Why the Indian law doesn't care about love, same-sex and making out

Saurav Datta
Saurav DattaNov 07, 2014 | 18:16

Why the Indian law doesn't care about love, same-sex and making out

Enthuiastic participants in the "Kiss of Love" protests in Kochi, Mumbai and elsewhere, now facing a severe backlash from both the police and hordes of vigilantes, might have forgotten about Meerut police's "Operation Majnu". In 2005, inspector Mamta Gautam set out to cleanse the town of all acts of "indecency" and "obscenity". Accompanied by an eager crew of media people, she and her men swooped down on couples and thrashed them. The cameras kept on rolling, in the meanwhile.


"Censors have their own neuroses", Justice Douglas of the US Supreme Court had once quipped while throwing out a case where the American government wanted to ban all displays of "obscenity" on screen. Back home, the ardent believers and fervent practitioners of censorship, who chafe at any display of "indecent" or "obscene" acts, don't let their neuroses remain just neuroses. Aided and abetted by the law, they seek to implement and impose their agenda, often resorting to violence.

The sanctimony and moral righteousness of these people miserably fails when it comes to defining what is obscene, indecent, or profane. But that doesn't act as a deterrent, because they consider themselves the vanguard of whatever (in their sphere of morality and imagination) counts as Indian culture and civilisation.

The detriment of such cultural vigilantism doesn't remain confined to controlling and suppressing women's sexuality and people's expression of feelings and intimacy. In recent times, there has been a sudden resurgence in the attacks on the LGBT community, and efforts to block out expressions of same-sex love, be it on screen, stage, or in the public sphere, have been redoubled. And so has the severity with which these activities are carried on.


Vigilantism never cares for the laws, but when certain provisions of the penal laws allow its proponents and practitioners to run amok, there's cause for consternation.

Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 110 of the Bombay Police Act, contain iron-clan prohibition of "obscenity" and "indecent behaviour in a public place". Platoons of policemen and brigades of the moral police have a field day with these two provisions, molesting, assaulting, extorting at will.

Courts have tried to mitigate the harm caused by the cultural belligerence of the conservative right (mostly Hindus, but now it seems to have become a free-for-all for all communities) but haven't been able to do much to write home about, especially because prudery isn't in short supply on the bench, too.

For reasons more than one, it would be wishful thinking - that the government of the day, or the state, would take proactive measures against this violent censorship. Because it is the solicitude of the state which provides the basis for curbing freedom of expression. Consider this, the "Report of the Working Group on National Film Policy" (1980) devoted a section to "the need for censorship", and said :"Particularly in the context of a hyper-conservative society like India, which has rigid social and religious norms of behaviour, where the political consciousness has still not matured and where harsh economic conditions inhibit individual growth, there are bound to be severe limitations on the freedom of expression."


Only a chronological gap seems to be separating 1980 and 2014. The structural pillars of moral policing remain as strong as before.

The sagging spirits of believers in freedom and liberty shall no doubt be buoyed by the brave protests being mounted against the actions of the purveyors of "morality". They can be boosted further by some satire, because mordant wit indeed delivers a strong blow to dour prissiness. Paromita Vohra's 2010 documentary "Morality TV aur Loving Jehad- Ek Manohar Kahani" would be apt for the occasion.

Last updated: November 07, 2014 | 18:16
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