Needed: Public display of disaffection

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moral-policing

The 6 August raid by a Mumbai Police team on hotel rooms on the outskirts of the metropolis, in which some consenting adults were charged with indulging in indecent behaviour in public and subsequently fined 1,200 before being let off with a warning, smacks of high-handedness and rank insensitivity.

It was reel life playing out where the moral police broke down doors to intrude into the privacy of individuals. It was akin to watching a rerun of the much acclaimed Hindi film Masaan set in Varanasi in which Devi Pathak and her male companion are beaten and humiliated because they have allegedly committed the big sin — sex outside marriage between consenting adults.

Heads shook and tongues clucked at this abominable treatment in reel and real life. Moral policing is not new, but the question now is, is it here to stay? Who gets to decide that lingerie on a mannequin is against Indian values and who will take a call on the boundaries that relationships must be confined to?

The Mumbai Police’s knock on the hotel rooms is eerily reminiscent of an AAP lawmaker and then Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti’s midnight raid on a residential neighbourhood in the Capital in 2014 after he accused some foreign nationals living there of allegedly indulging in drugs and prostitution. Bharti had claimed to be acting on a complaint from local residents and had demanded that the Delhi Police raid the place.

The outrage over the Maharashtra incident is also similar to the Kiss of Love protests that accompanied the vandalisation of a cafe in Kerala where, according to a news report telecast by a Kerala TV channel, alleged immoral activities took place.

The Mumbai Police team which conducted the raid has come up with the same excuse as Bharti: That they were merely acting on a complaint. However, the police do not seem to have carried out due diligence or handled the matter with the sensitivity or discretion one would expect in such cases. A case in point is the reported statement given by a 19-year-old girl to Mid- Day, a Mumbai publication, in which she spoke about how she is contemplating suicide because of the stigma and the mental trauma she has had to suffer because of the one indiscreet act by the police. The same report captured the humiliation of another woman who was with her fiance at the time of the raid.

It is time we as a nation and society revisit concepts such as morality, obscenity and indecent behaviour such that they best reflect the times we live in. Perhaps it is also time for a Public Display of Disaffection to send out the message unambiguously and unequivocally: Thus far and no further.

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