Nightlife in Ahmedabad

 

 

Some Glimpses

 

Author(s) : Madhu Purnima Kishwar

 

Even though I have not yet had the time to study the law and order situation in Gujarat, when I was visiting Ahmedabad, one of my twitter followers from the city wrote to me saying “While you are there, go visit a police station. You would be shocked (pleasantly)”. There was visible pride in his urging me to go and notice the change in the system of policing in Gujarat. More than in police stations the change is visible in people’s perception of the law and order situation. Govind, the driver of the private taxi that took me from Ahmedabad to Gandhinagar told me:

“The best part of this government is that it has very firm control over law and order.  Even at night, there are no highway dacoities or loot maar as are happening in other states. Therefore, it is good for our business.  But all this is not just due to police crackdowns.  This government has created work and job opportunities for all.  For example, there is a poor adivasi settlement around Ambaji Mandir.  Some of these men used to indulge in crimes and loot.  That community has been given a contract for garbage recycling.  So they are very happy about having a regular source of income and are busy making money from that. The government has a plan to make Gujarat a Zero Garbage state with its slogan “Reduce, Recycle, and Reuse. So it is win-win for all.”

At his insistence I did go and watch garbage collection at night. Fully automated garbage trucks were active throughout the night unlike in cities like Delhi where huge piles lie rotting for days on end.

I asked a young woman IT professional in Ahmedabad (whose name I forgot to note down in my notes): There have been a number of media reports about “increasing” crimes against women in Gujarat. What is your perception as a young woman come from outside this city to work in Ahmedabad? She replied:  

“You don’t judge law and order from police department statistics because there is systematic under reporting of crime in India. States which register lower crime rate are not necessarily the safest places for citizens. The most important indicator is citizens’ perception of safety. If you take that as the benchmark, you will see for yourself that Gujarat is perceived to be a much safer place for women. You will also find that Muslims also feel much more secure than they did before. Criminals don’t act with the kind of impunity that they do in many other states.”

 

 The lively nightlife of Ahmedabad

On two consecutive nights, my host family took me for a tour of the city past 11 pm. I went to Ahmedabad at the time when anti rape agitation was still at its fever pitch. The sense of insecurity due to never ending incidents of abduction, rape, and murders had brought out lakhs of people to protest on the streets in numerous towns and cities of India. Even in Delhi one hardly sees unaccompanied women on the streets past 10 p.m. But Ahmedabad presents a totally different scenario. It has an active night life for both women and men, and that too cutting across all classes, castes and communities. This contrasts sharply with other metros where mainly people from elite families go out for late night parties. Nightlife in these cities is confined to pubs, discotheques, private parties and star hotels. Liquor is considered a necessary accompaniment in these gatherings. By contrast, the night life of Gujarati cities is liquor free and is lived out mostly on the streets.

 

                                  Ahmedabadis enjoying a late night out at the eateries at Manek Chowk

For example, Manek Chowk—a residential cum commercial area in the heart of the old city – comes alive as a food bazaar only after 8 pm when the regular shops close down for the day.  Amidst vendor carts selling snacks and kulfi, little eateries spread out very ordinary tables and chairs on the road. They don’t have the style and ambience of Parisian cafés but are far more lively and vibrant.  In Paris or New York cafes, one only sees adult couples or groups of adult friends.  But in the restaurants, eateries and hawker centres of Ahmedabad one sees entire families, including small children with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, have a late night meal or post dinner snacks and ice creams.  I saw young girls driving in on their scooties long past midnight to hang out at Manek Chowk and other lively spots in the city.  

 

Vidisha (centre), an aspiring C.A who hangs out with friends and family at Manek Chowk almost every night

Vidisha, who I met at Manek Chowk around 1:30 am, is in her early 20’s. She is in the final year of a chartered accountancy degree. When I met her on January 13, she and her friends were standing and chatting away near their scooties. She told me she returns home after finishing her tuitions at about 11 to 11:30 pm. It is her daily routine to come to Manek Chowk around midnight after having dinner at home. Mostly, she comes alone on her scooty. But occasionally her cousins also come with her. She was emphatic in saying that she has never faced any sexual harassment or other forms of lawless behaviour when she is out late at night. On occasions when her scooty got punctured or there was some other mechanical problem, some or the other guy pushed her scooty all the way to her house. She and her friends— both male and female— hang out at Manek Chowk as a daily routine at night.

 

A young teenage girl along with her younger brother carrying on her work as a street vendor well past midnight 

There are very few places in the country where you will you see women street vendors carrying on with their work till 2 a.m. in the night. During festivals, certain hawker markets are open virtually all night.  On CG Road I photographed a young teenage girl pushing her vendor cart back home at 1.30 am along with her younger brother.

 

Teenage sisters from Bapunagar selling sugarcane at Manek Chowk at 1:30am

Since there is a heavy footfall of customers to these eateries till late in the night – one finds street vendors, including women vendors, selling various items of daily use, especially fruits and vegetables till as late as the customers last. I was surprised to find very young women as well as school girls – carry on with their business along with other family members till very late hours.  For example on the night of 12th January, three teenage sisters from Bapunagar selling fruit and sugar cane told me they were going to be there all night since the next day was Makar Sankrant – a major festival.  Therefore, they would have good business all night.

Even in elite commercial areas in addition to middle and upper middle class families, one saw plenty of lower middle class Hindu as well as Muslim families come out for late night snacks or dinner.  For example, at 1.30 am I saw a Muslim family having snacks with two women sitting in a hired auto while others of the same group were sitting on the pavement enjoying their snacks.  They were obviously from traditional conservative families because they were wearing burkas but without coving their faces. In the nearby market there were groups of young Muslim women who had come with their husbands for snacks and chai as pillion riders on motorbikes.  They were also in burkas. A little ahead in the neatly paved enclosure of some corporate offices, one saw small children and young girls playing ball and langdi taang. My host family told me such scenes are fairly normal and routine in Ahmedabad.

I talked to several young couples on three consecutive nights. One such group of couples were in their late 20’s or early 30’s. All the men work in private companies. Two of the women were also employed. All four couples live in joint families. But on weekends they routinely meet on CG Road to sit and chat till late into the night. The women told me their in-laws go to bed early but the families have never expressed any anxiety about their staying out till late hours because they feel safe in Ahmedabad. 

 

Young couples unwinding and catching up on the streets of Ahmedabad

On the opposite side of the street were another group of young professionals. Some of them were sitting on the pavement while others were standing near their bikes having kulfi and chatting.  Some among this group were married while some of the men were bachelors. The group consisted of three full time housewives, an owner of an automobile workshop, a software professional, an advocate, a travel agent, a transport agent and a physician. One of them is based in London and had come home for a vacation.  He told me he feels much safer in Ahmedabad than in London. The couples and young people I talked to said that an important reason why rowdy behaviour was rare in Ahmedabad and other cities of Gujarat is the culture of restraint thanks to the official prohibition of liquor sales in Gujarat. Prohibition in Gujarat has been in place for decades in deference to Mahatma Gandhi’s strong belief that liquor saps the physical and moral well-being of society.

Thus far, I have always opposed state imposed prohibition as an authoritarian measure that leads to corruption and emergence of bootlegging mafias. But hearing Gujaratis link social safety to prohibition made me seriously rethink my position.

It is interesting that all the young people I met on the streets of Ahmedabad at night strongly defended prohibition even while each and every one of them admitted that liquor was freely available everywhere in Gujarat. They said people interested in booze know the suppliers just as they would know of their doctors or tailors. One phone call and you can have the brand of your choice home delivered within no time. Many drive down to the Rajasthan border to purchase their supplies. But most people who want a drink get it from a local supplier.

However, by all accounts bootlegging mafias have been substantially curbed in the last 10 years even though cheap desi liquor is readily available even for the poor at a price. The defenders of prohibition include those young people who admitted to having occasional drinks in private parties or small gatherings of friends. Several of these young people have been to Europe and America for long or short periods. Most of them, including women, had the external trapping of westernization — denim jeans, English medium education and so on. 

I found this very puzzling because in most other metros, and state capitals, young people of such a background would consider state imposed prohibition a serious assault on their freedom. Therefore, I had long roadside conversations on this issue with several young and middle aged persons. Their reasoning in favour of prohibition goes as follows:

“People may occasionally drink in parties or even in the privacy of their homes but no one in Gujarat dares indulge in drunken behaviour on streets or in public places due to the official ban on liquor. The police have strict instructions to lock up such people right away; they even publish their photographs in the local newspapers the next day. That acts as the biggest restraining factor. Even when people drink in private parties, or among friends, they do it in moderation so that even their parents often don’t get to know. Absence of drunkards in public places in an important reason why Gujarat is much safer for women.”

I asked a group of young people if they missed pub culture and discotheque parties. They said:

Discotheques do exist in Gujarat but do not serve liquor. Abstaining from liquor is a very small price to pay for a sense of safety and security. Gujaratis know how to enjoy life, but we also know that drinking alcohol is not necessary for enjoyment. One can have a lot of fun without alcohol consumption. Don’t you see for yourself how relaxed the environment is all around us even though it is now 12:30 am? You see families with young women and even children enjoying their night out. In Delhi, people are afraid to get into a bus at 9 pm because buses are full of drunkards. The conductors dare not even insist on their buying tickets because they know these alcoholics can turn violent. You won’t find such behaviour in Gujarat. People are much calmer and far less prone to picking up quarrels in public or getting into violent fracas over petty matters. It is to do with social restraints.”

Almost all the working class men and women I conversed with also said that wife beating on account of drunkenness and other forms of crimes have come down even in poor bastis ever since bootlegging mafias have been brought under control. 

 

Seized liquor bottles being destroyed by prohibition department officials in Gujarat

It could well be said that prohibition has been in force in Gujarat since decades, so its good or bad effects can’t be attributed to Modi. However, liquor related criminality and social violence has come down in Gujarat for two reasons:

  • The bootlegging mafias have been brought under control. Their dominant presence in bastis made the social environment very unsafe for all, especially women.
  •  Due to relatively greater discipline among the police today, rowdy behaviour on the streets or in public places whether by political dons or petty lumpens is dealt with more strictly.

That is why even though liquor is freely available under the table, its consumption is far more controlled than before and not visible in public spaces. Even private parties are far more sober than in Mumbai or in the discotheques of Gurgaon.

I recognize that these are impressionistic accounts based on stray interviews with people I spotted on the streets during three consecutive nights. But one is unlikely to get such responses in most other states of India.

In Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida for instance, owners of showrooms in fancy malls where the rich and famous go shopping, are beginning to request the concerned authorities to shut down pubs because anti-social elements gather around such joints and make the environment unsafe. Almost all pubs and discotheques hire marshals and musclemen as bouncers to deal with the wealthy goondas who gravitate towards such places.

On July 12, 2012, a 16 year old girl was stripped and molested by around 30 men outside a pub in full public view on G.S Road, one of the busiest places in Guwahati, Assam. She had gone to celebrate a friend’s birthday. After her friends left, she was singled out and attacked.

In Tenali, Andhra Pradesh, a 45 year old woman named Bethala Kanthasuneela was beaten up and killed by a group of drunkards who emerged out of a local bar in a popular shopping centre called Gandhi Chowk. They beat up and pushed the woman under a lorry because she protested against their waylaying and assaulting her daughter, a B Tech student. (As per report in The Hindu, 10 April, 2013. Such instances have become common place on most states of India.

Several states of India have witnessed powerful anti-liquor movements with rural women in the forefront. They have all demanded shut down of liquor shops in their respective villages on following counts:

  • Drunkards are far more prone to beating up their wives and children; 
  • Liquor consumption further impoverishes already poor households with liquor addicts unable to control their urge even if it means starvation for the rest of the family. It not only destroys the health of the man but also has an adverse effect on the nutritional status of other family members and education of children. 
  • Liquor shops attract anti-social elements and the village environment becomes unsafe for all, especially women who fear stepping out of the house in the evenings. 
  • Liquor contracts are cornered by political mafias who are able to strengthen their hold over the political and social life of villages due to their ill gotten wealth and clout with the police. 

Since the rural anti-liquor movements have mostly been organized by left leaning organizations who mobilize poor peasants and the landless labourers, they received enthusiastic endorsement of feminists. However, when urban communities protest against proliferation of bars and pub culture, which also become gravitation centres for anti-social elements, it is condemned as a retrogressive and “right wing” demand aimed at curbing individual freedom.

In almost all my conversations on the streets of Ahmedabad, the capital city of India always emerged as a negative counterpoint and butt of jokes with regard to law and order situation:

“Aapke shehar mein to car parking ko lekar hi goliyan chal jaati hai, log ek doosre ka sir phod dete hain. Zara si car mein kisi ne takkar laga di aur chota sa dent pad gaya, to maara maari ho jaati hai.(People start shooting each other in your city because of a petty conflict over car parking. If someone so much as puts a small dent on a person’s car, there is a major brawl) In Gujarat you don’t see such behaviour. Nobody goes berserk if their car is dented by another vehicle. People don’t indulge in road rage here like they do in Delhi.”

Another group of couples told me:

“We saw endless curfews in our growing up years. Some 11—12 years ago any and every festival brought tension, riots and curfews. We feel fortunate that our children are growing up without seeing curfews. They don’t even know what the word means. For us it was a routine occurrence in our growing years. Before 2002, every Hindu and Muslim festival would lead to clashes. Today, every community is able to celebrate its festivals in peace, be it Eid or Navratras. No one lives in anxiety for their physical safety the way we did when we were growing up. You will also not see brazen harassment on the streets as happens in Delhi. No doubt boys go after girls. But you don’t see them act like lumpens as they do in Delhi. For the last so many years we have been coming here late at night along with our young wives. Not once have we encountered any harassment. Girls freely go around driving on their scooties past midnight. No one says anything to them.”

This was indeed the most curious sight for me— any number of girls riding their two wheelers alone or with another female on pillion— late into the night. No one gave them a second look. Scooty riders included young Muslim women.

This is not to imply Gujarat is crime free, but most people I talked to on the streets felt things were far far better than they were earlier. I was told even that the anti-rape agitation which swept many towns and cities of India did not evoke comparable response in Gujarat because women don’t feel as unsafe.

 
 
 

Nightlife in Ahmedabad

 

 

Some Glimpses

 

Author(s) : Madhu Purnima Kishwar

 

Page 3 of 3

 

Sparse Police Presence

The most remarkable thing about the city was the sparse presence of police on the roads.  In all three days that I spent walking or driving down with friends late into the night, I did not see one police barricade for checking of vehicles – something very common in Delhi.  This was particularly surprising because I reached Ahmedabad just before Makar Sankranti– the famed kite festival, as well as the high powered Gujarat Summit in Gandhi Nagar.  Therefore, a large contingent of ministers, ambassadors, and corporate honchos from both India and abroad were commuting between Ahmedabad and Gandhi Nagar.  But barring security measures in and around the venue of the Summit, the rest of the twin cities seemed as relaxed as ever.  No one mentioned any crackdown on Muslim or Dalit or poor neighbourhoods.  No mention of preventive detentions of randomly targeted people.  It is noteworthy that Modi himself is on top of the hit list of jehadi Muslim groups who have vowed revenge against him for 2002 riots.  And yet, not once did I witness traffic being stopped to enable VIP movement.

By contrast, in Delhi even ordinarily, city roads are littered with police barricades even on normal days especially at night.  Motorists, scooterists truck drivers are routinely stopped for checks at night.  These barricades are placed so foolishly, checking of vehicles done so brainlessly that all they achieve is nuisance for citizens and an opportunity for police to fleece young couples returning home tipsy after partying as well as truck and private taxi drivers.

Before the Republic Day and Independence Day in Delhi and other important cities, the police arbitrarily pick thousands of poor people under draconian preventive detention laws on the pretext of curbing goonda elements.  Most of these people are innocent rickshaw pullers, street hawkers who live on pavements and other homeless poor or slum dwellers.  Muslim youth are a favourite target.  Nobody has bothered to ask that if those locked up under preventive detention law are genuine goondas, why are they out in the first place? Why round them up to show “action” before certain events involving VVIPs?

By all accounts – of both Hindus and Muslims – policing in Gujarat has become far more professional in recent years.  Even in Juhapura, I asked several men and women whether the shadow of fear and insecurity they had earlier due to recurring communal riots still persisted. None of them said they were afraid to go out at night — be it to commercial centres or in the Hindu majority areas. One cannot altogether rule out cases of police high handedness but several Muslims I met said the message from the top was clear: No discrimination against Muslims and heavy clamp down on goonda activities of both Hindu and Muslim gangsters. However, I did meet a few Muslim shopkeepers near Manek Chowk who did not express such positive sentiments towards the current regime. But, despite persistent questioning, I could not get them to provide any concrete incidents of lawlessness.

By all accounts, during the decades of religious polarization due to repeated riots, especially during the 1990’s, Muslims were really afraid to go into Hindu areas and vice versa. This fear restrained people even when there were no riots. Even those few Muslims who had good relations with many Hindus were afraid to go into a 100% Hindu neighbourhood.  Now that fear has gone.  Today one finds any number of burka clad Muslim women in 100 % Hindu areas even late at night.

It is noteworthy that Gujarat leads all states in the number of Muslim policemen posted in thanas being 11% whereas the population of Muslims in Gujarat is 9%. This means Gujarat is the only state which has more than proportional representation of Muslims at the level it matters most—  the thana level. But this has been done without making any song and dance about it.

Many Muslims, including the highly respected former ADG PoliceA.I Syed told me:

“During Congress regimes, such goonda elements among the Muslims got a lot of encouragement. There used to be a lot Muslim “bhais” (dons) in those days.  That also helped project a negative image of the Muslim community and created prejudice against them. In the last decade or so, all these dons have been marginalized in a firm and determined manner. Modi government has been tough on all kinds of anti social elements – whether of the VHP variety or the Muslim dons. So the space they occupied was eliminated.

 

A.I Syed, retired ADG Police

But most important of all, when the anti social elements among VHP and Bajrang Dal were put in place and given the message that they won’t be allowed to get away with terrorizing Muslims, the Muslims did not feel the need to have their own dons to confront Hindu goondas.  Modi’s scheme of things made them redundant.

Even today, the leadership of the Congress Minority Cell is in the hands of dons.The Chairman of the Minorities Cell of Congress in Gujarat is a man named Wazir Khan Pathan. He writes B.A LLB for namesake and is a member of the High Court Bar Association, but originally he is a bootlegger. He is originally from Vishnagar, Mehsana district. Today the entire leadership of Congress Party in Gujarat is in the hands of Muslim dons which is why it is performing so poorly in elections.”

To quote Rais Khan Pathan, a former right hand man of Teesta Setalvad who later fell out with her:

 

 

                 Rais Khan Pathan

“All those Muslim areas that were once dreaded for being dominated by antisocial elements into illicit liquor brewing, smuggling contraband, drug peddling and other crimes are now very safe because Modi came down heavily on criminal gangs – Hindu or Muslim.  Therefore, Muslims did not rise in defence of their community’s dons.  But police crackdown alone cannot marginalize goondas and people in illicit trades.  Today, there are innumerable legitimate avenues for economic advancement available to Muslims, along with massive increase in educational opportunities. Therefore young Muslims of today feel no attraction for crime. Take my own example; I had a flourishing gutka manufacturing business based in Mumbai.  But my biggest supply chain was in Gujarat.  Now there is strict enforcement of gutka ban in the state because of its cancer causing effects.  But I don’t mind the ban because I could easily switch over to other businesses and make decent money.”   

These days mafia elements are all into real estate business which is apparently dominated by wealthy Patels. This is where big money is made since Gujarat is industrializing and urbanizing at a fast pace”

Since I have not yet looked into the real estate business aspect, it is difficult for me to comment on the nature of criminal activity in that field. However, one thing is for sure, the general perception of the public is that Gujarat is not crime infested. The sense of optimism and citizen safety is palpable.

A Muslim businessman who prefers to remain anonymous told me:

“Ask any police officer-, he will tell you that policing in Gujarat has become much easier because there is no political interference by neither of the chief minister nor anyone else in the government. They say: “We have been allowed real professional autonomy to do our job well with a clear mandate that we have to be non-partisan and even handed.” The same officer told me that the police stations in Muslim areas today have the lightest work load because criminal activities have come down dramatically in these areas.  Earlier, Dariapur and Kalupur in Ahmedabad were the epicentres of anti-social activities.  Most of the riots of the previous 50 years invariably started from these areas and spread from there to the rest of the city.  But in the last 10 years, not a single such incident has been registered.  For one, liquor and gambling dens have almost disappeared from these areas.  Earlier, leave alone Hindus, even the educated among Muslims used to hesitate to go into those areas.  But these areas are not feared any more. You see a lot of new construction activity in those areas because of new prosperity and hardly any crime. Crime prone cities are those where there are organized criminal gangs.  Such gangs don’t operate with impunity in Ahmedabad or other cities.

That is why we don’t have incidents of women being abducted or little children held for ransom or trafficked in the way it is happening in Delhi.  You have seen for yourself how young girls are seen riding on scooters in Gujarat well past midnight.

I don’t say Gujarat has zero crime.  No country in the world can claim that. But the crime rate is much lower than in other states and organized gangs have been brought under tight control. Earlier the Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, etc. used Hindu goondas while Congress patronized Muslim goondas.  But since Hindu goondas have been defanged, Muslim areas have also gotten rid of their bootleggers and other criminals.  You should check with the police how Muslim areas have become far easier to police due to a very low crime rate.”

I do intend to check these claims during the course of my Gujarat study.

 

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