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Ban the ban!
Anukriti Sharma | Monday, 17 April 2017 AT 01:36 PM IST
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We take a look at the recent bans imposed across our country and the repercussions they have had on our lives.



While we proudly call ourselves the largest democracy, we are fast heading towards a country with the maximum number of bans, put down by the establishment and backed by the judiciary. So is this our idea of democracy? It started with the note ban and sent the whole country into a tizzy. Then came the series of onslaughts - ban on cow slaughter, ban on hotels, restaurants and shops selling liquor 500 metres from the highway, ban on jeans and burkhas in government offices and soon we might have to say goodbye to late night parties at the tourist destination Goa. And of course, how can we miss out on the love vigilantes under the name of ‘Anti–Romeo squad’ who can catch a romeo just by looking at his demeanour. So where is our so-called democracy headed? We speak to senior journalists and educationists to know more about the current democratic state of India  and the road forward.

Bharat-India divide

Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai observes that the current state of our country is a result of Bharat–India divide. He states, “The individuals in smaller towns may  support the liquor ban but if you go to a pub, people there would be questioning these bans. I think the political parties have realised that they can get mileage out of it. The major problem is the manner in which these bans are sought to be enforced. We just saw this incident in Alwar where a man, allegedly a legal trader in cattle, was beaten up along with his friends and  one of them died. The whole idea of gau rakshaks taking law into their own hands is part of the mindset that there is a particular kind of ban and therefore to enforce it I will take the matter in my own hands because I know the government will support me.”

17th Century decisions

Senior journalist Jatin Desai says, “Be it a beef ban, liquor ban or deciding what clothes women should wear, we are taking decisions as in the 17th Century. We need to realise that we are in the 21st Century since the current situation just makes up for a sad and scary scenario. Take the case of Uttar Pradesh, the Anti-Romeo Squad is now entering private places to catch the so-called romeos which is against modern secularism and takes away the freedom of expression. The government should see that everyone can work without being disturbed by these fringe elements. Bahrain is a Muslim country, but they are liberal enough to not ban pork because they think from the perspective of non-Muslims residing there. A few years ago VHP leader Giriraj Kishore said: According to our shastras, the life of a cow was very precious, but is it more precious than the life of humans?”

Giving rise to illegal trades
The worrying factor is that though we may make a to-do list for our citizens to follow, how many of them are going to follow it? Is the government giving birth to the illegal trades unconsciously? Anupam Manur, Delhi-based educationist, explains that any policy of the government has to be evaluated not just by seen effects, but more importantly by unseen or unintended consequences. He adds, “Prohibition of liquor or beef ban will lead to underground economies. If the beef ban is put in place to protect cows, this will not achieve the intended objective. Instead, slaughter houses, previously under government supervision, will go underground. Whatever little say the regulators had on cow protection will be lost. The same for alcohol. Overnight, the government would have turned people who were pursuing a perfectly legal activity into criminals due to a change in the laws.”

Winning over vote banks

While these bans that have become the order of the day only come across as knee-jerk reactions to the varied issues that have plagued our country. Vinita Deshmukh, senior journalist, RTI columnist and activist, feels that instead of addressing any social problem with maturity and in-depth study, the objective seems to be to win over vote banks, hook or crook and in a crass way or as per the whims and fancies of the powers that be. She questions, “If beef is such an issue, then why is there no ban in the North-East? If drinking and driving is such a problem, then why is technology not used to nab the errant drivers? Why are the highway police not more alert in penalising those who drink and drive? We have seen time and again that when you close one door, another door opens with ease.” Deshmukh says that such bans only show the government in poor light as far as good governance is concerned - a promise it made when it came to power. She adds, “We have now become a hysterical nation, as such bans have prompted some groups to take the law in their own hands under the name of `Love Jihad’ or `Beef ban’. In conclusion, it has created a vitiated social and cultural atmosphere in the country which is harmful for the `New India’ that PM Narendra Modi, envisages.”

Conclusion

So what exactly is our government missing out on? At the highest level, any blanket bans like this leads to a reduction in individual liberty and economic freedom for citizens. Doesn’t this look like a  regressive move by a paternalistic State? Manur concludes, “On a more pragmatic note, this will have a negative effect on our economy. The cattle leather and meat industry adds $4 billion to India’s GDP each year.  The closing down of liquor shops on highways could mean a closure of 1,00,000 outlets and crores of jobs, which India cannot afford. States will lose out on important revenue source as well. People who have been working in these industries cannot change their jobs overnight and will lose their source of income for a significant period of time.”
 
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