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Mangalore refuses to forgive the moral brigade

More than two weeks after a group of self-styled moralists attacked young women in a pub in Manglore, people in this Karnataka town are still seething.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2009 16:31 IST

More than two weeks after a group of self-styled moralists attacked young women in a pub in Manglore, people in this Karnataka town are still seething.

From housewives to businessmen to community leaders, including those who look down upon the pub culture, there is unanimity that the Sri Ram Sene, a right-wing Hindu nationalist fringe group, had no business to take the law into its hands.

"All of us who say we are liberal would not like our children to drink, not just the girls but even the boys. But who are these people to go round and attack people?" asked Kumble Narasimha Prabhu, a former president of the Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Srinivas S Kamath, who took over from Prabhu five months ago, told IANS: "Girls should not have been hit. If anybody finds illegal activity, the authorities should be informed."

K Amarnath Shetty, president of the dominant Bunts community to which Hindi film actors Aishwarya Rai and Shilpa Shetty belong, blasted the Sri Ram Sene: "Who are they? Police? People are going to pubs all over India. They cannot take the law into their hands."

Mangalore has less than 10 pubs for a population of over 400,000, and more than half do not even have dance floors.

At the best of times, these pubs attract only 100-150 people on weekdays and 200 at weekends. Around 30 per cent of the customers would be couples or groups of boys and girls, say pub managers.

Their business has been severely hit following the Jan 24 attack on a group of young women by about 40 activists of Sri Ram Sene at Amnesia - The Lounge on Balmatta Road, a business hub in the heart of Mangalore, about 350 km from Bangalore.

The victims were abused, slapped, pulled by their hair, pushed to the ground and chased away by Sene activists, who said they were protesting 'pub culture'.

Mangaloreans, including those critical of pubs, do not see it that way.

A. Sadananda Shetty, a former president of the Mangalore bar owners association and chairpercent of Sri Devi Education Trust, said the Sene was "cent per cent wrong in attacking the girls".

Mavin Karat, general manager of Pals Microsystems, a software solution provider, was equally livid: "What culture are these people talking about? Nothing illegal or obscene was going on at the pub."

A women's activist who did not want to be identified because of her political affiliation added: "As a mother of a teenage daughter, I condemn their action. We do not need moral policing, though like any parent we are also concerned that our children adhere to moral values."

The Sene's action has hit the pub industry hard.

"We are very badly hit," LK Sudhir, owner of two popular pubs - The Liquid Lounge and Froth on Top, told IANS.

"There is up to 90 per cent drop in the numbers coming to our place. We had hoped our clients will be back during the last weekend but there was no improvement."

Some pub owners feel it may take six to seven months for business to pick up.

Karat, however, said the young were still frequenting the pubs. "But women are not ready to go to pubs."

Mangalore is the headquarters of Dakshina Kannada, a district which is the envy of other districts in Karnataka. That is so because it tops in literacy, sex ratio and educational standards.

Over the years, the Congress' domination over the region has declined. The coastal belt, particularly Dakshina Kannada of which Mangalore is a part, has become a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stronghold. Communal divide has also grown.

For the first time, churches were attacked last year. The Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility and called it a retaliation for alleged conversion by evangelists.

Mangalore residents blame it all on politics, not any cultural, religious, communal or economic divide.

"The basic reason is politics. The coastal region was a Congress domain but now it is a BJP stronghold. Hindutva is on the rise," said Prabhu.

"Also there is terrorism. Several people from the region have been held (for terror links). So (Ram Sene and Bajrang Dal) believe that they have to guard the region from terrorists," he added.

First Published: Feb 10, 2009 16:29 IST