What lies beneath that moral policing?

  • Renuka Narayanan, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Feb 14, 2016 16:28 IST
Anger has become the ‘sthayi bhava’ or dominant mood of our public life. (istock )

I saw a horrifying video clip on Facebook this week of a group of Indians shaming and assaulting three meek young couples on a city bridge of some kind, slapping them and demanding the girls’ mothers’ phone number. What on earth were they being so self-righteous and unkind for? It was not clear to me from the clip. Was it because the young people were dating or ‘pre-Valentining’? The assaulters were older people in their thirties or forties, stout, strong and well-fed. Much toop (ghee) had obviously gone into their making. The young people stood quietly while the ugly words and blows hit them. It was particularly terrible to see a stout, angry ‘aunty’ slap one of the girls. As for the boys being shamed and slapped, it was pitiful to see their thin shoulders and absolute stillness.

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Whatever the reason for the unchecked rage of these older people — dear God, were they never young themselves? They were clearly engaged in some kind of moral policing. Why does our public freeze sometimes into cowardly silence when louts are harassing a girl or woman on the bus or on the street but unleash such rage on quiet young couples minding their own business?

It seemed yet another sorry instance to me of the way anger has become the sthayi bhava or dominant mood of our public life. Granted, we are a battered public in many ways and have many reasons to be angry about life in general. Granted, every life has its share and more of frustration, disappointment, heartbreak and grievance. But to take it out on young people for whom the world is brightly coloured just then, for whom ‘duniya rangeen hai’, as we’d say in Hindi, seems cruel and unfair.

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Let them be, in my view. If we really believe that life is only a passing parade of tableaux vivants as our spiritual guides teach us, let us make a conscious emotional and socio-cultural choice. Let us turn into benign spectators of the nice things in the great drama of existence created by the Big Baazigar, play our parts with grace in the lila.

We could be pleased at the sight of other people’s good times and happy moments, especially of the young, without feeling jealous or destructive, with a good wish and an indulgent smile instead for young couples. Isn’t the sight of love and affection more refreshing to our own spirit than anger? Surely we should save our righteous anger for the really damaging things?

It seems a terrible irony for women to participate in moral policing. It is one thing to want to protect a naïve daughter from being seduced and abandoned by some irresponsible male. Girls could be taught and trusted to think it through, the pros and cons explained to them as responsible beings. But we also need to acknowledge the truth that it is by controlling women that men enforce the caste system. We all know that, though few are willing to bring gender and caste together on the same page. Surely that is the coupling that we should recognise and address as dangerous?

The views expressed are personal

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