When I covered the Mangalore pub attack nine years ago, I even stopped to ponder: Was my cultural upbringing wrong?
My phone rang continuously as I was about to leave my workplace. It was one of my trusted local contacts from Mangalore. He spoke fast and was almost gasping. All he managed to say was that there had been a brawl in a small pub called Amnesia. Teenagers were beaten by a group of men who called themselves the Sri Ram Sene. I quickly called the local police to seek more information on this group.
This was for the first time I had heard of this organisation. The video finally landed on my desktop and my blood curdled. I watched the horrific incident with clenched fists. Teenaged men and women were screaming in pain as they were being dragged and kicked; all in the name of “Hindu sabhyata” (civilisation). It was not in our “sanskriti” (culture) for women to be seen in a pub, or to be drinking.
I landed in Mangalore a day later to report about the incident. I went about it like a well-trained journalist — in a calm and balanced manner. But then there is a liberal person inside me, who wants to break free and scream that it is also embedded in our culture to not harm others.
The three-minute video shook me. I remember thinking this is going to be the beginning of many more attacks in the name of culture. For a minute, I even stopped to ponder: Was my cultural upbringing wrong? I was taught that tolerance leads to peace. I was taught that we have the right to give our opinion on what is right and wrong, but never ever impose.
And then it all changed in a decade. The infamous Mangalore pub attack, which stoked a national outcry, was converted into an act of “innocence”. A message popped up on my phone — that the third JMFC court in what is now called Mangaluru had acquitted all those who were named in the case: Pramod Muthalik, Prasad Attavar, Subhash Padil, and 25 others.
It riles me when “alleged” keepers of Hinduism and sabhyata flex their muscles to violate women and men alike. After 2009, I made three resolutions:
- I will not enter a pub thinking I am an Indian “naari”, or get beaten up for violating the sanctity of our culture. I would rather think that I was consuming “Soma Rasa”, just like our gods did.
- I will not refrain from wearing clothes that don’t reflect my demure Indian womanhood. I will only wear what makes me comfortable. My clothing will be such that it will help me fight my battle if it ever comes to that, without having to worry about people gawking at my body.
- Pubs will be one of those locations where I may even host an informal professional meeting. Why? Because someone in my family actually said to me: “Even if you are found drinking milk in a bar, you will still be called a drunkard!”
Today, Pramod Muthalik of the Sri Ram Sene says that truth always triumphs. I would like to tell him that the truth is in the video, it resides in the bruises on the bodies of the young teenagers who were thrashed, and in their scarred minds.
What is most excruciating is the thought that all of us (reporters) had the video with us, yet the investigating officer did not submit it as evidence to the court. For nine long years, they could not track down the victims to get their statement. Instead, ironically they preferred amnesia. All the accused were let off for lack of evidence. This is what engenders public distrust in the system and due processes.