Mumbai, the city that never sleeps, sleeps early these days. Everyone who has ever visited this great city or anyone who aspires to visit soon is concerned. The powers that be have curbed the basic fundamental and democratic rights of its children. Some call it "Talibanization", while others call it "Bangalore-ization".
When Wild City got in touch with me to express my perspective on the entire "Dhoble" issue, it became imperative for me to discuss and explore the correct facts and sentiments of the situation to its national and international readers. Please do keep in mind that the views mentioned below are strictly personal. I am not representing any establishment or group of people...
First up, I'm not going to explain in this article the what/why/how/where of the overall situation. If you are not in the know, then you can read this brilliant interview with ACP Vasant Dhoble of the still undefined Social Services branch. Surprisingly this one is by Rolling Stone India rather than any other leading news publication seeking sensationalism. I never knew that this man had so much to say and boy, does he speak in this interview! Amongst all the press articles, interviews, TV debates and panels of discussion, NDTV's Truth Vs. Hype episode was the closest (and the most in depth) report of the whole fracas (except they didn't get Dhoble's name right – it's not Laxman Dhoble; and there is still no clarity on the DJ/performance license issue mentioned within it). With support of Commissioner Arup Patnaik (whose views sound like he's from a bygone era), it does seem like we are all currently stuck in an unrealistic time warp. This report is a startling one too as for the first time you can see reputed establishment owners being open about the level of bribery and corruption involved in running businesses within Mumbai's nightlife industry.
Sadly, like anything else in India, if someone wants to start a business he/she has to go through a never-ending dizzy maze of formalities and verifications just to procure the basic licenses. After this ordeal, it is also vital to grease the palms of key 'babus' and police officers in respective hierarchies just to keep your business going within the confines of the law. You eventually get caught up in 'under the table' deals and transactions right from the start of your business venture. You'll then remain at the whim and fancy of the law beholders, who at any given moment can throw the law book right back at your face (in my opinion, a collection of undefined legal jargon, just as outdated as the East India Company itself). This isn't the first time that Mumbai's residents have had to face excessive policing. This won't be the last time either. This however, will definitely be known as the key series of events that highlighted and created awareness about all those irrelevant laws which realistically don't have any significance in the year 2012.
From a DJs perspective, it has been an absolute nightmare. As ACP Vasant Dhoble's intricate licensing tangles have put me out of action (by replacing me and my DJ console with a Philips DVD/USB player at my residency), I was angry at him and his ways too. I couldn't freelance or get bookings in other clubs in the city as all of them were having problems of a similar nature. India's most reputed music venue, blueFrog Mumbai, cancelled the much awaited James Zabiela gig as well as all of its DJ programming for the month of July. That was the writing on the wall. The bookings that I've been seeking now have been strictly restricted to semi-live gigs and some chance bookings from other cities.
Initially, as I was relieved of all of my DJ duties, I had decided to focus all my time and energy towards the good fight by creating awareness and posting latest developments in protest. Gathering more members and meeting up with "co-conspirators" were important items on my agenda for a few days. Honestly, I didn't have to do much as the entire situation had pissed off so many people that they were voluntarily stepping up for the cause. For a number of days I was waking up to multiple pictures and stories of Dhoble plastered in newspapers. As protesters began to express their frustration online, #dhoble trended like no mans business on Twitter.
All was going well until suddenly out of nowhere, a wing of Shiv Sena issued a press release aligning them with DJs and against Dhoble and his ways. I realised that things may soon go haywire. I stepped back and seized all my frustrated activities, trying to gather a bigger and better view of the situation. To understand this I needed to go back to base and primarily understand the sentiments of everyone on the other side of the console. The innocent music lovers.
From a clubber's point of view, it has been a crazy journey. It's back to 1949 according to the police as drinking permits are now a must for everyone. Oddly a poor old woman was arrested as she was using liquor in her home to make chocolates. Innocent people have been whisked away from dinner reservations, questioned and filmed by the police. People are too scared to step out of their homes and even restricting their party to the confines of where they feel safest (there was a reported case of a young man whose house was raided by police for having friends over for dinner and drinks). Women have been hit the hardest as many of those who were arrested have been sent for rehabilitation from prostitution. This has created a huge outcry and two sisters who were arrested in this matter have tried suing Dhoble for defamation. The court however was in his favour as in its eyes "he was just doing his job".
When I asked 27 year old visual merchandiser and music enthusiast Darshni Lal about her take on the overall situation, she said, "I think the police is not the issue here. They are just feeling the pressure trickling down from somewhere above. If things go on like this and Mumbai's nightlife keeps on taking a hit week after week, many individuals will suffer along with the city. In a city like ours, there are so many businesses that operate throughout the night. It’s a big industry in macro and micro levels and people have various jobs within them. You just can't shut them out." This has been true as the police have been shutting down all the small eateries in the city, including the infamous Bade Miyaan. She adds, "I am also happy at the same time as we are collectively expressing our anger towards what has been happening. I want my Mumbai back!"
That was the central theme of the protest rally that took place at Carter Road on Sunday 24 June. There was a lot of speculation about its occurrence as the day began with articles in newspapers suggesting protest organisers didn't have appropriate permissions. There was also a bizarre story about how there were supposed to be 2 more rallies expected at the same time and place which were "pro-Dhoble" in nature. With expectations of a proper showdown, I decided to show my face. Honestly, I was a little disappointed as all the ambiguity (and bad organisation) resulted in a diluted and weak protest. It also drove away the celebrities who were expected to be a part of this protest. There was no sign of the "pro-Dhoble" supporters when I arrived. The police apparently have videotaped the 1000 odd protestors and many were booked for participating.
The diversity of all those who came out to protest on that Sunday evening was a huge positive. It showed everyone the promise and potential of what it could have been should it have been organised collectively and through the application of correct protest procedures.
Another factor worth observing here is the ironic timing of these incidents. At a time where we have observed over the past few years more festivals, ever increasing visits by international bands and DJs and quality home grown artists, clubs and collectives; these incidents are creating a huge dissonance to the budding scene. We just saw an Indian panel at the International Music Summit in Ibiza where the Sunburn crew (of many) did a fantastic job of displaying to the rest of the world the immense potential of the young and dynamic Indian market. Popular industry publications such as DJ Mag are poised to launch in India. More kids are joining DJ and music production schools than ever before. We have local artists being invited to play at gigs and festivals all over the world. These achievements are what I am extremely proud of as it has been years of collective efforts by like minded individuals within the national scene. At the moment, where we were ready to shout that India "had finally arrived”, these incidents of excessive moral policing were completely disheartening and discouraging.
Mumbai has always been the financial and the entertainment capital of India. Local politicians have forever been harping about their intentions to make it as good or better than any other international city such as Shanghai or New York. Sadly, the nightlife in the city that never sleeps has never before been hit so badly. All this collective rage and critical mass in its wake has the potential to constructively define the shape of Mumbai's (and India's) events and entertainment industries for the coming years. At this moment, it is key that energy is aimed in the right direction. Irrespective of what the TV channels and newspapers may want you to believe, the real enemies are the outdated laws in our constitution and not ACP Vasant Dhoble. It is imperative at this stage that there is more awareness generated about the root cause of this issue (the outdated laws). People should collectively apply pressure on the ruling party to change these laws. Not its executors.
Mumbai Unite and SOS: Mumbai's Nightlife are two of the biggest emerging groups on Facebook. On a chance meeting with Nisha Harale Bedi she said, "If you notice any of the posts that we make on our group (Mumbai Unite) are mostly about awareness and education of the laws rather than simply being a space for 'Dhoble-bashing'. We are consulting lawyers and trying to form the best approach of attack for these redundant laws”. You can already see the results within campaigns such as this online petition being shared within the SOS: Mumbai's Nightlife group. It urges for a judicial inquiry on the recent raids and for the repeal of drinking laws in Mumbai. Surely, it's a sign of many to more to come.
Mumbai city has always been India's shining star and I would still say that its infamous nightlife is very much alive. The times are tough however, with the right awareness and education, we can collectively turn the tables and put it on the right pedestal that it deserves in current times. All the issues and problems that establishments were facing over the years have been translated to the patrons. Venues have the loyal support of their favourite customers and together they can attain all the transparency that is needed with this issue, which could also be the right stepping stone for future venues and night clubs. Educate yourself and fight the good fight!
Words: Reji Ravindran
04 July 2012