Our right to revelry

The police in India tries to regulate 21st century culture with 19th century laws and a 15th century mindset.

The turn of the year festive season draws to a close, and as it is with most festivities, it was a time of high alert for most police forces across the country and indeed around the world. As a serving officer, one wishes the fraternity the very best in dealing with the sudden influx of large crowds of inebriated and exuberant revellers that inevitably descend on our metros and most important tourist centres all over the country. While it is a testing time, I believe it is also a tremendous opportunity to earn goodwill and showcase our professional competence and progressive leadership.

Unfortunately, as the recent intervention by the Mumbai High Court shows, we are not doing so.

Policing revelry in India is still held hostage to past dogma and a mai-baap mentality that is anachronistic and deeply offensive to present-day democratic sensibilities. The writ in the Mumbai HC against the decision of the Mumbai police to clamp down on New Year's Eve celebrations, and the court's rejection of the stance of the Mumbai police is a case in point. What I am suggesting is perhaps against the prevailing sentiment in the IPS fraternity, but I think this is the worst kind of high-handedness that shows us in a poor light and is simply against the tenets of policing a liberal, democratic, aspirational society.

It is also a sad commentary on our stunted growth as a tolerant society that we in the police see it as our natural right to tell the public how they shall entertain themselves. Of course, the police exercise this regulatory function in all societies, but in India we seem to do it with a peculiarly sadistic mindset. As it is, 21st century urban India is starved of regular forms of accessible, affordable public entertainment, other than cinema and cricket. Concerts, gigs, performances and exhibitions that citizens of most civilised societies take for granted as a matter of right, are a luxury and a privilege in India. Out of reach for the common citizen due to their high price and limited occurrence and of course also due to our in-built intolerance for the offbeat and the provocative. And then, to add insult to injury, we have the police trying to regulate 21st century culture with 19th century laws and a 15th century mindset.

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