Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mumbai nights: Back with a bang

The Dhoble dampener is a thing of the past. The uniformed party pooper has been shunted out and the city’s bars, out of harm's way for now, are humming with life again, writes Aditya Raj Kaul  

The September showers have swept the dust off the streets. A hint of discomfiting sogginess is still in the air. It is sundown. It is time to unwind after a hard day’s work in a city that never sleeps. Across the street from south Mumbai’s landmark Metro cinema, Sunlight Bar, among the city’s more popular watering holes, has begun to receive its first evening customers.

The clientele is made up mostly of young adults from the neighbouring St Xavier’s College, who have for years been regular visitors to the not-so-silent ‘hangout joints’ of SoBo (that is what the swish set calls South Bombay).

Sunlight Bar is a favoured spot for college students barely out of their teens because it sells the cheapest liquor in town. It is not the sort of place that is patronised by the well-heeled. The jukebox plays a wide range of music, from the Beatles to contemporary jazz, but the contraption has clearly seen better days. It's only the strategic location of the bar that makes Sunlight such a big draw for the young and the restless.

Although it is only meters away from the office of the city police commissioner, the bar has been plying its trade without any hindrance for decades save a brief lull enforced by an assistant commissioner of police (ACP) serving in the social service branch. The man in question, Vasant Dhoble, threw the rule book at every bar, pub and nightclub under his jurisdiction and had Mumbai’s nocturnal creatures on the run. Happily, Mumbai’s nights are back on even keel now that the party-pooping ACP has been transferred out of the social service branch.

Less than three years shy of retirement, Dhoble had, with the tacit support of the then city Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik, launched a wave of impromptu raids on restaurants, pubs and bars in order to nab under-age drinkers and clamp down on drug and sex rackets. In the process, several restaurants and discothèques had come to a screeching halt all of a sudden, leaving customers high and dry.

Dhoble was vehemently pilloried by many for arrogating the right to be Mumbai’s moral guardian, but he remained completely unfazed. His stock response to questions about his style of functioning would simply be that he was “acting under the purview of the law”. He probably was. Neither criticism from angry activists nor pressures from perturbed seniors could budge him. To Dhoble’s credit, since he took over, almost 100 girls were rescued from forced prostitution across the city.

“Obviously, morality means different things to different people. Honestly, some good has definitely come out of his rampage...a lot of bar dancers and young girls are reported to have been rescued from the clutches of the prostitution racket,” says Disharee Bose, a content manager with a firm in Mumbai.

But she is quick to add that Dhoble’s methods were high-handed and his idea of what is morally acceptable and what is not was old-fashioned. “A lot of innocent people in Mumbai were affected. For young people who like to party, the ACP’s actions were quite a nuisance.”

Dhoble’s zeal to enforce the law occasionally got the better of him. In June, Dhoble, on a regular raid at an Andheri-based eatery, arrested 11 women on suspicion of prostitution and packed them off to a city reformatory. Two of those arrested later filed a legal case seeking Rs 1 crore each in damages for what they claimed was an act of ‘illegal detention’.

This followed protests by those who were regulars on the party circuit, supported by owners of restaurants and pubs. Overnight, Dhoble became the symbol of the ‘moral police’ supposedly hell bent on striking hard on Mumbai’s nightlife.

Yet another incident in which Dhoble triggered outrage, he allegedly harassed a popular juice centre owner at Haji Ali, holding him responsible for overcrowding in the area at night.

The police officer known to sport a hockey stick during his raids was not remorseful. The raids continued, as did the protests, both on the streets as well as online over twitter and facebook.

In a strange turn of events, Dhoble’s biggest supporter, Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik, was himself transferred after the infamous Azad Maidan violence.

The media has labeled Dhoble’s transfer as a demotion. But informed sources told TSI it was only a routine departmental action which could even be described as a promotion.

For actor Ashwin Mushran, who actively campaigned against Dhoble on Twitter, the transfer has come as a relief, “I think Mumbai’s nightlife is quite vibrant again. A lot more people stepping out feel that they can have a good time without facing any harassment.”

Dhoble, he says, was acting beyond his mandate. “Even if an establishment has broken the law, there was no reason for patrons to be harassed.”

But Dhoble has his supporters. Actress Pooja Bedi feels that the cop acted under law. “Mumbai is a very cosmopolitan city. We do work very late hours hence we tend to go out a lot later”, she says, “Dhoble brought a lot of resentment. But, I do not think he acted out of line since he was merely upholding the law. As long as the law empowers him, the officer will make use of any number of laws, which are outdated and need to be changed.”

Following his transfer, the Dhoble saga may have turned stale for newspapers and activists. But the case for scrapping archaic laws still has many takers. “Some of our laws are redundant, archaic and have more nuisance value than anything else. They need to be done away within the interest of the people,” says Bedi.

“Society changes” she says, “you do not need a drinking permit to drink for God’s sake. In every city in the world, you can just walk in and drink. It is absurd to ask for a permit to drink rather than an identity card to prove age.”

Last heard, the Mumbai Police social service branch, of course minus Dhoble, raided two prominent nightclubs in the city for lack of permit and overcrowding at night. So, was Vasant Dhoble an honest officer who was merely targetted for doing his job well?

The city of dreams may never be able to answer that question. Actually, nobody is even asking. The dust whipped up by Dhoble and his hockey stick has settled and Mumbai is back to doing what it does best – living it up after night falls.

"My only aim is to work with commitment. That is my hobby"

In a candid interaction with Aditya Raj Kaul at his Vile Parle office behind Mumbai’s domestic airport, Vasant Dhoble asserts that there will be absolutely no let-up in his "commitment to work” even after his much talked about transfer. Excerpts:

Were you transferred because of the frequent raids?
What is the problem? Ours is a transferable job. In our police force, every two years there is a transfer order on an average. I was at the Social Service Branch for an extended period of four and a half years. The transfer was only a matter of time. It comes under the Crime Branch.

You faced much criticism for your style of work. How do you react?
Support or opposition of people does not matter. It does not carry any weight.

Did the outrage in the media disturb you?
No (laughs). I had stopped reading. It was baseless rumour mongering.

Does the current police commissioner support you as much as his predecessor?
Why will he not support me? These are all media-generated stories. I receive orders from my senior officials, not the media.

Have you been instructed to stop the spontaneous raids?

Who has told you all this? How do I know how you have made up all these stories? We have to implement the law. Maintaining law and order is our job. Only the place keeps changing.

Why is your hockey stick missing today?
What hockey stick are you talking about? I do not understand. They (the media) just keep writing whatever comes to their mind, all baseless. What will I do with a hockey stick? Strange, how things are projected.

What will happen to the social service branch now?

How am I supposed to know? I will do my work in the Vakola division, very simple.

Will your infamous raids continue?
That depends on what kind of information we get from our sources and our own investigations. We are always there, everywhere. Why should I trouble someone without reason? We are there to protect the people. If a citizen is law abiding, we will act as protectors. If a citizen is not, should I still protect him?

Your actions have adversely impacted Mumbai’s nightlife as per government sources.

How would I know? I do not know what they (government) would have said, and what you (media) must have written.

Are you working under some restrictions now?

I have no worries. There is nothing good or bad. Do you think this is a bad place? Why are the media and people concerned? If there is something, my department will take care of it. There is nothing positive or negative in law. In my 40-year-long career, I have not come across any such thing. Everyone has been given equal powers under law. There is no pick and choose. Seshan (well-known government servant TN Seshan) did not change the law to bring about change. He just implemented it the right way. Did not he?

Do you think the underworld still exists in Mumbai?
Underworld? I was waiting for this question. People talk and you take it seriously. Do you know what the underworld is, where the money comes from and where it lands? If you know, please let us know. We will also see. We will try to nab them. Is it in your personal knowledge or just a talk of the town with no basis?

What are your hobbies?
My only aim is to work with commitment. That is my hobby. Almost 30 years ago, I used to watch the toilet cleaner who worked with bare hands. I come from a family of farmers. During April-May, at the time of harvesting, people work without footwear or clothes. Why? Only because they are committed to their work. It is not a burden.

You mean every work has its sun and shade moments?

Sun and shade will keep occurring. It does not mean you will change according to the season. Just remember to work with commitment.

Interview Link - http://www.thesundayindian.com/en/story/my-only-aim-is-to-work-with-commitment-that-is-my-hobby/23/42170/

1 comment:

Sunita Banerji said...

Hi I offer private investigation services in Mumbai and this snap of Dhoble on your post really makes him seem like a nice amiable man and quite a departure from the tough and unfriendly image that the newspapers regularly print of him.