Friday, March 09, 2007

The Moral Police

Pune seems to have woken up in a jolt from its consumerist trance. As the smoky domains of its dark streets bares itself in the media's limelight, the respected guardians of morality have decided to tackle the situation with an iron hand.
271 teenagers get arrested from a racy late night party, allegedly a "trance party". Police action on drug parties such as this is highly laudible, but the reasons for arresting the whole party without any proper tests, and their entry into the police "black book" for no reason at all(other than attending a sleazy all night party) is highly objectionable.
Also,there are deeper questions to be answered. Instead of catching the dog by its tail, the police ought to go for the bigger fish. As Sagarika Ghosh, in this excellent programme argues, these middle class teenagers are a "soft target" for the police. While the police recieves a pat in the back for the laudable work (both from its bosses, and political gurus), they do not have to worry about high level political connections, and high profile lawyers. It is indeed amusing when the great Godmother of the police force, Kiran Bedi, appreciates the courage of the police,for being able to come done the rich and mighty. Looks like the Kiran Bedis of the world are ignorant of the existence of a certain class of people, known as the "middle class". Dear Ms. Bedi, there is a difference between elite Page 3 socialite parites, and a group of middle class youngsters, with a little money to burn from their new found software jobs, attempting to do "some fun".
Their notions of fun are distorted of course, and for this, the empty consumerism, that is slowly becoming the hallmark of these fast paced cities, like Pune and Bangalore, is also to blame.
Also,many of them were first time offenders, or the curious casual "one puff" guys. To slam police cases against them for such offences is extremely silly. As I watched the program, it occured to me that none of the interviewed, from the conservative Kiran Bedi, to the most liberal, the fashion designer Prasad Vidappa, never questioned the basic premise, which is that the consumption of marijuana as a punishable offense. While all over the world, there is an increasing trend of decriminalising and legalising marijuana, India seems to be vastly unaware of it. Marijuana is supposed to be a reasonably harmless substance in itself , and the only reason of its ban seems to rest on the so called "gateway theory", implying that consumption of marijuana is often the gateway to addiction. The "gateway theory" has been challenged in many quarters, and their are schools of thought, which believe, that legalising marijuana, will contain the vast majority of offenders on the right side of the line, thereby saving them from the real dangers of hallucinating drugs such as LSD.
This would have probably been true for the vast majority of the youngsters of Pune's party, whose only craving was to get a bite (or the puff) of the forbidden fruit. In this society of fast changing moral values, it will be important for the State to remember that weilding a stick is often not the best way to discipline a child.