In Focus 21st February, 2017

Of All Things That Are ‘Moral’ And Oppressive.

February, the month of love, the month of Valentine’s day and also inevitably the month of moral policing. Each year with Valentine’s day comes back the horror of moral policing. Not like it ceases to exist otherwise. The debate, whether Valentine’s day is an example of how the western culture is eating away our Indian culture is revisited.

I honestly don’t understand. Is showing love and compassion not a part of our Indian culture? Or is showing unnecessary power on couples and students a part of the Indian culture? When we talk about morality and Indian culture, we shift the entire focus from the inequality and injustice women face.

It is time we address moral policing not just when Valentine’s day is around the corner. We need to talk about all those subtle forms of power and violence subjected on women and sexual minorities in colleges, homes and public spaces, basically everywhere and all the time. For instance, students, mostly girls, who live in college hostels have to face the brunt of patriarchal rules and regulations that college authorities come up with.

Recently, Shashi Deshpande, Principal from Government Polytechnic Institute came up with a remedy for PCODs. Eureka! Deshpande quoted, “I have heard theories on why girls suffer from PCODs (Polycystic Ovarian Diseases) at an early age. When they dress like men, they start thinking or behaving like them. There is a gender role reversal in their head. Due to this, the natural urge to reproduce diminishes right from a young age and therefore they suffer from problems like PCODs”(via Mint). How ridiculous!

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I have listed down 5 facets of moral policing that need to be addressed. Like NOW.

1. Hostel curfews:

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Hostel curfews have created ruckus in most of the college hostels in India. Many colleges in Delhi and other states of India have different hostel timings for boys and girls. Female resident have to be back to hostels by 8:00 PM or even earlier. For any late nights, they have to get written letter from their local guardians. Putting stringent rules and regulations which are based in a patriarchal mindset restricts women’s freedom in the name of safety.

2. Dress code in hostels/colleges:

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Female residents in hostels are expected to dress in a particular way that society considers as decent and normal. You know decent clothing. Salwar Kameez. Our Indian culture considers shorts and skirts as indecent clothing. Hostel authorities and society questions the character of a woman who wears shorts and mini skirts. Which part of our Indian culture decides what and how an individual should wear or behave? It is time we change our mindset and not our clothing.

3. Access to college libraries/canteens:

We want our young generation to excel in studies but then we restrict female students to access college libraries by having hostel curfew timings which prevent them from going to the library during late hours . We want our youth to socialise but then we segregate boys and girls and create separate entries and exits to access college canteens. We need to create an environment where girls and boys can thrive without any judgement, where real conversations can happen. The act of playing dictator has to end.

4. Right to choose your partner:

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Arranged marriage between a boy and a girl is considered as a pure form of marriage in Indian context. Love marriages do happen in India but it is no easy job to convince your parents and you are responsible to answer the society that you live in. Most of the time love marriages are looked down upon. With the discrimination and judgement going around, those that belong to the LGBTQIA community have to live under the closet trying to fit into society’s norms.  

There is an intersection of gender, caste, class and religion which is then further scrutinized by the self-proclaimed guardian society. Amongst an unmarried couple, the woman is always subjected to subtle forms of violence. There have had been horrific instances of honor killing in many parts of India. How is this honor of killing greater than the honor to accept a couple’s decision? It is time you know, that we ingrain this in our conscience that  no one has the right to take decisions for another person.

5. Access to hotels & rented flats:

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In India, if you are an unmarried couple, sindoor and mangalsutra is the key to get rooms in hotels. As adult unmarried couples, you do not have the privilege to choose any hotel to spend your holidays. Unmarried couples who would like to move in together are questioned and asked to present proof of their marriage.

Young tenants, especially girls are told what is allowed in the apartment and what activities will bring dishonour to the entire colony she lives in. These guardians in the disguise of patriarchy limits our lives and makes us feel unsafe. Whether one is single, married or unmarried, all of us have an equal right to live and enjoy life.

Can we strive towards being less judgemental and more tolerant this year? Let’s create a gender-inclusive safer spaces where each one of us feels accepted. Let’s re-define ‘morality’.

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