Hardik Patel is the latest - perhaps the only real - threat to our otherwise flawless moral order. Barring this one aberration, we are immaculate as a dharmic society. Legislators no longer smart-watch porn in sleepy Assembly sessions. Rapes screeched to a halt just the other day. Corruption is now history; black money, a rarity. The next generation in this country could well wonder what words alike "adultery" "fornication" "sexual promiscuity", if they are encountered in dictionaries, meant.
Congratulations. For doing so well.
But a question begs attention. I remember a survey on ethical norms and attitudes done in another country some three decades ago. (Since then people have become more realistic and learnt not to waste time on trivial issues.) One of the questions raised was: “Who is more condemnable: a prostitute or the policeman who extorts bribes from her for leaving her un-harassed? The answers were unanimous: the policeman.
Now apply the norm to the present instance.
Let us assume that the "sex video" is not doctored. Was it to strengthen the fortress of morality that it was unleashed? If such were the intentions, the option would have been as follows:
A copy of the video would have been filed, together with an FIR, with the concerned police station, invoking the relevant sections of the IPC. With the monumental state power at one’s disposal, it could have been ensured that stern action was taken and the offender crushed, according to the law of the land.
Image: PTI file photo
Why was that not done? Because, one does not have faith in the criminal justice system? Or, one saw greater profit in the present strategy, with Gujarat elections sniffing and snorting around the corner? That exposes the sleazier inner wear of this sleazy matter.
The prospect of gaining electoral profit from this gunpowder plot – with ammunition photo-shopped, or otherwise - is too tempting. So, the smart cynicism underlying this clumsy plot to crush the head of immorality by making Hardik Patel an example that none would ever forget, seems to be not so clean, after all.
This brings us to the lowest level of moral decline: where morality becomes a weapon in the hands of immorality to milk public perceptions to its advantage.
The BJP has disowned the tape officially. It’s good for the party. But that does not pave its tracks with cobbles of rectitude in strategies. The prime virtue the party has projected in public so far is that of attacking, with windfall electoral profit, the ethical disarray of its principal opponent. It is a mark of our naïveté as a people that we assumed hatred to be free from jealousy. In the moral domain, though, hatred is nearly always a progeny of jealousy. You hate the one who thrives on the vice, which you feel you too should have a chance to farm.
From the ethical perspective, why something is done - the motive - is more significant than what is done.
The worst depravity is what thrives on someone else’s infamy. It becomes unimaginably worse, if the hell-broth of infamy is cooked up - if that is so in the present instance, as Hardik alleges is the case. It signals a level of depravity below which it is impossible to sink.
I too have gone through all this. As I detail in my memoir, On A Stormy Course, three attempts were made to mire my image with trumped up allegations of being involved in sexual harassment or in shielding the harasser. In such instances, the only thing that matters to their progenitors is the power to degrade the object of attack. Truth is nobody’s concern. Muck is thrown, aspersions are cast, and their "pollution-value" milked to the last drop. One allegation is forgotten in favour of the next fictitious plot frothing with falsehood.
What the public overlooks, with each instance of opening such floodgates of prostituting morality, is that the moral milieu of the country gets more and more polluted. As in the case of atmospheric pollution, the polluting aspects of these strategies go unnoticed, when they are launched. They are enjoyed, justified or overlooked, as expediency dictates.
If individuals one after another are defamed and reduced to helpless items of imputed "immorality", it gets established as an acceptable practice in the public domain.
When your turn comes, and you begin to beat your breast, no one understands why you should be whining and moaning? What is so strange about this thing being done to you? It has been the protocol in force in respect of every inconvenient person. What’s special about you? What’s your problem?
There is an issue in this that women should take note. This plot is structured on a silent stereotype with which we are not unfamiliar with: women are convenient tools and deadly weapons.
Want to defame Hardik, Pickwick or Toothpick, you have an effective tool ready at hand. Those men or women who have seen the video under reference, cannot but feel awkward about how a woman is used "for the sake of optics". In this heady world of heartless technology, it is legitimate to use anything - from paid news to paid tools - to win the war of optics.
What this bloodless word "optics" hides is that it degrades human beings into things and tools. If the woman used in the video she cares for her man, she should protest publicly for using her so cynically; for this is outright sexual harassment. If, on the contrary, she has been decoyed into a one-night-stand by the ebullient young man, she should come out and shame him. If it is a case of consensual you-know-what, then dismiss this with a sneer. You owe no one any explanation.
Gender, like birth and death, should be above politics and profiteering. The women of this country shouldn’t, blinded by political partialities, condone stratagems that dehumanise them. An insult is an insult, no matter from which source it issues and in which season. Not even an electoral landslide in a state Assembly election outweighs the dignity of a woman.