Moral Policing of Women: Is it Justified?

Since olden times, women have been bearing the brunt of any kind of extremism in society. And today’s India, no matter how secular it might appear on paper, still tilts towards extremism in various forms – be it religious or regional. And certain elements in the society have taken it upon themselves to make sure that the distinction is crystal clear. They lay down moral guidelines which even the Constitution of India does not touch upon. And even have their own cadre of cops – the moral police – whose aim is to uproot elements of Western culture from the society and restore pure Indian ones. In this quest, they have entrusted upon themselves the task of cleansing society by means of vandalizing Valentines Day parties, roughing up couples in parks, manhandling and even molesting girls who have the audacity to venture out to pubs to chill out with drinks and imposing directions against Western wear. I wonder since when did assaulting women to make them toe the line become part of Indian culture. When grilled about his aggression against girls in pubs, a Sri Ram Sena fanatic contended that he was only trying to teach the girls a lesson and his actions should be seen no more than a brotherly act towards a wayward sister. God save us from such brothers! The same man was seen showering accolades on Sadhvi Pragya Singh on national television, a terrorist, as if she were the epitome of Indian culture! On probing deeper, the same fanatic was found to be a frequent jailbird, once having stoned the house of a popular lady politician. He has also blatantly promoted Hindu suicide squads in answer to Muslim suicide bombers. Do we see elements of Indian culture here? The fact of the matter is, Sri Ram Sena had been sidelined by the Shiv Sena and was trying to create its own sphere of influence to grab attention by resorting to these extreme measures. The reasons for any political party of pressure group to use moral policing are 1) to grab media attention and 2) to create an ilk of frenzied fans with gullible minds in the masses that would blindly support them in their ghastly acts. Now with the advent of coalition politics, it has become imperative for every major party to keep smaller ones in their kitty to measure up to majority. The ruling party of the coalition will not legislate against these smaller fish fearing loss of majority and fall from power. Leaders of a popular women’s separatist movement in Jammu & Kashmir recently exposed flesh trade rackets operating in the valley. Many of them have been found to be fabricated cases. The idea was to induce in the minds of the people the notion that the Government does not do enough to protect girls of the valley and thus in turn press for separate statehood.

The fanatics’ drive against Western attire is nothing short of absurd, more so when it is imposed in educational institutions citing it as a source of distraction for male students. Now India is a top exporter of students to foreign universities. I wonder how our male students abroad manage to keep their concentration in their curriculum and reach the pinnacles of academic success there given most Western universities do not boast of dress codes. For the sake of argument, even our modest Indian Saree has come under the scanner with the question among foreigners being how a midriff-baring six-yard long outfit could be called more humble than a pair of jeans and tees.

The Indian dress code that they speak of has its roots in the Nationalist Movement wherein women were supposed to be modern in their thinking and traditional in their dressing sense. No harm indeed. But times change. Why should the Indian woman stick to the Saree only, while the man has come a long way from Bandhgalas and Dhotis to three-piece suits?

It was horrifying to see women officers manhandle girls found in parks with their partners. One of the alleged couples turned out to be siblings later on, embarrassing the cops. Here again, we can put our finger on the human tendency to seek our fifteen minutes of fame. It was this motivation, the chance of being seen on national television promoting and advocating girdling “errant” Indian girls and boys, that prompted the women cops to act in such a horrendous manner.

Intolerance towards women and their changing social etiquettes stems from their changing educational and social status. Armed with education and backed by self-earned finances, women now demand, legitimately, the right to date their potential partners before settling down and donning clothes to their taste to enjoying a relaxing drink after a long run down day. This aroused the anger of the old guard, consisting of aging men with their ideals frozen in a time where women were supposed to be demure, submissive creatures economically dependent on men. Groups like Sri Ram Sena cash in on this anger for their own political ends.

It might be true that we do have women in society who dress inappropriately to occasions. But humiliation is a terrible teaching tool. It only leads to rebellion which is probably what extremists yearn for; to divide society into two feuding groups and secure regional vote banks.

In a nation fraught with unemployment, where education is scarce, there is no dearth of people who would help push the evil cause of these extremists in return for cash. The larger question is – why are only women targeted? Does anti-drinking Indian culture apply only to women? Or are men immune to the ill-effects of alcohol? What do they have to say about temple sculptures at Khajuraho depicting goddesses savouring liquor? Are they divorced from Indian culture? Across India, lakhs of men die due to alcohol dependency, leaving their families to fend for themselves. Their poor wives often have to turn to prostitution to make both ends meet. Have any of these vanguards of morality ever raised the banner against men drinking and ruining their families?

It is very difficult to specify what Indian culture comprises of as it is an amalgamation of a plethora of cultures from around the world. The existence of India can be attributed to its openness to accepting and assimilating foreign elements. Moral policing arises out of the narrow-mindedness prevalent in society. Once society decides step down from its rigid stand on empty morality and teaches its men to respect women and not judge them by their clothes, incidences of heinous crimes like rape will without a doubt come down. That will be when Indian culture touches its echelons!

Shruthi Venukumar

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