Pubs, Liquor Shops and Women Empowerment
Maidservants working in our locality live in a slum called S. Farm. The slum had a country liquor shop. As is usual in many such shops, the shop also had an 'ahaataa' (courtyard). The ahaataa is an open area with bare minimum crude furniture. Customers who buy a bottle from the liquor shop can sit in the ahaataa and consume it there. A large number of the men in S. Farm used to visit the ahaataa and blow up their earnings there. This used to cause hardships to their families. A few months ago under the leadership of a social worker (a woman I do not know) all the women of the slum decided to do something about the menace. One fine evening all the women surrounded the country liquor shop and the ahaataa. They were holding placards in their hands demanding closure of the establishment. All the men who were inside the ahaataa were beaten with footwear. In many cases wife / sister of the man being beaten was cheering the crowd to do a more thorough job. Police watched as spectator only ensuring that the beating did not cross limits. The next day, authorities decided to shift the liquor shop away from the area. The women were jubilant. They had emerged victorious and felt empowered.
The above incident was not reported in any newspaper or electronic media. Such incidents have taken place in hundreds of places across the country. In most states of the country, there are rules in place that if women of the area protest against any liquor shop, the shop is shifted immediately. Getting these rules made has been a major achievement for women activists who want to ensure that men take care of their families and not squander away their earnings on alcohol.
Contrast the incident of S. Farm with the protest against pubs in Mangalore. The tables have surely turned. Instead of women protesting against men drinking, it is the men who are protesting against women drinking. When women protest against men drinking, there are no issues of individual freedom or human rights or "who gave you the right to do this". I am not in favour of beating up any one - whether men or women. But surely, for all those who believe in equality of women, beating up of women drinkers is in no way worse or more condemnable than bashing up of alcoholic men. So, one fails to understand the hell that has broken loose after the protest against women-in-pubs by Shriram Sene in Mangalore. Pramod Muthalik, leader of Shriram Sene, has gone on record apologizing for the rough handling of women and has said that they never intended to beat any woman. Pramod has apologized, while there is pride in the heart of women who beat up men at S. Farm. Yet, strangely the media and official establishment seem hell bent to prove that Pramod Muthalik is a criminal worse than any terrorist, while remaining silent about all women who have gone violent across liquor shops all over the country.
Women empowerment, in India, has always meant the right of women to demand a say in key decisions related to family, society and country. Women, who bashed up their alcoholic husbands / brothers, felt that a man had no right to spend all that he earned. A man owed it to his family to bring his earnings home and if he did not do so, women believe (and almost everyone agrees) that they have a right to force him. The role of women as caretakers of family has been central to women empowerment in India. Even the demand for reservation for women in legislatures and Parliament is based on this understanding of women empowerment. Votaries of women reservation bill have often argued that women are more responsible than men and that they will prove to be better rulers of the country, just as they take better care of the family.
Women activists in India have never wanted to equal men at all the wrongs that men are accustomed to do. It would have been preposterous for any of the men at S. Farm to offer a drink each to the agitating women. None of the women activists agitating against liquor shops across the country has ever asked for a right of women to have a drink at the shops.
Right to drink is not a fundamental right under Constitution of India or for that matter under any international charter of rights. On the other hand, Article 47 of the Constitution of India says, "The State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks". It is clear that protesters at Mangalore (and also the women at S. Farm) were only acting to raise awareness and force the state to fulfill its duty as prescribed under the Constitution. Nothing can be more legitimate political activity than that.
It will not be incorrect to say that the movement of women empowerment in India suffered a serious setback when there were protests against the Mangalore incident. To make matters worse, some women have come together under the banner of "Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women" (CPLFW). No one knows what is meant by the word "forward", but a loose woman is defined by dictionary as "a woman adulterer". Should we take it that these women claim to believe in going to pubs and having sex outside marriage as a matter of right? For these women, love is something that happens in and around panties. As an expression of their idea of love, they decided to send pink chaddis (panties) to Pramod Muthalik on Valentine day.
One must condemn all the hooliganism that Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena (even Shriram Sene) have been doing on Valentine Day, which in my opinion is a Hindu festival (Please read my article Valentine Day - A Hindu Festival). Hinduism gives a very high place to love, but the love in Hinduism (or Christianity) is not something that happens in and around panties. All right-thinking persons must join up against the mindless and heartless perversion of love. This is not something about Indian culture or western culture. It is about preventing damage to a fundamental universal human value that transcends all cultures.
From a moral, religious and political standpoint the attitude of CPLFW is absolutely untenable. No religion or system of morality on earth can ever accept that women (or men) should drink and indulge in sex without any restrictions. The public display of panties (as symbols of love) that CPLFW has indulged in is clearly obscene and obnoxious by every cultural standard. It is sad and unfortunate that Indian academic, intellectual and political establishments have not reprimanded them in the most severe terms.
As I see it, the members of CPLFW are some well-qualified but uneducated women whose general reading has probably never progressed beyond text messages on their mobiles. Academic and political class of the country needs to seriously deliberate upon the problem of growing numbers of men and women who have acquired training, skills and degrees but no education. Women who forced the liquor shop to shift away from their locality might not have been literate but they were educated and knew their responsibilities to their family and society. The same cannot be said about the women who are holding up their dirty panties publicly on the internet and other media. The message emerging from Mangalore brouhaha is that Indian democracy must face up to the challenge of growing numbers of literate but uneducated men and women.
14 February 2009
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ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer (and now a lawyer too) by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.
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