The police raids on 100 odd pubs reflect the vulnerability and exposure to untoward young elements of of the city and should not be seen as a sadistic move by the law enforcement authority.
I may sound like an orthodox ‘Aunty’ and invite the chagrin of the youngsters of this city, but since I’ve seen Pune’s tryst with Pub culture, since the 1990s, last week’s police raids on 100 odd pubs spur me to revisit this socio-cultural side of the city, which is rising and unfortunately, with a dark side to it now.
Recently, I hired an autorickshaw at around 9 pm to return home. I got talking to the rickshawalla, an elderly gentleman who resides in Hadapsar. He broached the topic of how, after dropping me, he would get busy, dropping off young girls to various pubs and bringing them back.
He said he had some regulars who trusted him as they come home drunk and they knew he would drive them back safely. He states,’ there are several college girls who stay in hired flats in my area who are regulars to pubs. They get so drunk that their boyfriends have to lift them up to put them in my rickshaw. I drive them home but they are unable to wake up. I patiently wait till they do so, which could be at dawn or early morning.
‘ I was not too shocked as inebriated youngsters are seen regularly during weekends when patronising of pubs is at the maximum, and not just after New Year Eve’s parties.
The pub culture, which began in the 1990s with a watering hole in Boat Club, saw major violence, when some young army officers assaulted the pub staff for not letting them in as it was closing time. Thereafter, physical brawls between youngsters; disturbance to the neighbourhood in the wee hours of the night and; the alleged use of drugs were constant story makers for local newspapers. Undoubtedly, these were fun places as DJs with pulsating music, a floor to dance on and mocktails and cocktails in friends’ company ensured energetic and happy socializing. Only, they often became addas of vices and violence. And worry for the parents then; and continues to be a cause of worry, now too.
Pubs continue to be the favourite haunts for friends’ get-togethers, birthdays, academic successes, wedding anniversaries and so on. The pubs, then barely a dozen are now nearly 200 or more; spread across the city, particularly in the fringe neighbourhoods which has the maximum young crowd residing or patronising.
So far so good if youngsters which comprise college students and young professionals of the city have `happening’ places to enjoy them but they are coming at a heavy cost to their physical and mental health. Mostly; because pub owners, in their greed to earn more; violate several legal norms and they are hardly questioned about it. For example, many of these pubs are active during the day, when you see high school students who are a tender13 and 14 year old, celebrating birthday parties with beer and other drinks.
In India, as per law, the legal drinking age in India varies between 21 and 25 years of age. In Maharashtra, it is 21 years for wine and beer and 25 years for others. As per the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), alcohol consumption in India has risen by 74% mostly due to non-enforcement of rules by the sellers of alcohol and restaurant managements which served them.
Recently, my friend questioned the restaurant manager of a Koregaon Park outfit, where senior school children were indulging in beer at lunch hour, as to whether he is blind to the fact that they are too young to drink beer. He coolly said that he can’t do much as they are customers who have placed the order. He couldn’t be bothered as the likes of him get away without being accountable to law. It is laughable to even mention that as per the law, all individuals of `drinking age’ should obtain an alcohol permit to consume, transport or possess upto 12 units of alcohol or face a fine of Rs.50,000 and/or a jail sentence of five years! And that, pub owners must ascertain age of the customer before entry into it.
A couple of years back, I was invited for a talk at a notable IT company. In the question and answer session that followed, one of them commented on the present social issue wherein young employees who are single, head straight to the pubs from work, are loners and then go into depression causing great social concern.
She said, they are plush with money as they earn handsomely and so have no qualms about spending in a way that immediately and easily releases them of stress. Besides, over two lakh students converge in Pune from other States and other parts of Maharashtra. Several of them are given generous pocket money to the tune of Rs.20,000 or more per month and pubbing is one of the regular expenditures.
In the recent police raid, around 35 pubs out of the 100 that were raided, were found to flout norms on several counts.
Surely, strict rules must be enforced so that innocent teenagers do not fall prey to vices; so that, there is no excess of indulgence ; so that parents do not have to worry about their wards’ late nights and the pocket money given by them does not go up in smoke; so that drunken driving is reduced; so that, animosity that leads to physical brawls and police cases is minimised; so that the tender and impressionable years are spent in constructive expenditure of energies; so that the Millennial generation does not suffer lifestyle diseases and their mind and brain are not adversely affected.
There are so many issues at stake at the personal and social level that pubbing brings in; but so far, it is the economically rich dividends that an entrepreneur in this business gets, is being largely considered.
Is money power more important that young citizen power? In earlier years too, police have time and again conducted raids only to be scuttled by vested interests, which wants to keep the business growing.
Will it be the same this time too?
#All views expressed in this column are the authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
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