This one is tricky and you’ll need to apply your mind!
In the part of Matunga where I live, are four quiet, tree-lined blocks. From late morning till early evening, the place is pretty much dead, except for the occasional house-help, a few residents running errands and some minimal vehicular traffic.
Over the last year or so however, some enterprising kids/young adults have suddenly “discovered” this quiet oasis and sometime in the early afternoon, the area quietly converts itself into a lovers’ hangout. Young girls and boys seem to as if crawl out of the woodwork… every 100 metres or so, you suddenly find a couple or two lurking in the shadows, sitting on the ledge behind the cars or standing next to a tree or just hanging around, the parked cars allowing some privacy and the trees giving some shade. Some of them even walk up and down the lanes, especially if they are still in early courtship or perhaps are having a fight. A few girls quickly pop in and out of the buildings as well, where they change out and in of their burkhas. The girls probably study in the SNDT or Khalsa colleges nearby and the boys…they could be studying anywhere or perhaps nowhere. They all belong to a class between Lower and Middle. Some of them have bikes.
Those residents of the 30-40 odd buildings in the area who continue to be at home find all of this reasonably irritating. Some have politely asked the Romeos and Juliets to leave, while others have even shouted at the couples…but to no avail. And there is no question that when you come home early and are walking around and have to feel embarrassed in your own “galli”, because you seem to be interrupting someone’s deep eye gazing or sweet nothing murmurs, it does get to you.
Not that I don’t understand the plight of these young lovers. There is nowhere to go in Mumbai if you want to be together and are a little cash-strapped. They can’t afford the Cafe Coffee Day nearby, obviously can’t be seen together in and around their colleges or homes and still need to be discrete. While the Five Gardens has always been a place for young couples to “cootchie-coo”, that too is quite difficult these days with activists and policemen, moral or otherwise, constantly driving people away if they seem to be behaving inappropriately.
Last week, someone who was obviously very upset called in the police. A van came and picked up one of these couples; the policemen thrashed the boy, while a policewoman slapped the girl. The couple resisted…the police and the kids both knew that there was no case…but they had no support. The residents of the locality obviously were not going to come to their help and all the other lovers, perhaps some their friends as well, just vanished.
All of them were back the next day…it is difficult to keep lovers and love at bay!
So, here’s the open question. Do the residents of a locality have the right to “police” their area to make sure that it looks and behaves the way they believe their neighborhood and environs should? In which case, do they have the right to “drive” away people, in this case, lovers, because their behavior seems inappropriate for that particular locality? Or in a free country, can a citizen go to any public neighborhood or locality and pretty much do whatever he or she wants, as long as it is legally permissible?
Is there a straight and simple answer?