‘Pub Bharo’: Be my Valentine
by Sandhya Jain on 09 Feb 2009 13 Comments

No matter how liberal a country’s ethos, no matter how depraved and debauched its social reality, no polity in the world will permit a minister or public servant to call for a “Pub Bharo” movement in support of the Christian festival, Valentine’s Day, which falls on 14 February.

It is not just a question of public decorum or political orthodoxy. This touches the social and cultural health of a nation at its very core; alcoholism has grim societal consequences and can simply implode a nation from within. The erstwhile Soviet Union faced this disaster in its Stalinist-Communist years, and many Western nations are struggling with alcoholism, broken homes, and worse, drug abuse.

So there can be only ONE REASON why Ms. Renuka Choudhary, Minister of State for Women and Child Development (what an irony), could indulge in such outrageous bravado without being made to step down immediately – and that is the fact that the UPA chairperson and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi is an Italian-born Roman Catholic, and ‘pub culture’ and Valentine’s Day are an intrinsic part of contemporary Western Christian society.  

Western corporates have worked overtime for more than a decade to make Valentine’s Day a major event among Indian youth, to de-culturise them from traditional Indian mores. When India already has Basant, Baisakhi and Holi festivals, where is the need for Valentine’s for youth to let down their hair? This Western-style pressure-driven dating or shopping (ably assisted by leading Indian newspapers and columnists) has fizzled out in the past few years as a natural resistance developed among the youth who want to do things at their own pace.

The startling events in a Mangalore pub last month has come as grist to the mill of the Congress Party and its Western leadership, which is trying to convert the specious practice of “drink alcohol at any time of the day” into an issue of individual, and particularly women’s liberty. Personally I am quite sure that the pub is not the best substitute for the coffee shop or snack counter. I am also doubtful that the Congress approach will eventually succeed with parents, concerned citizens, and police officers coping with growing incidents of youthful drunken driving and their tragic aftermath.

Given the emerging truth about the capital city of Delhi, it would seem that pubs are already full to the brim, that too, with school-going minors, who should be thrown out by responsible managements. As the legal age for drinking in a public place in Delhi is 25 years (when the revellers would be earning and spending their own money), there is no way that waiters and bartenders can mistake young adolescents for working men. They are selling alcohol for the money, plain and simple. That is corporate culture; and that is precisely what responsible governments and societies seek to control.  

A newspaper reported recently that minors below the age of 16 years are able to purchase liquor from government-owned shops! Every year, nearly 2,000 minors are involved in drunken driving cases in the capital alone, either as offenders or victims. The Excise Department blames the city’s “pub culture” for drawing minors to consume alcohol. 

Yet it is precisely this “pub culture” that is set to get a boost from the crusading Renuka Choudhary. The minister hopes this will also give a boost to Valentine’s Day, on which the “andolan” will be launched in Mangalore city, and put the “moral police” in its place.

Many questions remain unanswered about the Mangalore pub incident. The electronic media was called and in position to film the events as they unfolded, which images were later flashed on television screens across the country for days. But no one took the same precaution to call the police, and this needs to be explained.

Meanwhile, no doubt enthused by a groundswell of public opinion in its favour, given growing social reservations about pub culture and all-hour drinking it is inculcating among the youth, activists have put up posters decrying Valentine’s Day, noodle straps, and tight jeans. The Minister, in turn, has asked the youth to celebrate the day with gusto, and we can expect this to be raised to a national festival if UPA manages to form the next government.

Renuka has gone so far as to send a notice to National Commission for Women member Nirmala Venkatesh for blaming pub security for the incident. No doubt the liquor lobby will respond to the Congress during the forthcoming general elections.

As Valentine’s go, however, my vote goes to the acerbic Sri Rama Sene chief Pramod Muthalik. Brushing aside Renuka’s allegations that he does not know how to behave with the opposite gender or understand love, he has declared “lasting love” as his mantra. That’s the spirit (pun intended). Muthalik has promised to marry off all couples found celebrating this Christian festival; their photographs will be taken and plastered on public walls in the spirit of “pyar kiya to darna kya.”

So walk into my pub, be my Valentine…

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