When will moral policing end?

Why everyone in this country, be it politicians, the moral police, Right-wingers, religious leaders, celebrities, school principals, the college lecturer or the “auntie” next door, seem to be obsessed with the hemlines of the pretty young things that flit across the Indian landscape

The debate on what ‘good’ girls should and shouldn’t wear is old hat. Everyone in this country, be it politicians, the moral police, Right-wingers, religious leaders, celebrities, school principals, the college lecturer or the “auntie” next door, seems to be obsessed with the hemlines of the pretty young things that flit across the Indian landscape.

While some rave and rant against the freedom of sartorial choice of women in the country, and froth at the mouth while spewing venom against the ‘offensive’ miniskirt, the ‘brazen’ halter top or the ‘slutty’ little black cocktail dress, others are almost orgasmic as they describe in detail what should be done with these Little Lolitas who seem to be oblivious of the fact that they carry the heavy burden of upholding the very moral fabric of this great nation on their frail shoulders.

Ever-so-often, self-appointed moral policemen and sadly women, (read netas and religious leaders) scream into the microphone that these nymphets should be punished for being unaware of the power their hemlines and cleavages hold over the imagination of the Indian male who still seems to be emotionally and mentally stuck in the 70s, blissfully unaware of the fact that urban Indian women have come of age and long overtaken them both in terms of intellect, and also emotional intelligence and are totally comfortable with their sexuality and in their skin.

Others, and this is worse coming as it did from senior SP leader Mulayam Singh, say “boys will be boys” while placing the blame for molestation and rape squarely on the women and their “provocative” dresses.

For instance, RSS head Mohan Bhagwat in a talk in 2013 said, “Rapes take place in cities …. Such incidents happen due to the influence of Western culture and women wearing less (sic.) clothes.”

Soon after, in October, 2014, the BJP chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar came out with this ridiculous statement: “If a girl dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way…”

So frequent is this outpouring of vitriol, that it comes as a breath of fresh air when someone like Amitabh Bachchan comes out and tells his granddaughters Aaradhya and Navya Naveli and other women around the country in an open letter that it’s ‘ok’ to wear what they want and not to bow to bullies and close-minded people. “Don’t let anyone make you believe that the length of your skirt is a measure of your character,” writes the great star in the poignant letter.

However, what made me sit up and take notice of this usual humdrum battle of sensibilities, is the fact, that young women in India are now no longer content to sit back and let the media or celebrities fight their battles for them.

They are taking matters into their own hands and calling out the bigots. A case in point being the recent public shaming of a middle-aged woman in Gurugram for passing some unbelievably appalling and judgemental comments on six young women over their choice of attire.

The woman, who got into a spat with the young ladies over some issue, allegedly made offensive personal comments and tried to garner support from embarrassed onlookers, by indulging in ‘slut-shaming’ as it were and allegedly ‘pointing out’ that women in short dresses are asking for ‘it’.

The ‘it’ here being, an invitation to rape, for committing the ‘grave crime’ of wearing what they were comfortable in and showing a little skin in the process.

She allegedly went on to rave that because of ‘girls like’ them, women get raped and supposedly asked seven men in the restaurant to rape the six women as punishment for wearing what she considered ‘slutty’ clothes. The girls, for a change, did not go and lick their wounds in a corner, but took the lady in question on, and asked her to apologise.

Unsurprisingly the lady, refused to apologise and threatened the girls with dire consequences and the police and even went as far as to mock them by repeating her comments, which was all caught on camera by the enterprising young women.  While I do not entirely agree with the manner in which they heckled and insulted a woman much older than them, I do appreciate the fact that they fought back.

They called her out and asked her to apologise for her lewd remarks.

What was even more heartening was the fact that the girls were supported by another woman in the mall, who spoke up, loud and clear, about a woman’s right over her body, including what she hangs on it.

She went on to point out the fact that it was unfathomable that a woman should entertain such thoughts and air such views against another of her gender. Especially as in this case the girls in question were young enough to be her daughter.

To cut a long story short, the woman stuck to her guns and as a result the girls uploaded the video on the social media to publicly shame her. What followed was the outpouring of rage against the woman, which was very heartening to behold.

It’s good that the common men and women whose sensibilities are shocked by such narrow mindedness, were quick to make their opinion known and come out in support of the youngsters. Within 15 of the video going viral the woman was forced to apologize on social media.

In a Facebook post she wrote, “I extend an unconditional apology to all the girls. In hind sight, I realise, I was harsh and incorrect in my statement. If any, I should have offered my opinion in private. I was concerned, however, I realise that I should have been protective and progressive in my outlook and not conservative and regressive. As a wife, sister and a mother and more importantly as a woman, I value ever woman’s dignity. Once again, I profusely apologise to all women whose sentiments have been hurt.”

Thanks to social media, the whole episode ended with someone being educated about the freedom of choice that women have. While I appreciate the fighting spirit of the six girls and the support that they got, what shook me was the hate that poured out on the woman’s head. While it’s good to voice one’s opinion on things that matter, it’s not ok to abuse someone.

There’s an increasing tendency and a frightening one as that, by self-appointed “social justice warriors”, to troll people, call them names, threaten them and abuse them, all from the comfort of the anonymity that social media offers.

The woman in question was “body shamed” for being obese and very, very ironically, rape threats were issued against her, by the very people who were tut-tutting at her lack of tolerance and archaic views!

Don’t get me wrong! I don’t condone what she said, in fact I condemn it wholeheartedly as any right thinking person, especially, a woman should! But in my humble opinion, aren’t those people who hounded the woman guilty of doing exactly what she did in the first place, that is insult and outrage the dignity and modesty of the young ladies.

By issuing rape threats to her aren’t they stooping to her level of thinking that rape as a punishment for non-conforming to someone’s way of life or thinking is justified? By “fat-shaming” a woman who “slut-shamed” the young girls for their sartorial preference, are we also not guilty of showing intolerance?

Does this whole episode not smack of hypocrisy of the highest order? Doesn’t this trial and subsequent judgment of “rape” delivered by the social media not sicken and shake the collective conscience of right-thinking Indians?

How does standing up for the rights of young women to dress the way they want justify talk of disrobing and ravishing another woman?

Agreed that what she did was reprehensible, but in the end, do two wrongs make a right? I leave it up to you to decide, the mores of right conduct, on social media or otherwise.


Author is former News Editor, The New Indian Express and former founding Editor of a Dubai-based lifestyle magazine Pose. She has 25 years of experience with various News organisations under her belt and used to write columns on Real Estate and Personal Finance for Gulf News