See See TV

On June 24, Mumbai Mirror reported that Bandra Bandstand’s ALM had installed a CCTV camera on a building facing the seafront. The idea was to monitor unpleasant activities such as theft and indecent behaviour. Like most seafronts in the city, Bandra Bandstand is a place where couples, who have no place to be alone together, go to canoodle. The ALM seemed unsympathetic. The group’s president, Archana Sharma, was quote saying: “The idea is to make the area more secure and liveable. We want to help prevent crimes such as chain-snatching, to see that a 26/11-like situation doesn’t happen, and to make sure that couples sit in the area decently rather than in an absurd manner that is embarrassing for other people. We are not against love. Love is pure. But if people believe that behaving objectionably in public is love, they should do it in the privacy of their homes.”

What’s scary about this action is the ALM’s authoritarian behaviour. Public surveillance, in itself a contentious issue, is usually the purview of the government. The ALM was assisted in installing the camera by the local cops, who no doubt thought they were aiding a fruitful citizen’s initiative. It was also allowed to monitor footage. In taking this step, the ALM went beyond being neighbourly do-gooders making sure footpaths were paved and dog owners cleaned up after their pooping pets. It became a monitor, sending out the message that if you fuck with this neighbourhood, we’re going to fuck you. If we catch you making out with your boyfriend, we’re going tap you on your shoulders and suggest you get a room. Never mind that you can’t afford one or that you can’t meet in each others homes because your families are too conservative.

It helps to have a sense of ownership of a neighbourhood. The ALM chaps have done some good for the area – helping create the promenade, protecting mangroves. But becoming territorial can have dangerous consequences. (Like ALM members secretly wanking to footage of necking couples.) After 26/11, Bombayites were swept by a wave of indignation against the government and a desire to do something to prevent further attacks. The city’s most enthusiastic ALMs, the ones in the Bandra, Khar, Santa Cruz area, pledged to patrol their neighbourhoods to watch out for any suspicious activity. This is one of the reasons Sharma cited for the camera. Thankfully their zeal died down soon enough. Otherwise there could have many cases such as the one of Mohammad Saleem. The 42-year-old was checking his phone outside the income tax office at Nariman Point, when the folks at the Israeli consulate next door found his bearded appearance suspicious and called the cops, who promptly whisked him away to be questioned.

A week after Mirror’s report, Bandra’s cops wisely decided to remove the CCTV camera and not go ahead with their plan of installing six more. A chastened DCP Prasanna, who had allowed the camera to be installed said: “We had strictly instructed ALM that the CCTV camera must be trained only on the promenade and not where people sit at the waterfront. We don’t want moral policing. In fact, when residents approach me with complaints about lovers behaving ‘indecently’ in public, I often tell them that they did the same when they were young!”

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