Even as the world readies itself for wild millennium boogie-bashes, shaking a leg is unsettling Chandigarh. Or so thinks the city’s administration, which has ensured the party is well-nigh over for the four discotheques in Bhangraland’s headquarters. Because those who care for the occasional swingin’ evening now have to face zealous, not to say embarrassing, interrogation by policemen planted right at the entrance of these discos. Even at regular, hot afternoon hours or designated days when evening sessions must end strictly before the clock strikes 10.30 pm. Even if they are ‘couples’, only sipping fizzy waters and maybe a tandoori tikka thrown in for spice.
Playing party pooper-in-chief is Chandigarh’s newly-appointed police chief, Kiran Bedi. She’s far from apologetic about the surge of policing around the discos that she’s brought about: "I am not here to provide the city with a night life. I am here to police and I will do so if I see there’s a potential problem area anywhere." What’s more, a cid report has gone right ahead and suggested that the discos be just shut down because they are a "big nuisance".
Little to jive about, really. And the fast depleting crowds on Chandigarh’s dance floors show that, faced with the moral sentinel, revelry is on the retreat. More so because, introduced to night life and its first disco—Las Vegas Den—barely three years ago, Chandigarh is still fighting its conservative perception of discos being sleaze joints, where booze and dance spell a decadent combination. A trickle of older people were just about beginning to join teenagers in dancing to Daler Mehndi under strobes. But with the newly appointed vigilance at the dance doors, rigorous monitoring of timings and the general disapproval of disco dancers, these ‘dens’ might well be playing their swan songs this summer.
For those familiar with discos, even Bollywood-shtyle, the Chandigarh dance floors are today a pathetic sight. Picture this: college graduates Nishita and Harpreet come in to swing away boredom at the upmarket Sector 9 disco, Aerizzona, around three in the scorching afternoon. The girls break into some more sweat as a cop at the entrance fires searching questions, point-blank. Names, addresses, vehicle numbers, he wants to know them all. Also, do their parents know of their date with the disco? Touchy topic, that.
Uncomfortable and hesitant nods later, the twosome enters the near-empty disco where a huddle of girls dance half-heartedly with each other to an ironic Dil le gayee kudi Gujarat di. Entry for girls is free and too scared of the vigorous scrutiny, today at least, the boys have vanished. So, Harpreet and Nishita sit around watching women dance, guzzle free aerated drinks and jig their way out. But not before they deliver an angry parting shot: "Someone is killing an already dead city."
All the brouhaha isn’t entirely without reason. That discos could be trouble-spots dawned on the police after an untoward incident early last month. Two women, one of them a Ropar university lecturer in her late-20s, arrived at the popular Las Vegas Den at around 10 in the night. There two men asked them to help gain admittance into the disco as single males aren’t allowed entry. They agreed and in the partying that followed that night, the women later accompanied the men first to another disco, then a coffee shop and finally for a drive that lasted till about five in the morning. Towards the end, the men said they had some work in Sector 11 and it was there that a pack of hooligans joined the foursome.Harassment and molestation followed but the women managed to slip out somehow and call the police.
Taking this incident as an indicator of what could grow into unmanageable rowdyism, Bedi makes her point: "The discos say they don’t serve liquor but reports are they do. Anyway, people come in drunk and tend to have enough liquor on them to replenish themselves. There are plenty of brawls and pick-ups happening. These discos are becoming a public nuisance."
Deputy Commissioner M. Ramsekhar isn’t as categorical. After reading the public mood, he maintains that personal morality cannot impose itself on the public sphere, but a ‘balancing act’ has to be achieved for the sake of public decency. "You have to draw the line somewhere. After all, we have opted not to have casinos. And even for discos, there have to be some reasonable restrictions."
But who gets to decide on what’s reasonable? Says 48-year-old Surinder Singh, owner of Aerizzona: "In some conservative joint families around here, even husband and wife visiting the disco is frowned upon. So it’s done without family knowledge. To ask for their names and telephone numbers hassles them. Asking students for personal details is far worse. No wonder they’re fleeing the scene." Bijan, who runs the Jailhouse disco sees the questioning process as a denial of the right to privacy. It sometimes goes to the extent of the police calling up and informing parents of the fact that their children are visiting discos: "Even questions like ‘are you bunking class?’ are offensive."
Having started the trend when he opened Las Vegas Den at Mani Majra, Vicky Bajwa cannot begin to comprehend the ‘narrow-mindedness’ of the recent crackdown. "Will all crime stop if discos are shut down? How much of the city’s crimes happen in the discos anyway? And even if the odd untoward incident is taken into account, how can you penalise us for something that happened hours after consenting adults met up in a disco? Instead of helping create safe spaces for enjoyment and fun, they are making it all so underground and slimy."
But, argues Bedi, not one of the discos has the necessary licence. Only letters and permits from the administration that hedge around the fact that discos are being run on premises where they shouldn’t be, basements and such like. But Vicky Malhotra, who runs a disco called Cloud 9, counters this: "We have been consistently advertising for the last three years. We’ve had widely publicised events. It’s all been above board. With valid permissions and letters. Why persecute us now?"
Is Bedi overdoing the ‘tough cop cleaning up town’ bit? She has neither time nor inclination for such quibbles. The way she see sees it, discos not having licences is bad enough. And even if they did possess the required papers, it still wouldn’t absolve them of being a ‘public nuisance’. Will she relent on the constant vigil if discos were to straighten their act? "Discos can’t be straightened," answers Bedi, "libraries can."
Ever tried reading a book under strobes? Or breaking into a jig on the library aisles? No point forcing the analogy too far. Suffice it to propose that, perhaps, both have their own valid place in the world.