LEGAL ASPECT OF MORAL POLICING IN INDIA

INTRODUCTION

Has anyone ever stopped you from wearing or doing something stating that it is indecent and unacceptable to society? If yes, then there is no harm in saying that you are one of the victims of Moral Policing. Moral policing or Vigilantism is a term that is used to describe the actions of vigilante groups. They act to enforce a code of morality in people and act against the activities which are considered ‘immoral’ according to them. These groups feel that western ideas are attacking Indian beliefs and values. And thus they enforce morality on people who engage in so-called “immoral acts” by claiming that they are protecting the Indian culture. The ways they adopt to oppose western ideas practised in India many times result in violence and harassment. 

A young couple hugging each other in the Kolkata metro were assaulted by other passengers. Two students of the opposite gender were suspended from school just because they hugged each other to congratulate one another. Not just this but a man sitting with his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day was beaten to death in the name of moral policing. These are some of the instances where people tend to cross all the limits and harass people unreasonably.[1]

REASONS BEHIND MORAL POLICING IN INDIA

  1. Patriarchy in the society  
  • The patriarchal mindset of the Indian society considers women as a weaker section in the society that needs to be protected. People are of the view that men have to protect women as they are the strongest members of society.
  • This mindset ultimately leads to restrictions on women for their attire, speech, and behaviour in public and their attitude toward others.
  • Women are considered to be symbols of honour for their families but they are sometimes termed as shameful if they do not follow the restrictions imposed on them. This is how a patriarchal mindset leads to moral policing and as a result, it is made mandatory for all women to conform to all the expectations by the family and the society even if they are against their will.
  • For instance, women are forced to not speak loudly or even to not laugh out loud in the public. And, if a woman acts as per her interests and goes against the so-called norms set by society, people don’t even hesitate to attack or abuse such women in the name of up-keeping morality. 
  1. Police 
  • The police are the official civil force whose job is to prevent and solve crimes and make sure that people obey the law. They also have the authority to use force and ensure peace.
  • But, unfortunately, police who are supposed to safeguard the rights of people take part in moral policing. They ignore crimes such as honour killings, domestic violence, vigilantism and misuse their power by unnecessarily using force against people to stop them from doing so-called immoral acts.
  • These situations arise due to a lack of proper training. They must be taught all the constitutional values to make sure that they do not undertake any such activities under Political influence or due to lack of knowledge. 
  • Many people fear when they are encountered by police in the name of moral policing because of the power police possess. But people must be made aware of their rights so that they don’t get harassed unreasonably by police.
  • There have been many instances where police have humiliated and harassed people in public by claiming that they have such powers to safeguard Indian culture.
  • One such example is the incident that took place in 2015 when police raided hotels in Mumbai and detained 40 consenting couples. They were charged under Section 110 [Indecent behaviour in public] of Bombay Police Act even if they were in private rooms and no such indecency was shown by them.
  • Another incident took place in Ghaziabad when police launched “Operation Majnu” harassed couples in parks by forcing them to do sit-ups in front of cameras which was in fact vandalism at its best.[2]
  1. Laws and Regulations
  • Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes books and paintings that deal with obscenity. It was amended in 1969 to exclude material that is for the public good like contraceptive ads or religious figures. But police misuse this section to file cases against film posters and advertisements that are deemed to be obscene.
  • Section 293 deals with the sale of obscene material to people below 20 years, whereas section 294 deals with “obscene acts and songs”. But the obscene acts are not properly defined and are open to interpretations. Police use such loopholes to justify moral policing acts undertaken by them.
  • Earlier when Section 377 of the IPC criminalized homosexual activities it was used by police to oppress the rights of the LGBTQ community. 

MORAL POLICING AGAINST GIRLS

  • Girl’s bodies are subjected to moral policing as they are considered to be a distraction for boys. They are put under control by putting unreasonable restrictions on their dress code, nails, hairstyles, etc.
  • Girls are not even allowed to behave as per their wishes. Many educational institutions do not allow girls to talk or look at boys, making them believe that it would distract boys.
  • This attitude of people creates a mindset that boys are not at all accountable if they get attracted to girls and harass them if girls are not willing to be in a relationship. These institutions blame girls for provoking them and force them to follow unreasonable rules.[3]
  • A girl is made to believe that she should be ashamed if she talks with boys or wears hair in a way that makes her look beautiful. This is how few educational institutions harass girls mentally and create a mindset that leads to the downgrading of society.

MORAL POLICING AGAINST BOYS

  • Not only girls but boys are also subjected to moral policing right from their school level. Boys who are gay or who are interested in feminine things are shamed by teachers.
  • They are taught that they have to be aggressive enough to be masculine. They must not be emotional and should not cry regardless of the situation.

IS MORAL POLICING JUSTIFIABLE?

  • It is justifiable when one tries to bring moral development in the society but if it is done by violent means it is unacceptable. It is senseless if one tries to stop physical assaults done on women by forcing them to refrain from wearing short clothes through violent means. Many times these instances of moral policing infringe the fundamental rights of Indian citizens. Sometimes it leads to killings and damage to property
  • But on the other hand sometimes moral policing can be justifiable if it is not violent. Moral Policing done for the betterment of society through peaceful means is right. For example ‘The Gulabi gang’, a group of women activists who take different peaceful initiatives to do justice for oppressed women. People who are willing to work for society should approach the police or judiciary instead of taking violent actions.

CONCLUSION

  • That thin line between right and wrong moral policing should be identified and efforts must be taken so that people do not cross the limit when they work for society.
  • Police must be trained and educated so that they do not do wrongful activities. The police force must be reformed by making them aware of constitutional rights and values.
  • Most importantly people must be made aware of the extent to which police have authority and how they can avoid becoming a victim of moral policing.
  • Educational institutions that practice moral policing against students must be asked to change their policies. Students must be made aware of their rights through seminars.
  • Apart from these initiatives, efforts must be taken to reform the laws which have loopholes. Because these vigilante groups use these loopholes to attack people in the name of moral policing.
  • For example, in 2016 the Supreme Court declared Khap panchayats to be illegal as they used to encourage honour killings. In 2017, it held that the Right to Privacy is a fundamental right and recently in 2018 it decriminalized homosexuality. This may help people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community to avoid being victims of moral policing.[4]
  • There is nothing wrong to urge people to follow morality but one should not be hypocritical when bringing such changes in society. That means one should make sure that he undertakes activities that are non-violent and morally right when trying to bring morality to society.

Author(s) Name: Bhargavi Mundhe (Shankarrao Chavan Law College, Pune University)

References:

[1] Supriya Joshi, ‘Moral Policing- The Bad and The Ugly’ (Indian Folk, 22 May 2018) https://www.indianfolk.com/moral-policing-bad-ugly/ accessed 5th August 2021

[2] Saket Kumar Mishra, ‘Moral Policing Laws & Solutions’ (LAWsome, 17 July 2021) , <https://www.flawsomelawyers.com/post/moral-policing-laws-and-solutions> accessed 7th August 2021

[3] Meghna Mehra, ‘Decoding The Culture Of Moral Policing At School Level’ (Feminism India, 31ST October 2019)  <https://feminisminindia.com/2019/10/31/decoding-culture-moral-policing-school-level/> accessed 6th August 2021

[4] Santhosh Kumar, ‘Moral Policing / Mob Lynching in India – Right or Wrong?’ (IAS Express, 23 July 2018) <https://www.iasexpress.net/moral-policing-in-india-for-upsc-ias-gk/> accessed 6th August 2021

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