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No kissing, only missing

No kissing, only missing
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Have any of you ever looked up ‘moral policing’ on the Internet? I hadn’t, until last evening. And, the results that Google threw up embarrassed me royally! The Wikipedia page about ‘Moral Police’ says in its opening paragraph: Moral police is the name given to vigilante groups which act to enforce a code of morality in India through violence and intimidation. Some laws passed by the government, and some actions of the police in India are also considered to be instances of moral policing. The target of moral policing is any activity that vigilante groups, the government or police deem to be ‘immoral’ and/or ‘against Indian culture’. How utterly shameful! Moral Policing is, evidently, an India-specific issue.

While human rights abuse is a global, what amazes me is that a democratic, secular, developing country like ours that aspires to be the next global superpower doesn’t believe in letting people live the way they wish to. What must the world think of us? Are we little children that we need to be told how to behave ourselves? Is this a boot camp? Is there a code of conduct we’re expected to adhere to? How different are we from the Islamic states of the Middle East that clamp down on basic human rights? Saudi Arabia doesn’t let women drive, the Taliban fears educated women and forbids girls from studying. And, Indians are vociferous in their condemnation of any such ‘uncivilized’/ ‘exist’/ ‘barbaric’ abuse of human rights. Talk about double standards!

‘Kiss of Love’ to protest moral policing in Kerala
‘Mass kissing’ protests in Kerala cities against moral policing
‘Kiss of love’ plan in Kerala stokes morality debate

Headlines, like the above, have been plastered across newspapers this week. Why? Because a coffee shop in north Kerala’s Kozhikode city was vandalised last week by supporters of a right-wing party who criticised the public display of affection by some couples there, and a group of netizens had announced plans to hold the ‘Kiss of Love’ drive on 2 November to protest against moral policing. The attack came after a news channel owned by a political party carried a report on 23 October with visuals of ‘immoral activities’ allegedly taking place at the establishment, showing young couples kissing and embracing.

Morality is subjective. How can a second person decide if my actions are moral or immoral? Remember the Kuber Sarup case? Let’s reconstruct it. In a public place, a male puts his arms around a female and presses his lips to her cheek for what may be a second or two. Both separate to depart. The female catches a vehicle and leaves. The male is picked up and subjected to quasi-judicial hell. He is booked, fined and given a dressing down on his ‘indecent’ and ‘bad’ behaviour. Now, how exactly did the policemen decide that Sarup’s behaviour was indeed indecent? Come to think of it, he had no way of knowing who these individuals were: brother or sister, husband or wife, spiritual leader or teacher or just two strangers. The act was consensual; neither complained of an unwanted advance. Would the same policeman have booked an adult female pecking an infant male in public for possible paedophilia? Or all those males embracing heartily as they emerge from the mosque after Eid prayers?

Time and again there have been cases of unjustified interference by self-righteous groups who think it’s up to them to uphold the culture and traditions of Bharat. And, interestingly, in most of these cases the law (judgments passed by the Supreme Court of India has tilted in favour of protection of expression of diverse views, however ‘bizarre’ or ‘ridiculous’ they may appear to these flagbearers of Bharatiya Sabhyata. Take, for example, the time when Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen faced opposition from groups that objected to the film’s release on grounds of obscenity and indignity to women. The Supreme Court dismissed the contention.

Or, actress Khushboo’s case where her opinion about safe pre-marital sex was alleged to be an attack on the sanctity of marriage and amounted to defilement of ‘pious Indian culture’. Every time these ill-informed people tried to use the law to attack people with differing views, the Indian judiciary was swift and firm in its rebuttal.

 From ‘chowmein leads to rapes’ to ‘Valentine’s Day must not be celebrated’, there is no dearth of policing. Why must we stick our nose into business that isn’t ours? Why is any sort of public display of affection in this country an offence to Indian culture?

Are our core values, mind, and upbringing so flaky that any conjoining of body parts, however innocuous, can only be an allusion to the act of coitus? And, what about the time when the Bachchan family proudly stuck their ink-stained middle fingers out for the flashbulbs, and people just cooed about how cheeky they are, and laughed good humoredly? Whatever happened to Bharatiya Sabhyata then? No Indian Culture lessons for them? I repeat, why the double standards?
 
Let’s not forget that we are a democratic society, and we’re all free to exercise our will. Let us respect the constitution. The law should not be used in a manner that has chilling effects on the freedom of speech and expression. In the hand of extremists, we’ll all be doomed. Let’s not Talibanise our society!

Malini Banerjee is a snotty single child, mountain junkie, playback singer, Austen addict, hopes to soon finish writing her debut novel, and dreams of singing alongside Buddy Guy
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