For Ram Sena, Himachal culture may not be Indian


By: Priya Das*

What started out as public misbehaviour with women has now become a larger debate on cultural corruption of Indian society by pubs. This debate completely ignores the primary issue – the moral policing of women by the saffron brigade or the Ram Sena. What they did in Mangalore needs no elaboration here.

Exactly, which culture the Ram Sena is talking about, with the fact that drinking by women is not so alien to our ‘culture’? A brief visit to any of the celebrations or festivals in the tribal home of Himachal will make it evident that home brewed alcohol is generously consumed and offered by men and women equally.

One of my most memorable experiences of a visit to a village in Kullu, is of an invitation to join a feast being given to celebrate the retirement of a resident from his fourth grade government job. I was welcomed by the toothless grin of an old, “high spirited” (read inebriated) woman of the family holding out a glass of lugdi (their local brew) to me!

The same is true in higher reaches of Himachal, in Lahaul and Spiti, where everybody enjoys chaang without discrimination on the basis of gender. Further, in areas of Rohru, lugdi comes into play again that is served during festivities to both men and women. Bordering Himachal are Tuini and Naitwad in Uttarakhand. People of this area are generally known as ‘Kirna‘. They have a culture, where by both men and women not only celebrate festivities with liquor but in fact mourn the death of a near and dear one with liquor. Kirnas are more philosophical than many of us if their argument of celebrating death is better understood. They celebrate death. Death frees the soul from the captivity of a body. Death actually is a new birth, and a movement to the higher level. That exactly is Indian culture.

Unless we want to impose the Bhramanical culture (extremely discriminatory and patriarchal in nature) as the only culture, denying the vast socio-cultural diversity of our country, then it is time we recognise that alcohol consumption by women is ‘culturally’ acceptable in many parts of our country.

The handling of the issue by the governments and media is full of evasion and duplicity with very serious implications.

The ignoring of the primary issue – that is the violation of rights of women – has probably given the licence to the mushrooming fanatical groups in the country that they can now become the moral police of women-misbehaving as and when they please. This is already evident in Ram Sena’s latest attempts to stall Valentine celebration in Bangalore.

On the issue of acceptability of ‘pub culture’ – the government’s stand is one of evasion and double standards, apart from the disabusing the word culture. Let us first look at the government’s stand on pub culture.

A licensed pub is a place that has the legitimate right to serve alcohol to people above 25 years of age (an age that the Constitution grants the right to an individual to exercise their choices and therefore vote). Besides, a pub only becomes the space to provide alcohol – alcohol is made/ imported through licenses provided by the government. If pubs are bad then so is alcohol – why is that not being debated?

The duplicity of the government’s stand is further evident in the fact that while ‘pub cultures’ are being derided in the urban centres, across the country (both rural and urban), the government actually promotes local alcohol shops as a means of revenue generation. For the majority of the Indian States, the second biggest revenue earning is from the sale of alcohol. In Himachal, I have personally  witnessed block development officials encouraging Panchayats to raise revenue by setting up local alcohol vends. So far as health implications are concerned, alcohol is equally bad for men and women -then why single out women? Besides, when men consume alcohol, the adverse economic, social and health implications are borne by women in their families.

Let us now look at the justification of an unconstitutional act in the name of ‘culture’. Gender is a social construct – the role and status of women in a society is created by social norms and practices that are created by patriarchal mindsets that simultaneously marginalise women and make them the keepers of societies/ families’ honour and morality.  These norms that pass off as “culture” then dictate the code of conduct of women, wherein the women find their rights regulated not by their own choices but by the society at large. Social acceptance of violence acquires cultural legitimacy as a means to keep women reined in and in turn the purported culture and morality of a society. Hence, rather than justify actions in the name of culture, it is time that culture itself needs to be examined and questioned.

Further, it needs to be understood that culture does not exist in vacuum nor is it static – if we are keen on decimating slums and rivers for the Commonwealth Games to make Delhi at par with cities that are acceptable and admired by international visitors, then pubs come as a part of it. It is also part of the rest of the development story of the metros, the industry and the human resource development of the corporate houses that are constantly stretching themselves to meet the developed ‘global’ standards.

* The author is a Shimla based social development consultant.

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  1. Though I am never go to Pubs but I don't mind others going there. Who has given authority putting pub as a taboo to a bunch of perverted uneducated jobless creatures. The whole drama is to gain popularity.

    A thought provoking article Priya. Keep the gud works going…

  2. Your article is highly commendable.

    if the goons of every town try to

    take laws in their own hands and establish their turf as moral police;

    then we are going to see another

    Bin Laden empire inside India. If men

    can enjoy the pub culture, let the

    women enjoy it. Or shut off the

    pubs and make the whole country

    alcohol free. If not checked earlier,

    Rama Sena will enter the houses through force to establish their code

    of morality, which simply leads to

    total anarchy.

  3. the pink chaddi is all around…

    lekin look that people can think they can do some bakwas stuff and gain some political mileage…we need to stand against that

  4. Not only do people drink in small indian villages, but they smoke too. As they also have tatoos. What these Ram Sena's are protecting happen to be outdated Victorian/Edwardian customs that have been dumped in the past even by the creators. They even took offense in the past by the image of the Dancing girl ( VHS and BJP) from harrappan times. Tell them they do not speak for the majority of Indian Hindus, much less the Indian people. They are no protectors of the Indian culture. They are in fact destroying it by borrowing heinous and pathetic ideals from the Taliban.

  5. Painting the richness of Himachali culture with a brush of some intoxicating beverage is not fair.Drinking in some form has been a ubiquitous feature of all societies,not excluding that of Himachal but does that mean that all such cultures had the aspect of drinking as their quintessential element.Perhaps not. Besides , festive drinking in the company of members of one's family can in no way be equated with the drinking of a young boy and girl at some isolated or public place without the prior knowledge of their parents or members of family. Fermented beverages of yesteryears were altogether different from the maddening stuff available today. An occasional party or function in which some stuff may be served cannot be construed as representative of a ulture. There are many more aspects which one can talk of in this context.

  6. My reaction to Dr Kapoors reaction to this story has a few points:

    1. Drinking obviously is not a quintessential element of any culture just as 'not-drinking' is not. But they are elements nonetheless.

    2. When we deny the exitence of a practice in a society, knowing well it does happen, even if occasionally, we have somewhere in our minds attached a judgement to it, in this case to drinking.

    3. The judgement here so far as I can think has two dimensions: one, moral (which includes public propriety); and two, health.

    4. Health part of the judgement would hold some water, if those who were drinking in Mangalore pubs were minors. Not only were they all majors, they had all attained the legal age of drinking (sic!). No doubt drinking is not for health. However, I believe, excess of nothing is good. I remember people crowding O2 bars in metros a few years ago, till they realised that excess of even Oxygen is not good.

    5. On the moral front, i would understand the public propriety being overstepped if someone drank out in the open and created a scene. These people who were beaten up were drinking in a place designated for drinking.

    5. Anyways, we are still missing a few points here:

    5a The victims were all women. How does it behove a man to drink and not a woman? So it definitely is a cause of concern.

    5b Who gave these hooligans the mandate to take the law in their own hands?

    5c Who certifies that these hooligans are eligible and entitled to write a charter of Indian culture?

    5d Priya's article here uses elements of Himachali culture merely as an illustration to register her annoyance with the intolerant outburst of some hooligans in Mangalore. And if women (or men) in Himachal (or anywhere else in the world) drink, they drink. Full Stop.

  7. Firstly, I Categorically condemns the attack on women in Manglore pub. I also opposes the comments on this article by Dr Vikas Dogra. I think, with justifying drinking as an essential and perinial part of Indian life, we are not doing justice to the issues and discussions that have raised before the society after the Manglore incident.

    I would appeal to all the "Driking Lovable" people to please also dicuss the aftermaths of the driking in society, with having information that 90% of the road accidents and 60-70% of the rapes in India happen only becasue of 'drinking'.

    We should also discuss the effects of driking in Western countries and its affects on their societies.

    "Do we need a society (Like Western Countries), in which the name of baby's father is not known"

  8. i could not hold back than to write a comment on the story. these days im at kinnaur for the peasant movement over the forest tribal act and so on. interestingly here the local deity asks the people to have local wine. i also happened to join one of the function. Though an absoute teetotaller, i do not mind the culture prevalent. I was also thinking of relating to the above experience with that of the so called senas hitting at the church for they too offer little bit of wine just to lick during the Christmas festival. Let us respect the diversity and do not try to bind the people superficially under the garb of "indian culture"

  9. It is nice to hear views and facts from intellectuals on this matter. I would say this is lot of information and discussion on the matter. I would say, the age, culture and practises are to be respected.

    I do respect all the view points as everyone who has put his thoughts is thinking in a particular way to help and protect our society.

    Now my opinion about this matter comes after 5 months because i was ignorant about this portal for long time and just found out about it yesterday. 🙂

    At the time, when these activities were happening on the name of 'culture', i was also present in an area near by 'region of conflict'. So may be i would tell you some of the ground facts which we witnessed and discussed at that time with friends.

    The beatings given to girls, simply on the pretext of drinking alcohol is not justifiable. After all they have been drinking and going to Pubs for so many years. So what was the real cause apart from what was publicised by the 'moral police personnels'?

    Due to the proximity and having friends from this region (Karnatka), i came to know about certain other things and later it came out that this whole issue has the 'angle of religion' involved to it, which was doused to avoid religious conflict which is bit 'normal' in this coastal part of Karnatka.

    It was made a big issue, indeed it was but the real reason was not the drinking but it was resistance of 'one community' to avoid girls from their community going out with boys of 'other community'.

    The real issue could never come upto the headlines, may be fear of another Godhra or state policy. I must say that stilted issue brought out the weaknesses in our society which are hidden under the hoodwink of culture, social conduct etc.

    We need to discuss all these things in open. If women were not meant to drink why men were let with the privilege? If you do not want western culture, forbid it completely and if you say we would like to take only good things of that culture than please let everyone take whatever is good for them in that culture and avoid meddling your with others happiness. There are ways and means for everything, for every action of present generation.

    Here i would also like to take the perspective of 'moral policing personnel'. They are right in their actions because their leaders taught them to do that and those poor souls don't have any opinion of their's otherwise no sane person from any community would think of raising hand against women.

    I would like to hear as many comments and opinion on my viewpoint, in want of clarity. In the end i would say truth shall prevail above everything and nothing.

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