couple of innocuous remarks by actress Kushboo about premarital
sex led to her arrest and 20 legal cases, all of which were preceded
by days of mob violence and threats to drive her away from Tamil
Nadu. The only person to come forward in her support was actress
Suhansini Maniratnam, who had to back down hurriedly as the mobsters
threatened to direct their irrational ire against her as well.
December 2005, in Meerut town, young couples in a park were severely
roughed up, slapped around and dragged by the hair, all the result
of a brilliant public exercise by the police - 'operation majnu'
- which aimed at restoring 'public decency and morals'
September 2005, intimate pictures of a couple caught in a lip-lock
while dancing at a luxury hotel in Chennai led to the suspension
of the hotel's license, though this was later renewed with 'very
Vice Chancellor of Anna University, Chennai, D. Viswanathan, has
issued a ban on the use of cell phones and prescribed a dress code
for students in 227 engineering colleges which bans 'tight fitting
outfits, skirts or sleeveless clothes and jeans'. His reasoning?
"These clothes distract students from academic pursuits".
thriving night clubs of Bangalore have been told not to play music
that 'provokes dancing'. "Nightclubs have been told to play
classical music", rues Amardipta Biswas, the Secretary of the
Bangalore Resto-Lounge Bar and Discotheque Owners Association. As
couples sway to the throbbing music they are told that they can
be arrested - and nightclubs can only remain open till 11.30 pm.
June 2005, the vice-principal of Kirori Mal College at Delhi also
saw fit to introduce a dress code. His advice was that the students
from the Northeast, in particular, should wear Salwar Kameez
'to prevent sexual harassment'.
in a much publicized campaign, the city of Mumbai launched a drive
against 'dance bars' - throwing thousands of girls out of work,
and many of them into certain prostitution.
the exception of Meerut, all the other cities in these random examples
would be listed among India's foremost cities, long known for their
cosmopolitanism and liberalism, which in turn fostered and engendered
the wealth of these cities. So what is going on here? Suddenly these
bastions of thriving, vibrant energy are being swept by waves of
'moral policing' - and is it a mere coincidence, or can the rapid
decline of these cities be linked to these trends towards obscurantism,
illiberality and intolerance?
Banglore is a pitiful city and bears no resemblance to the vaunted
Indian 'Silicone Valley', which saw the eruption of a new and youthful
culture, as thousands of talented young professionals poured in
and grasped the many opportunities the city had to offer. For decades
before that, Mumbai was the place to go for creative young professionals,
with a milieu that was comparable to the cosmopolitanism of New
York or London. Yet it was Bombay that became one of the first among
major Indian cities to buckle under the forces of narrow communal
fanaticism dictated to by the collapse of reason and driven by the
sheer cunning of stupidity.
the BJP-Shiv Sena combine, Mumbai progressively clamped down on
every form of free expression and entertainment, banning rock shows,
burning film posters, instituting legal proceedings against 'nude'
and 'obscene' models, and following up with oppressive levels of
moral policing that had never before been witnessed in India's commercial
and glamour capital. But the successor Congress Government has been
no better, with its infamous crackdown on 'bar girls', continuous
and arbitrary police action against couples on promenades under
Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with 'indecent
exposure and obscenity'.
this is happening at a time when the country is witnessing urbanization
at a scale never seen before, with millions pouring into cities
and urban centres, which swell from mofussil towns into megaoplisis.
This new urbanism - in which cities are unnoticeably competing -
is producing a booming economy and creating enormous wealth.
the new trend of 'moral policing' takes city after city in its grip,
it is crucial that we realize that an inward looking city, governed
by bigots, is not one that can generate a positive atmosphere for
growth, attracting all the elements that make a city viable and
prosperous. Experts today argue that the new centres of prosperity
will be 'the creative city'. Indeed, decades ago, Jane Jacobs noted
that the ability of cities to attract creative people was the greatest
spur to economic growth. And in his book, The Rise of the Creative
Class, Richard Florida examines the strange phenomena of 'cities
without gays and rock bands' losing out on the race for economic
notes that, "Members of the creative class do a wide variety
of work in a wide variety of industries - from technology to entertainment,
journalism to finance, high end manufacturing to the arts. They
do not consciously think of themselves as a class. Yet they share
a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference
and merit. More and more businesses understand that ethos, and are
making the adaptations necessary to attract and retain creative
class employees - everything from relaxed dress codes, flexible
schedules and new work rules in the office to hiring recruiters
who throw Frisbees. Most civic leaders, however, have failed to
understand that what is true for corporations is also true for cities
and regions: Places that succeed in attracting and retaining creative
class people prosper; those that fail don't."
is certainly one principle that most of our politicians and planners
show little evidence of having grasped. In the wake of the many
ambitious schemes and plans for the 'revitalization' and 'renewal'
of our cities, there is not a single message to suggest that encouraging
creativity and the culture of liberalism would be part of the new
vision, and not a single message has gone out to suggest that there
would be zero tolerance for the rising culture of moral policing.
The connections and consequences of this blind spot, and its role
in destroying a city are still to hit home.
late economist, Mancur Olson, had one noted that the decline of
nations and regions is a product of an organizational and cultural
hardening of the arteries - he called it "institutional sclerosis".
Places that grow up and prosper in one era, Olson argued, find it
difficult and often impossible to adopt new organisational and cultural
patterns, regardless of how beneficial they might be, and in this
lie the seeds of their decay.
India's cities, we are seeing the regression of organizational forms
and cultural patterns, as rabid, narrow minded groups attempt to
force and impose their warped codes on an intelligent and hardworking
people who are just going about their businesses and trying to enjoy
what they can of their lives. Some of these cities are now already
seeing an exodus of the talented and the creative, as they flee
from repressive atmospheres into more open minded cities.
are yet to realize the full import and dimensions of a 'creative
city'. As Florida has also pointed out, these go well beyond the
traditional physical attractions that most city administrations
focus on - shopping malls, freeways, stadia, the sprucing up of
tourist attractions and the creation of entertainment districts
that increasingly resemble theme parks. Such physical infrastructure
is becoming increasingly irrelevant, as it fail to attract or inspire
the creative classes, and to create the cultural vitality that lies
at the heart of the productive city. The creative city thrives because
creative people want to live there - when that desire begins to
diminish, the death of the city is foretold.
Published in The Pioneer, January