I’ve decided that from now on, whenever I need a pick-me-up, I’m just going to go through the text of one of our laws. Today, for instance, I discovered the Goondas Act of 1923. Goonda is an Indian term for a thug. Or a rowdy rascal, as Tamil superstar Rajinikanth would probably put it.
It’s a fitting day to discover the Goondas Act because today was Bal Thackeray’s cremation. Contrary to past behaviour, Thackeray’s peeps were not goondas today. They were very orderly and there’s been no violence today from Shiv Sena people. Some 20 lakh people turned up for his cremation. That’s 2,000,000 people. That’s insane. It’s also deeply unsettling that this many people feel strongly enough for Bal Thackeray’s offensive and divisive politics to congregate for his cremation. The English news channel Times Now presented Bal Thackeray as though he was the love child of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, which as far as I was concerned only made the contrast between their fiction and the reality of Thackeray’s politics that much starker. (See this for an excellent sum-up of what was wrong with the coverage in television news today.) Thackeray was anti-Muslim. According to him, being pro-Maharashtra meant being anti-the-rest-of-India. He urged his followers to wreak violence and discriminate on the basis of region and religion on many occasions. He held ideas like democracy and freedom of expression in complete contempt. And for reasons best known to the state government, he was given a gun salute, wrapped in a the national flag and his cremation was held in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, a public park used for rallies, public meetings, cricket matches and so on. This is the first time public grounds in Mumbai have been used for a cremation since 1947 (Tilak was cremated in Girgaum Chowpatty). It’s almost as though the state government couldn’t believe that the Shiv Sena was behaving in a mature, calm and restrained manner, and so decided to go overboard as a pre-emptive move. As the number of common and uncommon people who had come to pay their last respects to Thackeray grew, it was almost as though the size of the gathering made Thackeray more acceptable. As though the fact that he was popular made his political stance more acceptable. As though popularity erased the historical fact that he was the leader of a political party made up of, well, goons.
Which brings me back to the Goondas Act of 1923. Allow me to quote because paraphrasing such glorious language is criminal.
THE GOONDAS ACT, 1923
An Act provided for the control of certain Goondas residing in, or frequenting Calcutta or the neighbourhood of Calcutta, and for their removal elsewhere.
… goonda includes a hooligan or other rough.
… Whenever it shall appear to the Commissioner of the Police, that any person —
(a) is a goonda, or a member of a gang or body of goondas, and
(b) is residing within or habitually visiting or frequenting Calcutta,
and that such a person or such gang or body is committing or is about to commit… [an offence] so as to be a danger to, or cause or to be likely to cause alarm to the inhabitants or to any section of the inhabitants of Calcutta, the Commissioner of Police shall make a report to the [State Government] with a recommendation that such person or gang or body be dealt with under the provisions of this Act.
I want that first sentence on a T-shirt. Or as a poster that I can hang on my door.
I’m not sure who has been booked under the Goondas Act since 1923, but if causing alarm to residents of Calcutta (or Kolkata) is cause enough, then Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seems to be a prime candidate.
Here in Mumbai, an emu farm owner has been detained under the Goondas Act. There are some 25 cases against this gentleman who is currently a person of interest because he’s part of the emu farming scam. Yes, we have an emu farming scam or an emu ponzi scheme, which sounds like the new Disney-Pixar film rather than a massive, nation-wide con. The article I’ve linked to has one particularly beautiful sentence:
“Understanding the emu business is not easy because there is no business, say some experienced players in the mainstream poultry business.”
And I will sign off with the video that shows you the most famous celluloid goonda I know of: Chiranjeevi, in the 1984 film Goonda. In the song “O Gundelu Teesina” from the film, he is smoking (thus proving he is a “rough”) and dancing with the woman who helped at least 2 generations of Indian boys figure out their sexuality, Silk Smitha. Props to Chiranjeevi for doing the moves that he does while maintaining the dangling cigarette.
I have to say, given Chiranjeevi’s eagerness to do nothing more than dance with Silk when he’s alone in a room with her, he seems more like a sassy gay friend than a goonda. But what do I know? I thought Bal Thackeray was a fascist rabble-rouser and he got a bleddy gun salute today.