The opposition to cosmopolitan Mumbais liberal way of life,unfortunately,comes largely from within the quick-to-judge middle-class Maharashtrian population. That,in many ways,explains the roaring support that Vasant Dhoble,who led the Mumbai Polices Social Service Branch,receives from the urban middle-income community.
Dhoble,who claimed to be on a mission to rid the city of moral corruption,found sympathisers not just in the Marathi manoos,but also Arup Patnaik,Mumbais ex-top cop,politicians as well as Mumbaikars tormented by the nuisance of nightclubs. In fact,when a journalist asked one of the senior-most ministers to explain his silence on Dhobles actions,he quipped,But did you speak to the Marathi newspaper-reading people? They see everything right in what he is doing.
The Maharashtrian middle class,however,may be trapped in a web of moral dos and donts. While almost every family has a son,daughter,nephew or neighbour studying in the US or UK,it is only the knowledge and monetary benefits that they are encouraged to bring back. But if he/she steps into a watering hole to learn a few lessons of life,they are vaya gelela or wasted.
Parameters are twice as narrow for girls. The studious ones who never have a boyfriend until an arranged marriage are admired for the ability to stay focused. And the Maharashtrian perception of decent is as indigenous as the Czech feeling of Litost.
So Dhoble,the urban hedonists party-pooper,is perceived as the guardian of middle-class values,rescuing straying children from the night club culture.
A little less than half of Maharashtras 11.23 crore population lives in urban areas. A large chunk comprises a middle class divided into upper and lower. The upper middle class prides itself on its foreign holidays and likes to believe it is more open to social change. It attributes the regressive views of morality to the lower middle class which has little global exposure.
More recently when a constable stopped a woman visitor in a sleeveless kurta from entering the court premises,it gave Mumbai a whiff of the new-found respect that the likes of Dhoble had earned among the lower police ranks. The overzealous woman constable interpreted a Bombay High Court circular that permitted entry only to those dressed in decent clothes and sober colours her own way. The moral quandary of the middle-class may well be self-inflicted,Dhoble or no Dhoble.
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