharashtra seem determined to defy the Court. They may differ on everything else but when it comes to the right of adult women to dance in bars — and, remember, they do so fully clothed — Maharashtrian legislators are of one mind.

However, it wasn’t just defiance of the Court’s verdict that had Pertie all worked up. He was equally upset by the way Maharashtra politicians are trying to impose their morality on the very people who elect them. This, it transpires, is again deliberate defiance of what the Supreme Court ruled last week: “A practice which may not be immoral by societal standards cannot be thrust upon society as immoral by the state with its own notion of morality and thereby exercise social control.”

Once again, Pertie had a lot to say. “Maharashtra home minister Ranjeet Patil claims the Supreme Court ruling does not reflect the sentiments of the people. He believes he knows better. So, rather than let the people do what they want, provided it’s legal and legitimate, which it is in this case, this minister wants the people to abide by his narrow-minded morality. Isn’t that tyranny?” I could see he was furious.

In fact, the court went further. It said that “standards of morality in a society change with the passage of time”. In other words, what was once considered obscene and offensive need not always be so. Adultery and homosexuality are two recent examples where the court has decided that what used to be unacceptable is no longer verboten.

“Societies evolve”, Pertie concluded, “but our politicians are stuck in time. They’re dinosaurs.” So is political narrow-mindedness one of the biggest hurdles facing the aspiring middle classes of our country? Rather than light the way forward towards acceptance and change, our politicians are determined to spread darkness. The truth is that the people of India are changing — and, sometimes, pretty quickly — whilst our politicians have been left behind.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jan 27, 2019 08:20 IST