Maybe they survive because our mindsets are still feudal. Section 294, for instance, can hold eve-teasers and flashers to account along with charges of sexual harassment, giving police officials ample room for manipulation, especially with respect to any form of public display of affection, including a hug. In a similar vein, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, passed to prevent human trafficking has been often been misused by police forces to raid hotels over suspicions of sex rackets.
“Seven years back, when I was about 18 years old, I had a nightmarish experience of moral policing,” recounts Anushree Murkute, 26, marketing professional and Mumbai resident. “I had gone out with a friend for a drive. We were smoking inside the car when the police van stopped by. Though we weren’t ‘making out’, the police began harassing us.
They hauled my friend off to the van and left me alone in the car. Thankfully, my friend fought back and gave the police a bribe to leave us alone. I can never forget that night, specifically the way they kept scaring us by telling us how the nearby Aarey colony was famous for murders, rapes and missing persons. Instead of safeguarding us that night, they took advantage of the situation.”
In August 2013, following the gangrape of a photojournalist in Mumbai, the then Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh had reportedly said, “On the one hand, you want to have a promiscuous culture and on the other hand, you want a safe and secure environment.” Two years later, it seems Mumbai’s police force are still using the same set of principles and a personal interpretation of law to curb ‘any activity’ that is goes against the grain of Victorian norms.
Equally disconcerting are the arguments put forth by some critics of moral policing. Several social media commentators and reports called the police actions illegal on the grounds that the couples are formally engaged or ‘about to get married’. In this school of thought, courting couples could be given some leeway because they are anyway headed for holy matrimony. But this amounts to obfuscation of a crucial legal point: there is no law that’s forbids any consenting adult of legal age, married or unmarried, from a liaison at a hotel.
Another victim of moral policing Veena Vimala Mani, 26, a research scholar at IIT- Madras, proactively raised her voice, railing against imposition of moral codes. She says, “I believe consenting adults, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation or intention to marry, should be able to engage in sexual acts without fear of moral policing, stereotyping and typecasting.”
It is perhaps wishful thinking that cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai or Hyderabad are construed as emblems of progressive gender politics, owing to their open urban spaces for both tourists and migrants. However, the open doors slam shut as soon as they feel the heat of ‘sacrosanct’ values of Indian culture. For example, in public spaces such as parks, movie halls and restaurants, the sentiments of law-abiding families are given due preference over socialising adults and youngsters. In two- star hotels and lodges, ‘raids’ are tools to impart moral lessons to unmarried consenting individuals who have no resources to afford a room at a posh hotel. Further, the raids are justified as measures to cleanse the locality of any possible anti-social activity.
So if there is to be no sex in the city, should one return to the native village, with its promise of open fields and dense forests that are not on any policeman’s beat?