Home Uncategorized A look into Moral Policing and its law in India

A look into Moral Policing and its law in India

Introduction

With the growth of a new generation of the society, which generally has a more dissimilar approach to culture, comes the increase of the so-called vigilante groups, the self-proclaimed ‘Protectors of the Indian culture’. These groups are in contrast to the idea of a more foreign-influenced open society and go a huge way in opposing them and protecting the so-called Indian culture.

In recent times they have become more active, this has led to more cases of vandalization being reported. Furthermore, this does not end with vandalization of the places such as parks, cinemas, bars and clubs, Assault on people has also been one of the over-the-top actions they have taken to regulate society. There have been incidences where these extremist groups have shut down various exhibitions and fairs on the grounds of indecent display of art and culture. They have also issued Dikkats against western clothing and other forms of Western influences.

There have been more than few occasions when some politicians, news channels and even the police have supported the actions of these groups. This external support is one of the major factors in these vigilante groups being more fearless.

All this in totality leads us to think about whether all this moral policing is right or now. There is still doubt regarding the legality of the same because there is still a broad spectrum under which various interpretations of the laws mentioned in the constitution can be derived. The diverse interpretations of some words give us numerous definitions of the laws, but still, the question is which definition is most appropriate. 

Laws regarding moral policing

There are laws in India that are linked to obscenity. Currently, Sections 292-294 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 are used as a technique to deal with cases of obscenity.

The sale and distribution of obscene books and other related material are covered under Section 292 of the IPC. It also criminalises books, paintings and other related material if it is deemed to be “lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest”. This section was also revised in 1969 to exclude material that was supposed to be good for the public at large. The included material consisted of Condom advertisements, scientific material, religious figures and art. This section is also seen to be used by the Police to record cases against film posters or indecent advertisements.

Section 294 of the IPC, deals with material such as obscene songs and acts. This section is expressed as:

Whoever, to the annoyance of others

(a) Does any obscene act in any public place, or

(b) Sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place,

Shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.

Analysing the true meaning of Obscene

The real meaning of the word Obscenity is not very well clear in the minds of the people. India consists of a very diverse population, Each and every section of the society has a different meaning to the word obscenity. What might be obscene to one part of society might not be as obscene for another. Each group has its interpretations of words like ‘Public indecency’, ‘Public Obscenity’ and ‘Morality’.

For Instance, the word Obscenity in Section 292 of the IPC has no clear definition. The people, the Vigilante groups and even the Police have their own interpretation of the word obscenity. ‘Obscene Act’ and ‘Public Obscenity’, both mentioned in Section 294 of the IPC have no proper interpretation given to them. 

Judiciary has also played a role in this, leaving behind whatever definition in the IPC, it was vital for the judiciary to take any action in this matter. Reviewing the recent clashes regarding these words and the vagueness of these words, the judiciary could have done better to curb this hazard, rather than being ignorant. It is still not late for the judiciary, giving clarity regarding the laws and the interpretation of the words can go a long way in shaping up the future of the country.

The police have also had an impact on moral policing in India. At times, the police have been seen ignoring the moral policing and that vandalization happening in the society or taking part in it. All this in turn has made the vigilante groups and the few people of the society less fearful of the consequences of the vandalization of the moral policing they do.

Recent Incidents of Moral Policing 

Valentine’s day is one day that is opposed by a lot of vigilante groups that are trying to maintain the so-called true Indian culture. There have been numerous cases of vandalization and assault being reported by couples on valentine’s day. These groups have majorly been seen to be attacking gift shops, card shops and couples holding hands on valentine’s day.

Efforts of the police seem to be lacking at certain times. At times this is due to some of the political parties in power supporting the ideology of these vigilante groups.

Some of the major Incidents of Moral Policing:

  • A man riding his bike with his wife was attacked by three people in Kochi on 19th February 2020.
  • Malwani Police in Mumbai raided various hotels and guest houses and detained a lot of couples, charging them under Section 110(Indecent Behaviour in Public) of the Bombay Police Act. Even after these couples stating the consenting nature the Police detained them and fined them.
  • A 42-year-old man was killed for visiting his girlfriend late at night in Kerala. The next morning, he was seen leaving the house by the neighbours. They attacked him and killed him.

Recent Cases relating to Moral Policing

In 2017, The Uttar Pradesh Government formed Anti Romeo Squads. These groups were formed in order to protect women from the increasing eve-teasing and rape cases. But after a few days, the functioning of the squad changed, instead of about protecting women and chasing eve-teasers, the police squad was seen storming public parks, coaching centres, roadsides and even colleges. Couples and students walking along the road were stopped and questioned, they were also asked to share the contact details of their parents. All of this became a humiliation for the students and the couples. These actions of the squad brought a lot of introspection of the people and the media about the squad.

In the leading case of Rituraj Mishra v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Allahabad High Court held that preventive policing is lawful and the police have adequate power to do so under the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Police Act. Furthermore, the reason stated is that preventive policing curbs cognizable offences. But the High court has not discussed the violation of Fundamental Rights enshrined under Article 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Anti Romeo Squad of the Uttar Pradesh Police is still violating fundamental rights by an arbitrary exercise of police power which is impermissible under the Indian Constitution. 

Recently, The Sangh Parivar members attacked an exhibition that was portraying the works of a fine arts student Chandramohan, of M.S. University. He was beaten and was left injured by the group. He was even arrested by the police on the grounds of hurting religious sentiments.

Few ways to overcome moral policing 

Spreading Awareness:

Spreading awareness can go a huge way in decreasing the cases related to moral policing. People should be educated about their rights and the laws relating to moral policing. If people start knowing the laws and understanding the consequences of moral policing, it will show in the progress of society. This will make the vigilante groups think more than twice before doing any undignified and unlawful act.

Laws need Amending:

A proper definition of the words such as Obscene Acts and Public Indecency should be given. There is also a need to bring out new and stricter laws relating to Moral Policing. Harsher punishments and huge fines should be awarded to those who commit wrongs. Indian Laws need to be changed and be more defined and not giving any scope for misinterpretation of the law.

Issue of Moral Policing should be taught at school:

Cultivating body image issues in children during school years is one way to start inculcating the right mindset in individuals. Issues such as Sexual Harassment and Moral Policing should be explained at the school level. Children should be taught how to tackle the situation if they ever get into them. Apart from the students being educated, parents also should be educated about these issues. Parents should also understand that these groups are uneducated and supporting their children is of supreme importance.

Public Campaigns should be held:

The government should take initiative and hold campaigns and Advertisements to curb Moral Policing and Vandalization. This will also put a fear in the minds of the vigilante groups that the government and people are being educated and are against them.

Elders should be educated:

 Since society is evolving so are the practices and the older generation should be educated about the same. They need to understand to not be judgemental and if not supporting the new ideology they should also not hate people with newer ideologies. Elders should understand that instead of being judgemental, it is better to give a moment’s thought before reacting.

The Police should be Trained:

Police play a vital role in regulating such activities. Police should understand the laws clearly and act on them, Afterall the role of the police is of key importance on how the situation proceeds. If the policy itself is not sure about the laws, then how can hand their safety to the police. The fundamental rights and their role in various situations including vandalization and moral policing should be taught properly.

Conclusion 

India is home to numerous and diverse traditions and ethnicities. Being a dynamic culture, it elastic enough to stretch its boundaries to include the up-to-date trends and cults. As such it will be wrong to construe it as something wrong or absurd just because it is western or modern and does not resemble the ancient and orthodox trends of the Indian culture.

In such a set up each group interprets ‘public indecency’, ‘public obscenity’ and ‘morality, over their own moral compass hence it’s more than obvious that an act is going to end up offending one or the other section of the society.

Therefore, it can be articulated that moral policing is evil to a sound society as imposing one’s self moral norms on others is not just incorrect but can even devastate the essential liberties of others. Also, a law itself cannot implement morality but an efficient system of law enforcement will eventually establish morality.

Endnotes

  • The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (ACT NO. 45 OF 1860) s.292, s.294
  • The Bombay Police Act, 1951 [Bombay Act No. XXII of 1951] s.110
  • Rituraj Mishra v. State of Uttar Pradesh [2017 (4) ADJ 684]
  • The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
  • Constitution of India, 1950 art.19 
  • Constitution of India, 1950 art.21

This article has been written by Mohammad Umair Raza, from Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. 

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