Forget liquor bars, raise governance bar

IN PERSPECTIVE

Mythology is replete with stories of gods and goddesses consuming various intoxicants. Even now, alcohol is offered to deities in many temples across the country. But some ministers in the BJP government in Karnataka seem to believe that naming liquor outlets after gods hurt religious sentiments, and they want such names changed.

The cat was let out of the bag by Minister of Ports Srinivas Poojary when he announced in Hosapete recently that based on a memorandum by “some people,” the government had decided to issue a circular “directing owners of liquor shops not to have names of gods and goddesses anymore.”

Though on the face of it, this may appear to be another outlandish decision by an over-zealous government, the contours of moral policing emerge when the dots are connected. Some time ago, Deccan Herald had reported that the excise department was actively considering a proposal to link liquor purchases to the Aadhaar number, ostensibly to track down people who litter empty bottles. But this could lead to social profiling of individuals based on what one consumes and in what quantities, the details of which will be available with the neighbourhood liquor vendor, who by no means can be trusted with the confidentiality of such information. With the Mangaluru pub attack incident still fresh in our minds, the likelihood of naming and shaming girls who purchase alcohol, for instance, based on the liquor store records cannot be ruled out. Thus, there is a method to the madness behind the government’s actions.

Of late, the government has been increasingly taking the memorandum route, to push through on controversial issues. The decision to abolish Tipu Jayanti celebrations was taken following a letter from Madikeri MLA Ranjan Appachu. Based on another salvo from the same MLA, Yediyurappa announced that Tipu Sultan would be wiped out from school syllabus. The proposed linking of liquor sales to Aadhaar was based on a representation from an NGO. And now, the move to ban bars from being named after gods also comes in the wake of a memorandum.

In a country where a majority of human names are derived from that of divine beings, it is natural for people to name their shops after gods. There is nothing sacrilegious about it because alcohol was never taboo with the gods themselves. Besides, the sale of liquor is legal in Karnataka from which the state earns a revenue of nearly Rs 20,000 crore annually, and what the shop-owner decides to name his outlet is none of the government’s business. On the contrary, the government’s move amounts to interfering in the personal beliefs and faiths of the shop-owner.

Interestingly, the religious sentiment of the bar owner is not hurt when he names his outlet after his favourite god. The religious sentiment of a person who is named after a god is not hurt when he goes to a bar named after a god and downs a couple of drinks. So, whose religious sentiment is the government talking about?

With millions of gods in Hinduism, who in the government will take the responsibility of drawing up a list of permissible names? Several communities are nature worshipers and under the new scenario, they too could easily take affront to names that refer to rivers, lakes or forests. Will the government go after such names too? The best course of action, perhaps, would be to bar all people with religious names from consuming alcohol!

However, the bogey of religious sentiments might not end here. Next in line could be butchers and restaurants serving meat. Sometime ago, the BJP-controlled South Delhi Municipal Corporation had passed a resolution banning stalls from displaying meat-based food, under the garb of public hygiene, though surveys reveal that about 80% of Indians are meat-eaters.

The list is endless as somebody’s sentiment could always get outraged over one issue or the other. What if tomorrow somebody objects to a boutique named after gods, because the ‘immodest’ clothes sold by it do not conform to the ‘culture’ of the country and thereby offends his sentiment? Anything is possible as long as the government continues to pander to the unreasonable demands of fringe elements.

But the bigger question is: Are religious sentiments impacted only by liquor bars carrying names of gods? Are they not hurt when a person with a godly name indulges in corruption, is involved in rape or murder, watches porn in the legislature which is the temple of democracy, is caught on tape indulging in sleazy activities…? Should not these people who involve themselves in unholy deeds day in and out change their names first?

When he assumed office as chief minister, Yediyurappa had assured the people of the that he would usher in a new era of development. Far from it, the public discourse has been shifting from one emotive issue to another. Instead of wasting time on liquor bars, the BJP government should raise the bar of governance and administration. The gods are capable of taking care of themselves without any help from the government.

 

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru)

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