Pitfalls of moral policing
On Monday evening, a couple travelling on a metro train in Kolkata was harassed and beaten up for allegedly 'hugging' one another. Those who assaulted the couple included middle-aged and elderly people. The incident sparked outrage and protest in the City of Joy, where, consequently, young demonstrators protested at metro stations and raised slogans against moral policing. The metro administration has said in a Facebook post that it is trying to get to the bottom of the incident. It has also dismissed the claims made in a fake Facebook post that it supports the attack on the couple. The Kolkata metro criticised the incident, stating that it is against any form of moral policing. It is surprising that certain people in a metropolitan city like Kolkata still hold on to the old and orthodox stance against public display of affection. In the rush of city life, these individuals seem to have forgotten the need to think positively and look at each other with a sense of appreciation. Instead of attacking the couple for what can be described as a simple public display of affection, the couple needed to be appreciated that they could express their love for each other in a crowded metro train. What is, however, more appalling, is the mob frenzy that was created around the issue. One can understand that one or two people may find the couple's behavior unacceptable and may object. But, when suddenly a group of people starts misbehaving with the defenseless couple, it smacks of a sinister design. When a mob violates the law, it is difficult to take action against it because identifying the real culprit in the mob is difficult. The trouble-makers try to whip up support for their cause and try to involve more people in taking the law into their own hands so that nobody is caught and punished for their misbehaviour.
Moral policing is rampant in most parts of the country, especially in the smaller towns and villages, where it is an accepted form of social life and such incidents are hardly reported to the police or raised by the media. In big towns and metropolitan cities, however, these incidents catch the attention of law enforcement agencies as well as the media. The incident is showered with publicity and the law enforcement agencies need to act against the perpetrators of the crime. In the Kolkata case also, the police need to file an FIR, scan the CCTV footage and act against those who have harassed and assaulted the young couple in the metro train. Though there are laws to prevent different types of moral policing, it is the punishment given to the assaulters that will act as a deterrence to such incidents. Prior to the current incident, there have been many incidents in which young couples were harassed and thrashed by vigilante groups. These incidents need to be criticised in unequivocal terms.
Meanwhile, from the CCTV footage available, it was not clear as to what exactly unfolded on the spot. The Kolkata Metro, after analysing the footage, maintained that there was commotion lasting for a minute but it is not clear whether the couple was beaten up or not. The news about the incident came through media reports, which based their stories on the pictures and videos shared on social media platforms. The CCTV footage recovered so far does not establish that the couple was indeed harassed or thrashed. The Kolkata Metro has also said that it is in the process of further augmenting its CCTV coverage of the station and its facilities. A survey to install more CCTV cameras has been completed and approved. The procurement and installation of additional CCTV cameras is underway, said Ajay Vijayvargiya, General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata.
The incident has witnessed angry protests in many parts of the country where the protesters have demanded the immediate arrest of the culprits. Now, it is between the Kolkata Metro and the state government's police department to figure out what exactly happened with the couple. If they have been beaten up, as the media reports suggest, the guilty must be identified and brought to justice. But, if the entire story is proven to be fabricated, then the police need to identify who raised the issues on social media and how it was blown out of proportion. The incident comes as a reminder that moral policing must not exist in the country and we need to take a stand against it. The police need to shed light on the right version of the story.