Words such as pubs, clubbing and partying - are hardly alien to anyone. Nor is there a tag of fault attached with it for any reason. Gender equality is not strange and unattended perception in anyone's minds, including that of an Indian.
However, this Saturday afternoon, in a pub in Mangalore, these ideas were about to be proved wrong. completely, utterly, hideously and inexplicably wrong - when men belonging to a right wing Hindu outfit Sri Ram Sena in Mangalore, barged into it and beat up women, hurling them by their hair and calling them names. completely unrepentant, say they received complaints suggesting the women were dancing 'obscenely' in the pub and they decided to act. Unrepentant for what they did, they say they received complaints suggesting the women were dancing 'obscenely' in the pub and they decided to act.
An unfortunate victim of this outrageous incident, recalls, "The whole thing was traumatising. No one came for our help."
"We were just having a good time and next you know people pulling your hair, hitting you and calling you names like prostitutes," she said, adding, "the last thing we want is to be spoken to like this and especially by hooligans who don't know what they are doing in the name of God."
According to sources, more than 25 people have been arrested for this vicious attack as outrage over the incident spread across the country. However, for all these actions the miscreants had ready justifications. Pramod Mutthalik, the chief of the Sri Ram Sena continues to be on the run, but is available on his cell phone. He was expected to arrive at Hubli in Karnataka late on Monday night but there is still no word on his whereabouts. Speaking to NDTV on Monday, he said that girls going to pubs is not acceptable and whatever his men did was right. He even accused the media of highlighting this small incident to malign the BJP government in the state.
India is a democracy. India is independant and aims to achieve equality between men and women. Freedom is something that we respect. At least, that is what one understands. Such incidents shatter the belief.
According to eye witnesses, there were 40 men who after barging into the pub in Mangalore, began physically beating women, dragging them by their hair, chasinf them out of the pub and assaulting those who tried to intervene or stop the incident. There are also reports that the girls were molested.
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa has reacted to the incident in Mangalore saying those responsible will be taken to task. He said that the police has been given full authority to take appropriate measures.
Though many of the assaulters have been taken into custody and strong action is being contemplated against them, there are more important things to be considered. Questions that shall not find an easy answer. To begin with, what is morality? Who decides the standards? Is being in a pub till late in the night, having fun with friends an act terribly immoral? Or is hurling, slapping and beating women, and throwing them out of the pub, an act that is white in sanctity, a moral, sacred in the eyes of God? Who decides?
And last, but not the least, where does India go from here?
This incident has spread outrage throughout the country. The BJP has comdemned the act. However shocking as it may sound, one of the detained attackers (one of the right wing group's top leaders), Prasad Attavar told reporters that there is no need to raise a hue and cry about the pub attack. He claimed that they did not attack the girls but the boys who brought them to the pub.
Far from fear, far from shame. Despite so much that has happened, it is also surprising and shocking how there is still no ban on the group.
There was a time when India's diversity and tolerance were something people across the world looked up to. The country was an example that reflected the virtue of tolerance as an expression of 'morality' and 'democracy'. Two words that are being brought to question, now. And the debate is hardly over...
The Mangalore incident is a shameful one. It has blackened the meaning of freedom, of equality, of liberty and to say the least 'humanity'.
They called it moral policing. We call it unreasonable, insufferable and an intolerable breach of independance.
Hardly synonymous to respecting women, how does one obtain the audacity to commit such an act? Is there no fear of the law? If they choose to be the law unto themselves, who do we - as those whose faith and freedom have been trampled upon - put our trust in? So again we ask, who decides? Is violence akin to restoring of morality? Is the obscenity of physically assaulting women more acceptable? A right, an action of bravery, that can be exercised at will, in front, or even behind closed doors? There is no answer yet.
These are the faces of those which were part of the group that attacked young women in the Mangalore pub on Saturday afternoon, on January 24, 2009. They said, they received complaints suggesting the women were dancing 'obscenely' in the pub and thus decided to act. And so, they reached the venue, beat up the women, hurled them out of the pub and proved that morality was this.
These are the faces that speak of heinous acts that trample on the rights of someone's freedom, with the audacity of going against the law in every way possible, and think that they are God.
Yes, these are the faces that maim the face of India - its ethics of tolerance, its values of freedom, its right to freedom, its pride in respecting women, its sense of liberty.
The Mangalore incident comes not in isolation. One is shocked, yes. Surprised too. But also fearful of what the future holds for us, Indians.
Last year gave us a fitting example of what intolerance could bring in its wake. Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena workers were out on a virulent camapaign against the North Indians in Maharashtra, shouting slogans such as "Maharashtra is for Maharashtrians." Schools were attacked, railway board examinations were disrupted, and there was a clash within the insiders and outsiders. The crisis spoke of a politics of identity that is an most unfortunate occurance in a secular country like India. The regional divide showed people that perhaps India will no longer adhere to repecting differences, or sharing of opportunities in the days to come.
Everytime hatred rises, we ask if ever there was peace. Will we ever give it a chance? And this is yet another question unanswered.
In the year 2008, the Kandhmal district in Orissa was on fire too. Mobs belonging to the Bajrang Dal, attacked people, destroying property at large - angered at the alleged conversions of the tribals to Christianity. A nun was raped too.
Yes, the only question that beats hard like a neverending gong in the head is, where is India heading? Will this hatred let us live in peace? Will the colour, the caste, the religion, the state, the gender that divide us from outside, cause a rift that is too wide to be stitched? Will the wounds inflicted today ever be forgotten, healed? Will the right to freedom and the trust in the sanctity of laws remain unscathed?
No, the Mangalore incident is not the first time that an act of intolerance have taken place. And it is feared that it shall not be the last. This story is far from a denouement.