Vasant Dhoble – the cop with the hockey stick

July 13, 2012, IBNLive

On first sight, ACP Vasant Dhoble looks like that observant uncle from your colony who always seems to know anything and everything about the people residing there. The kind that kids are slightly careful around. At the high court, while appearing for a defamation case, filed by two sisters who have been detained on charges of alleged prostitution, Dhoble carried with him tomes on the PITA (Prevention of Immoral Trafficking) Act.

Once the case was adjourned for a later date, an unperturbed Dhoble interacted with journalists outside, cracking jokes on the twitter outrage against him and defending his position. Just a day before this hearing, this man had been the top trend on twitter across the country for raiding a popular Café in South Mumbai and videographing the patrons present.

When we spoke to Dhoble, he came across as someone who genuinely believed he was following the rules and reforming the society. When asked about random implementation of archaic laws, Dhoble said with a smile, the police do not frame the laws. Some other men around him commented about how some of our laws are from the British era, so why is no question being raised on scrapping them. He however denied any form of moral policing and said he was only checking violations by establishments and patrons had nothing to worry about.

The CCTV footage from various places however show a hockey stick wielding cop, ready to deliver vigilante justice to anyone present at the premises. The advocate of the two women who have filed the defamation case claims they have been kept in the rehab home despite being innocent. The sisters have claimed Rs 1 crore compensation each.

The social services branch of the Mumbai police, which Dhoble currently heads, is perhaps one of the most active in the country. Every few days, news comes in on raids on shady dance bars, gambling dens and regular night spots flouting noise and time limit rules in the city. A few of these busts have shown the elaborate network of dance bars, pimps and patrons. But there are also cases where raids are conducted for alleged violations and no immoral activities have been proved. There are also stories of extortion of hoteliers by authorities. But raids are considered a necessary form of action to preserve the social fabric of the city, conducted with a stamp of approval from the home minister R. R. Patil himself.

No doubt there are many eateries and spots that do flout noise and time limit rules. Residents of Bandra and Khar would surely testify to that. But Dhoble has the normal party goers scared. Pub regulars are worried about being videographed while they are out to unwind after work. They are scared they would have to perpetually carry a liquor license with them, so that they aren’t caught on the wrong foot when they make impromptu party plans. Women are scared of going out lest they be detained for something unknown happening in the premises and their photographs get splashed in the media.

There are however two issues – one is a difference in mindset. Time and again cops across the country have made statements that reiterate an archaic view of how partying somehow is an excess, an immorality. There is no space for someone who can be sane and decent and still party. It is somehow ‘videshi’ sanskriti and therefore a bad influence on youngsters. And of course, the stereotype that all women who party are loose, is dinner conversation in a considerable number of middle class homes. The second issue is that of archaic laws. No revision is in sight to make these laws consistent with the changing social structure of the country and its youth.

But perhaps one cannot be changed without changing the other. Till then it shall remain a clash of civilizations, between the modern and not-so-modern Indian. While illegalities cannot be condoned, there needs to be a better understanding of differing lifestyles.

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