Thursday, 20 November 2014

Moral Policing

It struck me as a little ironic that the Kiss of Love protest in Kolkata against moral policing had got over just a couple of weeks ago when i got moral policed for the first time in Kolkata. Kiss of Love protests which has its origin in an incident which happened in my hometown, Calicut, first happened in Kochi, Kerala and soon spread to other cities. I had written about it here. A post about various reactions on this movement can be read in English here. I am happy we are living in a time when scores of people across the country are unapologetic and up against all forms of moral policing.

I had been in similar situations many a time back home. The most recent one was when my male friend and i were asked to state the nature of our relationship including details of when we had met etc by city traffic police in Calicut, Kerala. It had never happened in Kolkata and i was in fact surprised about it in the beginning. Later i almost forgot that such a thing existed. I could roam around the place at ungodly hours and not be questioned by anybody. I could be with anybody i wanted to and not be asked what my business was at any place.

I got a whiff of it at Santiniketan. Had gone there on last new year's alone and was stopped by two men who weren't even police.

D Jeet, S Kar and i had decided to walk to S Kar's place a few kilometres from the institute. We had no purpose. It was a lazy early winter afternoon and we just felt like going some place. We walked for a couple of hours taking unnecessary detours and reached a vast expanse of land beside a huge pond. It looked beautiful and we rested for some time there. When we were on our way back two men on a motorbike stopped us and asked us what we were doing there and who we were. They were speaking in Bangla. S Kar and D Jeet said that we were film students and were there on a location recce. They were not impressed. S Kar's talk with them resulted in one of the men pushing him by the collar. They were rude and intimidating. They were arguing that the place wasn't safe at that hour (around 6 pm) and that we had no business to be there. D Jeet was trying to be polite and agree with everything they were saying just so that they would let us go. After a point i couldn't take their tone and the numerous accusations they were showering on us without any valid reason. I asked one of the men to show their id proof. Please keep in mind that this is the first thing that one should do if one was to be in such a situation. Most of the time they wouldn't be police, like the men who questioned me at Santiniketan. These people however, were police. I asked them what was wrong in us being there that being public property. They kept on saying that the place wasn't safe. One of them called their superiors and asked us to wait till they arrived.

The id card that one of the men produced when i asked for it showed his designation as 'sepoy'. I am not sure what it was of the superiors he called upon. They arrived in a jeep. They too were rude. They shouted at us for being there. 'Bhadro mohila', one of them said about me, suggesting it wasn't right for a 'decent', seemingly 'educated' woman like me to be there at that hour. Decency is supposed to be a good virtue. What is considered decent also matters when it comes to morality. Clearly for those men a girl being with two men at an isolated place with apparently nothing to do was indecent. This is why we need to be cautious about being called 'decent'. If indecent is the tag line one has to bear for just being oneself, then yes, everyone has to claim their right to be indecent. If it were just two men there and they were questioned it probably wouldn't have been about the decency but just about the audacity. To none of my male friends who were questioned in similar instances of moral policing was the question of 'decency' raised. Gender changes the aspects of morality and the accusations. Class matters too, so does the colour of your skin which translates to caste in India. Frankly i was quite surprised when they said that even with my dark complexion. It had to be the clothes which showed that i was quintessentially middle class.  

The new bunch of police people continued harassing us for several minutes. S was trying to explain how we were only going to check some scenery out for a shoot that was soon going to happen. He was trying to tell them how he had been to the same place earlier and had even shot there (this part was true. A lot of students from my own batch including S had been to the same place for a shoot as a part of a workshop that happened before our mise-en-scene exercise). D was again peacefully trying to agree and get us all out of the place. The men however came up with a new demand that we went to the police station with them. This was after we had all shown them our id cards. S had even given his address which was some three kilometres away from the place.

I asked them if they spoke English. I questioned the man who was speaking the most and asked him why we were being asked to do that, what prevented us from entering that place at any hour of the day and why we were being held that way. I asked them to arrest us on proper charges if at all they wanted to take some action on three people being at a place in the evening. Then when he started replying in bangla asking D to explain what he was saying to me i repeated the same in hindi.
After much beating around the bush and more harassment and exchange of words they tentatively uttered the words 'you may now go'.

I wasn't relieved or happy. Was enraged and felt violated. I will, however have to admit that if the same incident were to happen in Kerala, all three of us would have ended up in jail. They wouldn't have hesitated to even beat us up or molest us. So this is the plight we need to be ashamed of. One has to be happy that it didn't happen in a place worse hit by moral policing when it is a common practice. One is left with no choice but to compare and feel relieved. If there is some consolation it is in the fact that more and more people are openly protesting against it.

After some time all three of us started laughing and cracking jokes on the incident. We had some great ghugni, buttered bread and tea on our way to S's place. I thought about it for some time after reaching the institute too. I have decided if i happen to be in a similar situation with somebody hereafter i will just smooch the people with me in protest. Just kiss.

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