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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 9, February 14, 2009

Enforcing Cultural Values: Attack in a Mangalore pub

Thursday 19 February 2009, by S G Vombatkere

The recent televised attack by persons alleged to be members of the Sri Ram Sene on young women inside a pub in Mangalore has created widespread public outrage. Even though a spokesperson of the Sri Ram Sene on NDTV has confused viewers regarding the identity of the attackers, what is very clear is that they oppose what they call “pub culture”. There is a wide gulf between the right of any person to disapprove of the morals, values or behaviour of others, and the use of force to demonstrate that disapproval or effect behavioural change.

Even though many people generally disapprove of youth spending their time and their parents’ money on beer, liquor, cigarettes, etc., or living expensive life-styles, they have to recognise that many parents give their sons and/or daughters generous incomes or pocket-money, and know how they spend it. No prizes are offered for guessing the origin of such cash. It is also likely that the “market” for pub-crawling is created by the same dark-coloured money that reaches the pockets of youngsters who frequent pubs. Persons who disapprove of pub culture should understand that at its root are parents who have more money than they know what to do with, spoiling their wards by regularly providing them generously with cash, and government officials who receive payments both on and off the record to grant licences to pub owners (as often as not, related to powerful people) to run their establishments.

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Temperance activists who peacefully oppose liquor vends and bars or pubs near educational institutions or places of worship, etc. on legal grounds, or motivate people to stop drinking and empower women to oppose their husbands’ liquor habits, come under pressure or threat from the liquor lobby. And they even get murdered, like NAPM activist A.T. Babu was in July 2008, while government agencies drag their feet in bringing the murderers and their highly-placed mentors to justice. There is a world of difference in scope, intent and method between what people like A.T. Babu have been doing against pub culture, and the recent attack on young women in the Mangalore pub.

The Sri Ram Sene will surely gain supporters in opposing pub culture if they employ peaceful means of petitioning and urging the government to close pubs, bars and liquor vends. Since the Karnataka Chief Minister has declared on TV that he is against pub culture, it should be easy for the Sri Ram Sene to prevail upon the government to close pubs. (The government should be putting its money where its mouth is, rather than putting its mouth where the money is!) The Sri Ram Sene might also consider focussing on opposing the corruption that produces money which eventually finds its way into youngsters’ pockets to pay for indulging in pub culture.

In a civilised society, no citizen may impose his/her moral or cultural values (including religious conversion) or ideas of acceptable behaviour (including dress) on others by the use of force, whatever the reason, cause or provocation. Attacking people to prevent or force a certain behaviour is not only futile in the long run, but illegal. A government that allows citizens to attack one another with impunity without intervening immediately and effectively fails in its constitutional duty. n

Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere retired from active military service in 1996 and has since been engaged in voluntary work in the social, civic and environmental fields with Mysore Grahakara Parishat. He is also a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He holds a Ph.D in Structural Engineering from the IIT, Madras. He coordinates and teaches a course on Science, Technology and Sustainable Development to US undergraduate students who spend a semester at Mysore on the University of Iowa programme of Studies Abroad in South India. He can be contacted at e-mail: sgvombatkere@hotmail.com

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