MORAL POLICING AND OBSCENITY LAWS IN INDIA.
“The world would be a better place when standing too close with consent won’t be offensive than standing too close without consent”
Moral policing refers to enforcing morality on individuals that engage in so called “immoral acts”. Moral policing is done by vigilant groups who take immense pride in their culture, sometimes to the extreme. They feel like they need to protect Indian culture from the infiltration of western ideas and beliefs.
Unfortunately, even law forces that are supposed to safeguard the rights of the citizens partake in this activity to apparently weed out the western influences like celebrating valentine’s day, pubs and clubs, unmarried couples going on dates.
India’s fixation with marriage and how marriage solves all issues is a cause of concern, since anything that goes against this norm is termed as tarnishing the Indian culture. So much so that Airbnb doesn’t host unmarried couples in India. The conservative mindset still follows through even in the Indian base of the global chain.
Section 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code are used to deal with obscenity. There is no proper definition of an obscene act and it is open to interpretation.
The Oxford dictionary defines obscene as ‘offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency
in 1965, the landmark Ranjit Udeshi judgment of the Supreme Court adopted the Victorian-era Hicklin test.
The test assessed obscenity by the standard of someone who was open to immoral influences and was likely to be corrupted or depraved by the material in question.
Over the years, the judiciary has narrowed the scope of obscenity. In the Aveek Sarkar case of 2014, the Supreme Court did away with the British Hicklin test and adopted the American Roth test, instead. As per this test, obscenity was to be evaluated like an average person would, applying contemporary community standards.
Community standards are static. What was obscene a century or even a decade ago, need not be obscene now.
Indian courts have often settled the debate between morality and freedom in favour of artistic freedom
Obscenity laws are frequently used by the police to justify acts of moral policing.
Some of the recent examples are:
- Recently 3 women working as sex workers were arrested in Mumbai. Stating that porsecution was not a criminal offence under The immoral traffic prevention act, 1956, Bombay high court ordered release of the workers detained in the corrective institution.
Justice Chavan said that the women were adults and entitled to fundamental right to move freely. Also there was no evidence on record stating that they were seducing or running a brothel.
- The Kiss of Love campaign, which was launched in 2014 in Kerala to protest moral policing by kissing in public, faced backlash from the same right-wing groups that it was trying to counter. The campaign was dropped after the government threatened action under obscenity laws.
- Incidents like couple hugging in Kolkata metro resulted in co-passengers assaulting them and beating them up.
- In another incident in IIT Madras, a girl was subjected to policing by the guards because she was hugging her male friend. These incidences have opened up the Pandora’s box of moral policing in India.
- Corps harassed a Bangalore man in cinema for a quote on his T-shirt.
Until and unless we have a voice to protest against the unjust and unfair, our right to dissent and our opinions respected, there is a glimmer of hope.