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Law before morals

Mumbai?s much vaunted cosmopolitanism isn?t the product of fashion shows, Page 3 parties and the glitterati air-kissing their way into TV channels alone.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2006 02:50 IST

A police constable in Mumbai is sentenced to 12 years of rigorous imprisonment after being found guilty of raping a minor in a police booth last year. On the very same day that the judgment is passed by a sessions judge, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil directs the Mumbai Police Commissioner to investigate if the ‘wardrobe malfunction’ that occurred during the Lakme Fashion Week in the city last week was a “deliberate, indecent act”. If Mr Patil and the outraged lot -— that includes Shiv Sena, BJP and Congress leaders -— believes a faux pas on the catwalk to be part of a cunning and licentious plot to turn Mumbai into a cesspool of immorality, they have surely taken the easiest route to show that they are terribly concerned about the physical, mental and moral safety of its citizens.

Mumbai’s much vaunted cosmopolitanism isn’t the product of fashion shows, Page 3 parties and the glitterati air-kissing their way into TV channels alone. The city’s reputation is firmly based on the fact that it is a place that is safe for women; that it allows -— and even flaunts —- private spaces to its citizens even in public places; that it functions on an essentially tolerant —- and some would say bindaas -— principle of life and living. This very fabric of existence has been threatened not by slipping halters or tearing skirts but by a marauding moral police who believe that shooing away couples on Marine Drive or Chowpatty Beach is a far better way of keeping Mumbai ‘clean’ than to stop rapists, even those who happen to be upholders of the law themselves.

To even expect Mr Patil and his Inquisitors to believe that the Lakme Fashion Week snafu was exactly that -— a snafu -— is to, perhaps, expect too much from someone whose personal campaign was to rid Mumbai of its dance bars. One must also blame the media for behaving like a hormonally confused schoolboy, overplaying the ‘wardrobe malfunction’ ‘news item’ as if they had stumbled on to a risqué joke. The reason why, despite all its flash and glitter, a city like Delhi remains little more than a very large hick town is not because a strict moral code is adhered to, but because people -— especially women -— find it dangerous to venture out of their four walls even in broad daylight. Let the authorities —- the police, in particular -— make Mumbai a safer place to live in, to walk in, to be in. Otherwise, the people of Mumbai will have a very minimum city to live in.