By S.Vishnhu Saaye
Chennai: Rigid societal roles that stereotype women as teetoallers leads to forms of moral policing of women drinkers, a trend noticed in Chennai. It is considered to go against the Tamil traditions for a woman to be drinking alcohol, say locals.
Senthil Ramesh, a server at the CAT bar, located in a shady corner at the end of a street at the Indranagar-Adyar junction said that women were not allowed into the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) shops and adjoining bars as a rule. “It is against the Tamil culture for a woman to be drinking. There can be nothing more shameful for the woman than being seen with so many men consuming alcohol,” he says smugly.
It does not stop with servers shaped by patriarchal notions as unruly customers add to the woes of women drinkers, says Murugesan, a server at the A.M.Hi Tech, an air-conditioned bar near the Tiruvanmiyur signal.
“We have three sections in the bar, and there are not many problems when the women are sitting inside the air-conditioned section. However, the people start hooting and whistling once they see these women coming out to have a smoke,” he says.
Santosh Kumar, another waiter at the TASMAC and adjoining A.M.Hi Tech garden restaurant in Tiruvanmiyur, says that the customers who frequent these place are uncomfortable with women drinkers and have complained to the management.
“They feel that the culture of their locality and city is being contaminated as it could spark a trend,” he says, before adding that the management sides with them to maintain their patronage. “The management has asked the women not to come here and also told the men accompanying them to take them to safer places,” he adds.
There are a handful of pubs where women are not policed strictly, but these are generally expensive places that levy various taxes and cost at least 50 per cent more than the Maximum Retail Price.
“It is a horrible experience to be hooted and whistled at, but I still feel that women must be able to drink wherever they want. It costs a fortune everytime we have to go to a costly place to drink,” says Rashi(name changed), a post-graduate student from Chennai.
Such bias in Chennai, one of the biggest cosmopolitan cities in India goes against freedom of choice, a necessary facet of gender equality in a democracy. Bangalore, a city not more than five hours away by bus from Chennai, portrays a contrasting scene where there are few discriminations. They actually thrive on various women-based events such women’s beer chugging competition and providing free alcohol for ladies on selected days of the week which helps them generate more revenue.
Oshin Gupta, Associate Producer at MV Productions in Bangalore says that Bangalore has a huge pub culture which makes it easier for the society to accept women drinkers. “I frequent pubs as much as my male colleagues do, and when women turn out in huge numbers it becomes hard to discriminate against which leads to stereotypes being broken,” she says.
Shailendar Singh, a manager at the Extremez bar and pub, Bannerghatta Road in Bangalore, says that a mixed social group of men and women is more acceptable in Bangalore as people are open to new experiences such as interacting with strangers who share interests and making new friends, supervised by their peer group.
“The colleges in Chennai do not let the boys and girls interact freely and thus create a stigma or taboo for them to be friends while Bangalore has a more open culture. It is time Chennai learnt from us,” he says.