Feminism India

Moral Policing: A Case of Watchdogs Gone Rabid

You’ll feel their eyes burning holes on you as you walk hand in hand with your boyfriend. Those very eyes will pointedly look the other way though when you squirm from a pair of wandering hands in a crowded bus.

They will brazenly stare, drool and slyly mutter, "nice boobs" (think of the colourful verbology in your mother-tongue) at you. They may also look the other way when they find someone on the roads desperately in need of help. Like some must have done the day my cousin bled to death after a hit-and-run accident on a busy highway.

Given a chance to persecute and harass, they would pounce on you. But if it is about doing something constructive, they would rather pass the chance. They are the warriors of distorted notions and archaic principles. They are the kind to vigorously nod and agree when their mates explain that the girl was "just asking for it". You know the kind; the kind that goes by the collective name of ‘moral police’.

Moral policing is too pretentious and highly inappropriate a name to denote plain old heinous bullying. There is nothing ‘moral’ about moral policing. Forget honourable, they are simply society’s watchdogs gone rabid. Unfortunately though, this crazy lot enjoys its status in society as some kind of disciplinarians.

I feel strongly about this smokescreen of moral policing because I have been victim to this more than once. I know that moral policing can get very nasty. I have seen them in action. Counting the self-righteous passerby ‘uncle’ with his phony relationship advice, and the gang of drunkards calling me by colourful names when I was doing nothing ‘loose’ other than holding hands with my boyfriend on a busy walkway, I can say that I have met a few.

A week ago, a 23-year-old boy committed suicide succumbing to the bullying and cyber harassment following an incident on Valentine’s Day. It was a life wasted, taken forcibly away from yet another young person as he was accused of doing something supposedly amoral.

To learn about the incident in detail, you could read this article.

For a society that is largely okay with men taking their dicks out and peeing on the roads, we do have a curious understanding of what constitutes a vulgar and obscene display. A starry-eyed couple cuddling up on the beach is interpreted as ‘immoral traffic in a secluded area’. A chaste peck on the cheek would allegedly bring down the "great Indian culture". When hormone-ridden teenagers dressed in red on Valentine's day are accused of tainting our culture and way of living, it is safe to conclude that we have quite a problem on our hands.

A couple of months ago, I heard the news about the attempted suicide of a school girl. The report said that while the students were inside the exam hall taking exams, the school Principal and her crew went sifting through their school bags raiding for banned items. Someone caught a love letter from the girl’s bag and she was called into the office mid-exam to undergo interrogation by the Principal and several teachers. Humiliated and distraught from the grilling session that went on for hours, she returned home and set herself on fire. The girl later died in a hospital from severe burns and a case was registered.

I know a girl from school who was married off at sixteen. She was pregnant when she took her 12th standard board exams. Why do we turn a blind eye when someone decides that a 16-year-old child is ready to become a mother or when a 24-year-old is forbidden from fooling around with his girlfriend? Our eyebrows are permanently on the rise when it comes to teenage love and relationships. Why are we so obsessed with sex and it's expressions when we have a million other issues in India that deserve to be dealt with first?

You know what is worse? Most people who hear these stories agree that these events are unfortunate. But they also dismiss them as mere overreactions. Assaulting a couple caught in compromising situations or rebuking teenagers with a crush on their classmate is deemed fitting. No one cares enough about the often blurred lines between good-natured advice and brutal sadism. Why?

Because we are conditioned to mind other people’s business, that's why! As kids, we were rewarded when we told on other kids' secrets. We all had that tattle-tale classmate who was also the teacher’s favorite. Poking our noses into other people’s lives is expected behavior. Our teachers were seasoned detectives who sniffed out potential puppy love. In high school, my class teacher had the audacity to tell my friend that the repercussions of her "love life" (so she had a boyfriend!) would be heavy. She was warned that in another ten years, when her future husband’s family would enquire about her conduct at school, they wouldn't be given a glowing account. She was told in no uncertain terms to break up and be a good girl to avoid such disasters in future!

For as long as people can get away with this attitude, moral policing and possibly worse will be nurtured. The roots of this issue go deep. Where relationships shall ruin the family honour, there holding hands with a dear one will remain immoral. Where the body has valued more than a person, there a rape victim will be considered better off dead. Living life on these terms, one can almost see how moral policing can be dismissed as a necessary evil. One can almost dismiss such deaths as an unfortunate rarity. Almost.

A sort of Jill-Of-All-Trades! Interested in way too many things to focus on just one although I do admit to having an infatuation with writing. Writing towards a cause is even better and hence, here!