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Separating law from moral police

 MPost |  2013-05-16 02:17:25.0  |  New Delhi

Time and time again, need for police reforms in India and training the men in khaki in ‘gender sensitivity’ have been pressed for, but unfortunately, the urgency of the matter has so far failed to register with the highest legislative, penal and executive bodies of the country. The shocking incident that happened on Monday night and involved policemen thrashing a girl not just in full public view, but before glaring television cameras, ostensibly for ‘drinking in public’, makes for a gross violation of policing limits and amounts to a completely disproportionate and vindictive punishment meted out to a young person for a minor breach of law. Though no one is contesting the fact that the young woman was in the wrong and had committed a small crime by consuming alcohol in public, the treatment meted out to her for that slight error in judgement was no way warranted, and amounted to blind persuasion of a vigilante brand of justice. More alarmingly, the fact that the young woman was with a male friend, who was an equal participant in the activity, was interpreted as an evidence of their indulging in ‘obscenity’, with allegations by the residents of the Ghaziabad area that they were ‘caught’ in a ‘compromising position.’ In a country, where young people make up more than half of the population, under no circumstances can such instances of social and cultural intimacy be branded as constituting obscenity, or ‘creating nuisance’, as some of the complainants had put it. Moreover, what kind of a retrogressive mentality calls a woman a prostitute because she was seen in company of men other than her family members?


As some of the justifiably infuriated commentators have said, the police had clearly overstepped their mark by misbehaving with the young woman and breached the limits of civil decency by slapping her in public. The right course for the police would have been to simply get the medical test done that would have confirmed whether they had consumed alcohol in public space, or not. Since consuming alcohol in public is a bailable offence under Section 294 of IPC, the police should have just stuck to the routine of overseeing those strictly legal procedures. Beyond that, it wasn’t in police jurisdiction to interfere in matters such as what she was doing in a vehicle, or whether or not she was in a state of ‘undress’, or more threateningly, whether or not she was a prostitute. It was simply not the business of the police to pass moral judgement on what a woman chooses to wear in public, or who she decides to move around with. Above all, the very language of society that singled out the woman to prove she held a diminished moral ground because she was drinking, must be challenged. Because violence inflicted on the girl did not start with mere slapping; it began the moment overzealous social surveillance driven by outmoded moral codes saw a young man and woman together in public and considered it to be an offence.

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