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Criminalizing of Moral Policing

Moral Policing/Vigilantism is a term used to describe vigilante groups that act to enforce a code of morality in India without legal authority. It is the ugly truth of modern India. Some of India's laws, some actions of police forces and the government are also considered to be instances of moral policing.

The target of moral policing is any activity that is deemed to be immoral or against Indian culture. The term morality in this time and age has different meanings for different persons and therefore moral policing has different consequences for different persons. Moral Policing in its broadest sense could mean a system where a strict vigil and restriction is imposed on those who violate the basic standards of our society.

The basic standard of our society could be found in its cultures, age-old customs which are derived from the scriptures and ancient texts like Ramayana, Manusmriti, and other relevant texts. It is a situation where the moral character of an individual is questioned by those who advocate this phenomenon.

It is significant to note that it is not only conducted upon human agency but it stretches upon other mediums like Cinema, theatrics, paintings, literature, and so on. This phenomenon is basically conducted by several vigilante groups which are often politically motivated and their way of conducting moral policing is quite coercive and arbitrary in nature.

Moreover, the reasons for which we witness moral policing are at many times unreasonable and the sole objective of such outfits have been to oppress the youths who are involved in acts "which are considered as contradictory to the Indian culture and is deemed as vile" by such outfits. On the other hand, this phenomenon might arise collectively by the people of our society if the obscenity lies in certain painting, film, play or literature.

The principal reason for the objection could be related to the obscene content which has been put up for a public display or it could either contain some blasphemous element which had been responsible for hurting the religious sentiments of the people of our society. Consequently, such article will be condemned by the outfits who are responsible for delivering hate speeches and acknowledging communal rift which ultimately leads to communal tension. Moral Policing, is a phenomenon which is regressive in nature and in many instances, it is in contravention of our fundamental rights.

It is important to mark here that the primary objective of this phenomenon is to impose restriction and limitations upon such acts which are contradictory to our Indian culture, the imposition of restriction could either take place through legal orders which are officially given by the respective court or it could be done by the vigilante groups through unjustified acts which includes arsonist, stone-pelting and violent protest march.

The ways through which a sign of disapproval is shown by such groups is in fact threatening to human life and is flagrant and overt in nature. The conception of this phenomenon contravenes the secular nature of our Country as well as its Constitution to some extent if we speculate and assess the outfits which are involved in promoting their conservative beliefs and ideologies.

Moreover, the consolidation of such outfits is based on the strength of religion and it is an element of religion which is considerably and unequivocally liable for the promotion of moral policing.

Moral policing is a blanket term used to describe vigilante groups that act to enforce a code of morality in India. It is a system to restrict the persons who breach the basic standards of our society. Moral policing is based on the ideas of religious belief, cultural practices or sometimes even on the basis of laws, rules and regulations.

In most cases, moral policing is aimed towards having a good society where pure cultural and religious practices are not polluted by any foreign influences. Enforcing a code of morality in India by a group of vigilante groups is known as moral policing. Moral policing can be directed towards an individual, a couple or even towards a group of people if it is found in indulging in activities that are unacceptable by the vigilante group or the people who claimed themselves as moral police who take the law into their own hands in the name of protecting the culture, beliefs and social norms from any harm.

A few examples of Moral Policing are the restrictions imposed on the students in dress code, fashion, dyeing of hair inside the school premises. Any actions which are said to go against the values of Indian culture are targeted by moral policing. Moral policing could be an act carried out by law enforcement agencies, government or vigilante groups.

The objective behind the actions of moral policing is resisting the cultural concepts which are considered to be imported from Western countries. Some of the instances of moral policing that has come to the attention are protesting against wearing western clothes, shutting down art exhibitions as the paintings were considered to be obscene by some section of the people, attacking bars, pubs and criticizing the celebration of Valentine's Day etc. Closure of bars by state governments, banning films by censor board or Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) have also been deemed as an act of moral policing.

Who all are the perpetrators of such offences?

Vigilante groups, Religious, Organizations, and Unaffiliated citizens:
  1. In 2005, National Congress Party (NCP) workers stormed a pub in Pune, Maharashtra, broke window panes, and damaged furniture claiming to protect the Indian culture.
  2. In 2005, a fatwa was issued against tennis player Sania Mirza by a cleric of the Sunni Ulema Board citing her attire on the tennis court and advertisements were un-Islamic.
  3. In 2008, the Kangleipak Communist Party (Military Council) went too far to rig an explosion near Imphal in Manipur, where people had gathered to play a traditional gambling game, killing several people. The party claimed that the game affects Manipuri culture adversely.


  1. In 2005, police raided a public park in Meerut, accompanied by TV camera crews, and attacked couples sitting in the park in front of cameras. The Police claimed that the purpose was to check sexual harassment.
  2. In 2011, the Ghaziabad police launched "Operation Majnu" and caught couples in parks and made the men do sit-ups in front of TV cameras. Here, the police claimed that the operation was to prevent innocent girls from being trapped by boys with evil motives.
  3. In 2014, the police in Gokarna attacked a party of about 200 foreigners with sticks. The Police claimed that the party was going on after the established time limit. The victims alleged that initially, the police had demanded bribes to let the party continue.

Central and State Governments:

  1. The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has been accused of moral policing by some filmmakers. Directors alleged that, even if the board certifies the film, it is often not allowed a release in some states due to protests from local political parties or moral police.
  2. Throughout India, restrictions have been imposed by some state governments on timings in pubs, bars, and other establishments that sell liquor.
  3. Some states including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Karnataka had opposed the sex education programs designed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development and National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) to implement the policies of the National AIDS Control Program II (NACP II).

Factors that lead to such Moral Policing in Indian Society

Indian parents have a reputation to be strict and controlling about the morality and attitude of their children. The children, who later on in their lives, emulate those values in society in the form of moral policing. Rising Western Culture: India has several vigilante groups that claim to protect the Indian culture. Further, they would resist and oppose cultural concepts that deem to have been imported from the western culture such as food, dress, products, behaviors, etc.

Patriarchal Mindset:
People with a patriarchal mindset views the security of women as their duty, for they are perceived as the weaker sex and gullible. So, they would impose restrictions on women in terms of speech, attitude, clothing, public behavior, etc., and also would attack or abuse those women in the name of up-keeping the morality.

  1. Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalized materials like books and paintings if it is deemed to be obscene. But police personnel use Section 292 to file cases against film posters and advertisement hoardings that are deemed to be obscene. Section 293 deals with the sale of obscene material to people under 20. It also deals with "obscene acts and songs" to the annoyance of others that shall be punished with imprisonment or fine or with both. Both police and vigilantes use loopholes in such laws to punish others in the form of moral policing and escape with impunity.
  2. Section 377 of the IPC criminalizes sexual activities against the order of nature, including homosexual sexual activities. It is used by police and vigilantes to oppress and curb the rights of the LGBT community.
  3. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (PITA) was originally passed to prevent human trafficking. But it has been used by police to raid hotels if they suspect a sex racket being run there even without proper evidence, thus embarrassing legal couples and young people.
  4. Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with obscene acts and songs. However, the word obscene is open for interpretation, as there is no clear-cut definition of an obscene act.
  5. Section 293 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the prevention of distribution and sale of obscene materials to people who are below the age of 20.
  6. Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the prevention of distributing and selling obscene materials, books, paintings.

The police are a distinct public organization as it is given extraordinary powers to use force. Their role is to ensure law and order by acting as guardians of social harmony. But they aggravate traditional patriarchal values because of lack of sensitivity training and awareness about constitutional values, lack of patrolling, work against marginalized and disadvantaged groups, turning blind eye to crimes such as honor killings, domestic violence, and failing to register cases against vigilantes. In fact, police themselves perpetrate moral policing by raiding public parks, pubs, and hotels and embarrassing young people.

Judicial process being costly, favors only the rich and affluent, hence poor people resort to moral policing to avoid perceived dishonor leading to blaming of victims, especially against women. The long delays in the formal judicial system to attain justice in contrast to the immediate atonement that moral policing seeks to provide is also responsible for even the educated persons to support moral policing.

Subjective belief
The factors which are liable for the conduct of moral policing is quite subjective in nature. More often it is observed that the propaganda which has been constituted for opposing the element which contradicts the basic tenets of our society is solely dependent on the subjective belief and faith of an individual who creates a storm in a teacup over mere conduct through rhetorical exhortations.

Elements like Indian culture, traditions and customary rights which are in existence are kept in mind and the significance of the same are reflected upon the social dynamics by the extremists who claim that the mere act which has been committed either through mode of painting, literature, film, or by two opposite genders are against the basic tenets of our Indian society and is in contravention of the same.

The mere 'act' which has been committed is deemed as an offence against the society and it is to be assumed as an offence of the greatest degree by the people of our society because the same has been responsible for hurting the religious and sanctified elements of our society.

The people of our society are given a 'benefit of doubt' by those groups who claim an act of mere affection or proximity to be obnoxious and immoral and in consequence of the doubt, a particular set of individuals belonging to one faith violates the fundamental rights of another group belonging to a different faith which ultimately leads to lynching, arson, and great loss of human lives.

So, the first factor which leads to moral policing is a "subjective belief" of our society which is solely responsible for aggravating moral policing. In a general case, where a police officer arrests a couple on the ground that they were being affectionate in a public place is mainly calculated by the officer through his own subjective belief and outlook towards what is decent and what is indecent.

It is a kind of a bane because there are no specified acts which are deemed as indecent in nature rather it has been left at the discretion of the police officer who has a specific right to arrest the individual on the pretext that he has violated the basic tenets of our society.

Section 110 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951 states that:
Behaving indecently in Public.: No person shall willfully and indecently expose his person ill any street or public place or within sight of, and in such manner as to be seen from any street or public place, whether from within any house or building or not, or use indecent language or behave indecently or riotously, or in a disorderly manner in a street or place of public resort or in any office station or station house.

The futility of section 110 of the Bombay Police Act is undoubtedly to a great extent because it is archaic and it needs to be repealed since it reflects upon those issues which are no more deemed as objectionable in our society. I would like to point out that the definition fails to elaborate the meaning of 'indecent' and it has been left at the discretion of the police officer.

Firstly, the meaning of 'indecent' has been left for us to comprehend and it has become the duty of our so-called police officers to tie a tag of 'indecent behavior' to such acts which displays even a tiny amount of public affection. It has been contended that such regulation helps in maintaining peace and order in our society but it has a darker picture to show on the other side. Firstly, such kinds of moral policing impede the development of our society as a whole because it acknowledges in a very strict manner, the role of the different genders which ultimately promotes conservatism in our society.

Secondly, it promotes gender biasness which makes it difficult for the women of our society to move freely and act independently. The major crux of this argument is that people are harassed on the pretext of moral policing because their acts like 'holding hands in public places or 'hugging' is objectionable to the extent that it leads a third person to commit an offence because he is incapable to have control over his emotions.

It is often pointed out that the main objective behind moral policing is to keep the law and order intact in the state by imposing limitations on the basic rights of an individual like right to freedom of speech and expression and movement irrespective of their opposition. In other words, we could say that the freedom has been given to the police officer to interpret the meaning of 'indecent' according to their own whims.

If an act is indecent in nature, it should be categorically stated and further justified as to how an act which is constituted is indecent. It cannot be simply generalized as it will make the situation adverse for the people of our society.

Case Law:

Pramod Mutalik vs. The State of Goa & Ors.

In this case, the petitioner filed a petition challenging the orders passed by the District Magistrate of North Goa and South Goa, which banned the entry of petitioner in the State of Goa. The Petitioner substantiated his argument by stating that he is the leader of an organization called "Sri Ram Sene" and prior to the ban the petitioner had been to Goa for several days and during his stay he had visited several temples to seek blessings from the Almighty.

He stated that he was involved in social activities in a peaceful manner which has irked certain individuals who cherished in tolerance towards the very right raising such issues. He consolidated his stand by claiming that no other criminal complaint or proceeding was pending against him in the state of Goa with reference to law and order.

The Petitioner filed a Criminal Special Leave petition to Appeal before the Supreme Court of India and he argued that the repetitive orders which were passed by the Government of Goa and District Magistrates of South Goa and North Goa are "illegal and without jurisdiction".

The matter was heard by a bench of Chief Justice of India HL Dattu and Justice Amitava Roy. The bench rejected the appeal by stating that the petitioner's act is likely to create a breach of public tranquility and that the petitioner is conducting Moral policing. Consequently, the bench requested the petitioner to come after six months.

Coming back to the notion of Subjective Belief

From the above case we can infer that the Petitioner was solely responsible for his acts as he was primarily dependent on his subjective belief for conducting 'moral policing' and he reinforced his same subjective belief on his organization members which created a lot of problem between the people who professed different religion. However, it is significant to note that our System works efficiently in cases where there is a minutest possibility of disorder in the State.

The Code of Criminal Procedure as well as the Indian Penal Code is drafted with a lot of precision and it makes it easy to deal with the offenders of our society. The Constitution of India grants us the Fundamental rights but they are always meant to be exercised subject to law as they are not absolute in nature because it has to maintain peace and order in the society.

Social networking platform: A catalyst towards moral policing

We may argue that social networking platforms have much to do with but it has a dark side too. In recent times, cases of mob lynching have been reported in states like Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. A mob lynching occurs when people are usually misled by the false information of any individual through mediums like 'WhatsApp' and 'Facebook' and they are usually portrayed as a kidnapper, child abductor;

So, under a great apprehension, the people of our society gather and mercilessly beat the innocent person about whom the information had been shared. Lynching is a collective hate crime. However, there are other factors responsible for the occurrence of mob lynching apart from the sharing of fake rumor on social networking platforms, these could be the immobility and inactive attitude of the politicians, police officers and so on. 7

Such horrendous acts of sharing fake news are mainly done by those perpetrators who aim to develop enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, etc. The amount of information and data which are uploaded on everyday basis is more likely to overload the platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp with junk.

For instance, a video was shared on YouTube with a title "A Hindu girl burnt alive for attending Church Prayer meeting", the same video could be found on Facebook too. When I researched for the same video, I came to a conclusion that it was an incident recorded in Guatemala, where a woman was burnt alive because she was alleged to have shot a taxi driver. Consequently, it was reported later on news portal that it is fake.

Cow Vigilantism: Another form of Moral Policing

It is a form of collective violence which is perpetrated by the majoritarian towards the minority on the presumption that the minorities are in regular consumption of bovine meat. In a Hindu religion, cows are worshipped and they are seen as a symbol of life and thus they are revered and worshipped. Cows are often associated with Hindu gods like Lord Krishna.

The amount of violence which is perpetrated by this kind of moral policing is indeed conspicuous and it threatens the lives of minorities in India such as Muslim and Dalits. The reports further point out that this kind of moral policing is on the high rise. The Hindus have made their grounds firm and have recklessly violated the human rights by lynching the minorities, i.e.,

Muslims on the pretext that they are regular consumer of beef or they are involved in slaughtering Cows. Several cases have been registered where the vigilant groups have been misled by the false information which have consequently led to the loss of lives of the minorities.

The phenomenon of Cow vigilantism became firm from the moment our government imposed a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across India, under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals statutes. The primary concern with this kind of moral policing is that it is very much correlative with religious sentiments of the vigilantes who take law and order in their own hands on the pretended reason that cow slaughtering hurts their religious sentiments in consequence of which they kill the people who profess Islam or on the basis of any kind of evidence which points out that the individual had been involved in slaughtering of bovine or consumption of its flesh. The situation deteriorates further when politics is associated with religion, where political outfits claim through their rhetorical exhortations that they will not tolerate cow slaughter and that they will take revenge for the same.

Consequently, such kinds of claims are made in front of the people of the society who in return worship such political outfits so as to portray that they are ardent followers of Hindu religion and the same is reinforced by them which further leads to polarization.

It is significant to note that such polarization is in contravention of the secular aspects of our Country which creates communal tension between the majority and the minority. Any kind of association which strengthens one religion on the one hand and weakens the other religion on another hand give rise to communal tension and is in violation of the communal harmony.

The violence against the Muslim community was initiated when Mohammad Akhlaq was killed in Dadri District of Uttar Pradesh in 2015 on the suspicion that he had butchered a calf that had gone missing. Consequently, he was mercilessly beaten to death and his son Danish and grandmother were assaulted. The fact is disappointing that till date none of the accused had been punished.

Other events took place which led to the brutal murders of the Muslims, and there was an attack on Dalits as well in Una in 2016 on the excuse that they were transporting cows. It is disappointing to note that the ministers of the Government have not criticized these horrendous acts of violence. By looking at such incidents, we could infer that the mob lynching has become a common offence since it hardly affects our government and immobile police officers, who are ignorant of the successful criminals who harm fellow citizens.

Cultural terrorism and Moral Policing

In recent times, we have witnessed violence being increasingly inflicted by actors such as Cow vigilantes, Anti Romeo Squads and Hindu Yuva Vahini. Violence had always been caused by political outfits such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Ram Sena. These are extra constitutional actors aiming to impose their subjective belief through use of physical violence.

Under the current Political condition of BJP regime, these groups have become more consolidated. The violent action of these Non state actors has been followed. These actors are more coercive and arbitrary in nature since they impose cultures upon the youths of the nation to follow irrespective of their faith and belief.

They work towards changing equations at the level of culture. What they are trying to establish is not Indian Nationalism but Hindu Nationalism, in the name of establishing Hindu Rashtra they are committing offence on wide scale in our nation. The Indian culture according to them is the one which is specially crafted under the supervision of Manu Smriti. They basically have a duty to define as to dietary habits, restriction on eating, relations between two opposite genders and who should worship whom and the celebration of several festivals are part of their curriculum as a cultural terrorist.

Every ordinary citizen which are part of such groups often have a motivation of a common specific belief about how a world should look like and how it should naturally be. The 'common belief' acts as an organizing principle which culminates into collective violence in furtherance of the common intention. The members of these groups pose themselves as Moral Police and they reckon morality on the basis of Code of Manu.

They promote hierarchy, in a sociological term: a varna system, which promotes hierarchy of an individual through specifically putting them either in the lower bottom caste of Shudra or in the Upper caste called 'brahman'. The main objective is to bring such hierarchy back into our society.

A democratic and progressive culture promotes the progressive schools in our society which encourages the development of our society and consequently a democratic nation impede the anti-democratic culture. Hence, these groups aim to attack the democratic norms on the pretext of 'preserving Indian culture, morality, Indian ethos and religious sentiments.'

Honor Killing and Rape: Another form of moral policing

"Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace." -- Kofi Annan

The offence of rape and honor killing also comes under the branch of moral policing because such kinds of offence are mainly committed by the society and families due to societal morality and pressure which leads to the lynching of an innocent person. These types of offence are gender specific since it impedes the freedom of women in our society.

Although it is important to note that in some cases of honor killing where the offence takes place because of the betrothal of two individuals belonging to different castes, race, or ethnicity, in such instances, both the parties are lynched by the society on this pretext that they both have violated the tenets of our society.

Honor killing is one of the most disdainful offences because it is psychologically complex and sociologically intricate and also it is one of the morally distressing violent crimes against the humanity. It is a direct violation of human rights since it involves the execution of those innocents who have an intention of simply getting into wedlock and starting their new lives.

Honor killing is one of the horrendous crimes because it sets up a precedent for our own society that the act of committing murder is justified where the innocent had violated the basic tenets of our society. It is more likely to justify honor killing, where those who are involved in killing their sons and daughters escape the due process of law by pleading through lies and misleading statements.

Effective solution to eliminate Discrimination of Women and the Significance of CEDAW

All kinds of Gender based violence, 'honor killings', is responsible for depriving the women of our society right to life, liberty and security, the right to be free from all kinds of cruelty and torture, inhuman or callous treatment and punishment, right to equality as well as equal opportunities in the family and the right to best attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The kind of patriarchal principles which are coercively imposed upon the women of our society by our Panchayats as well as ancestors needs to be tackled by our Country since it is a state party and being a state party, it is the duty of our country to ensure that all kinds of discrimination against women in matters relating to marriage and family relations are eliminated, we need to provide them with the same right to enter into marriage and to freely chose a spouse and let them marry their partner only with their free and full consent.

We also have to make sure that the informal bodies like Khap Panchayats, which unnecessarily interferes in the personal matters pertaining to choose a spouse or the decision of marrying a partner shall not take place and such bodies shall refrain from interfering in the lives of the women of our society. The right to choose a spouse shall be left at the discretion of the women of our society.

Since India is a state party to the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), it is legally bound to remove discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise, as mentioned in section 2(e).

Article 2(e) of CEDAW: States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and, to this end, undertake: to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise.

India being a part of this convention, it is legally responsible to take relevant measures to abolish prejudices and customary practices such as 'honor killing' since it is life threatening and opposed to rationality, the idea of honor killing is based on the superiority or inferiority of either of the genders, as it has been mentioned in Article 2 (e) of the CEDAW.

Whereas Article 2(f) of CEDAW talks about the modification or repeal of certain existing laws, customs and practices which are responsible for discrimination against women. The framing and constitution of statutes that criminalizes the different types of acts which fall within the domain of 'Honor Killing' is certainly not adequate if there is absence of systematic procedure for implementation and enforcement of the statutes.

The role of Active prosecution is significant because through this medium we can realize the elimination of discriminatory and arbitrary rules such as "Honor Killing", and in order to ensure that the state parties meet their duties to take all relevant and appropriate measures through which they can eliminate discrimination against women.

We can also take some of the effective preventive measures to promote gender equality and through organizing gender sensitization programs and workshops in the rural as well as urban areas. This can also be done through several initiatives such as that of peaceful procession in which we can raise our voice against dull patriarchal conception and demand the elimination of the same so as to remove discrimination against women.

There are several articles in the Constitution of India which guarantees to its citizen, the right to equality, liberty and so on. These are the articles which forms the very basic structure of the constitution.

I shall discuss the most basic provisions in our constitution pertaining to them:
  • Article 14: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
  • Article 15 (1): The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
  • Article 15 (3): Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.
  • Article 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Consequently, the above-mentioned articles are some of the national commitments of our country. It safeguards us to a great extent and we as a citizen are also bound by these articles and it is upon us to check whether our rights are being violated by any other person or authority.

We have to keep a regular check on whether our rights are safeguarded or not so as to maintain stability and order in our society being a subject of the state, also it is inherent to keep in mind that any law which has a loophole is subject to several limitations which can curtail our freedom and rights.

The major objective of our constitution is to collectively accommodate people belonging to different faiths and regions and promote unity in diversity. It is our sole responsibility to abide by our constitution at all times.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Since Union of India is a member to this covenant, it is mandatory for the country to provide to all its citizens the rights guaranteed under the following articles:

Article 26: All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 23:
  1. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
  2. The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized.
  3. No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  4. States Parties to the present Covenant shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. In the case of dissolution, provision shall be made for the necessary protection of any children.

Article 17:
  1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.
  2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

In relation to the above-mentioned articles, it is evident that all of these articles are very much opposed to any kind of moral policing in our society, which means that none of them actually promotes or acknowledge any kind of moral policing but simply tries to eliminate them.

Article 23 (1) states that a family is the fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society but here in our country these relevant section seems to have no impact on the people of our society because they have their own notions of morality and good conscience, they have their own definition of what is just and what is unjust, they have their honor & pride above head which persuades them to commit offences which violates the basic human rights and our Indian Constitution as well.

The major reason behind such grave violation of human rights in the name of moral policing is the so-called customary practices and association of religion with politics which makes it even more difficult for the State to attain that Secular status and be able to accommodate people belonging to different faiths together and live peacefully. These laws have been drafted keeping in view the statistics of such violence as these types of violence are committed throughout the world.

The grave violation of human rights which takes place through moral policing in instances of Honor Killing is abominable and unacceptable. The innocent lives are taken away because it is felt that they have brought dishonor upon the name of the family, women are the worst sufferers of moral policing since it is really difficult for them to seek assistance especially in rural areas due to lack of law and order, corrupt practices and lack of safety and security. India being a member of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights", has a duty to protect the lives, rights and liberty of individuals and protect them from grave and heinous crimes.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 16 guarantees the following provisions:
  1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Case Laws:
  1. Jamshed and Another vs. State of Uttar Pradesh and others
    The objective behind stating this case law is that two major partners have a right to marry each other and the same can take place in the eye of law. Any kind of moral policing which impedes the procedure of marriage shall be in violation of the basic rights of an individual.

    However, it is important to note that under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955: several kinds of relation are prohibited which comes under the Prohibited degrees of relationship and any form of marriage where the participants are related to the ancestors of each other through blood are also prohibited.

    The grounds of caste, creed and religion cannot be exercised by the offender to justify his grave acts of honor killing and if the same excuse takes place, then it will be a severe violation of human rights. Such acts will promote more enmity and create polarization between people belonging to different castes and religion.
  2. Jyoti Alias Jannat and Another vs. State of Uttar Pradesh and others
    The Indian Majority Act, 1875 states that a person who attains the age of 18 years is a major vide Section 3 of the Act. In the eye of law, it is considered that those individuals who have attained the age of majority is well aware of his/her welfare. Therefore, he/she who has attained the age of majority can go anywhere and live with anybody.

    Our country is a free and democratic country and it is well known that even the interference of parents which violates the basic rights of a mature individual is unacceptable. Once an individual attains the age of majority his movement cannot be restricted so as to impede him/her from going anywhere and live with anybody. This right has been guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and it holds a highest place in the constitution.
  3. Joginder Kumar vs. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1994 SC 1349
    In this case, the Supreme Court laid down the guiding rules on the law of arrest. It stated very clearly as to on what grounds the arrest of a person shall take place. The act of noting down the specific reasons for making an arrest of the deemed offender in the case diary by the police officer is desirable because it reflects the officer's conformity and clarity in being compliant with the specified guidelines of arrest.

    These guidelines are in conformity with the basic rights of an individual such as that of personal liberty mentioned in our constitution. No arrest shall be made on the ground that it is lawful for the police officer to do so. The power to arrest any individual is one thing and it cannot be without any lawful justification. It is the obligation of the police officer to justify the arrest of a person apart from his powers. Arrest of an individual without any justified grounds can cause indiscriminate amount of harm to his/her reputation as well as self-esteem.

    It is unacceptable that a routine arrest of an individual is made on any kinds of false allegation that he/she is responsible for any kind of commission of an offence. It would be a prudent act of the police officer that he makes an arrest after considerable amount of investigation and reach a conclusion that the deemed offender is solely responsible for the offence committed.

    It is also in the interests of the society as a whole that the deemed offender's constitutional rights be kept in mind while coming to a conclusion and making an arrest. If a police officer denies an individual his/her personal liberty without any lawful justification, such acts are considered abominable. A person cannot be arrested merely on the ground of suspicion of complicity in an offence.

    It has been evident quite often that the recommendations made by the police commission turn out to become a constitutional accident which inevitably violates the basic rights of an individual. There needs to be a reasonable justification on the part of the police officer that he takes a step and make an arrest. Any kind of arrest which is made on the whims of the police officer is objectionable and unacceptable.

    However, it is essential to note that in circumstances of cognizable offence like murder, rape, dacoity, an arrest made is justified on the grounds that the degree was too high of an offence, the accused is likely to escape and avoid punishments and that he might commit further offences, that there is a need to restrain his/her violent behavior, that he is a habitual offender.

When is moral policing wrong?
  • Some people think that moral policing should be done for the betterment of society as it will stop physical assaults done on the women such as rape or sexual abuse. Hence, they attack and abuse women, whose activities and dress sense might lead them to crimes such as rape or sexual assaults. But it is not right to punish for a crime which is not yet happened and therefore it is not right to punish those who may not be involved in any crime.
  • Some groups consider women drinking liquor as immoral and they abuse or hit them to teach them a lesson. But when they see a man drinking, they do not have any problem with that. And some vigilantes themselves drink liquor but consider women drinking as immoral. By drinking, the person is not committing any crime against any person. So moral policing is not the way.
  • There are many times when moral policing hinders the basic fundamental rights of the citizen enshrined in the constitution such as the right to freedom of speech & expression, right to privacy, right to live with dignity, etc. In this case, LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual) community faces extreme consequences and their basic right to life and liberty has been threatened. Thus, moral policing threatens democracy in the long run.
  • Moral Policing in extreme cases causes violence, killings, and damage to property which threatens marginalized communities. For example, Hindu religious fanatics propagate violence and threaten the minority in the name of protection of cows. And also, forced conversion programs are being carried out to strengthen one's own community at the cost of marginalizing others.
  • Honour killings are one of the extreme cases of moral policing which supposedly curtail western influences by encroaching on Individual freedom.
  • Moral policing also hinders artistic creativity and innovations through censorship in movies, books, etc. curtailing the artists' freedom of expression.
  • Some vigilantes discriminate and attack people from other regions with the perceived notion that they are different from them in terms of behavior and morality just because they look different from them. It is particularly true for the people of the North-East region, some of the southern states, and even foreign nationals such as Africans. Hence, moral policing threatens the country's value of 'Unity in Diversity.
  • Moral policing also hinders the education of children by means of Curriculum changes that promote specific narratives, omitting facts, compulsory languages, etc. Such moral policing is meant to promote religious ideologies and curtail pluralism, which will lead to religious fanaticism among young people.
  • Hence, moral policing which affects Individuals' fundamental rights and acts against the constitution and laws of the country is wrong.

When is Moral Policing right?
Some moral policing is right in the sense that it will lead to the betterment of society. For example, there is a gang known as the 'Gulabi gang', which is not an actual gang in the sense, but rather a team of women activists working toward justice for oppressed and abused women. There is no discrimination based on gender since the gang not only focuses on male domination over women but also on human rights and male oppression.

Moral policing also involves actions against kissing in public. Even the law does not allow kissing in public. But the youth think otherwise. Kissing itself is not a crime but some decency should be maintained in public places. But even then, moral policing is not the way and the vigilantes, instead of taking the matter in their hands, should approach the police or the judiciary on the matter.

Hence, moral policing which seeks to improve society, which does not interfere with individual freedom, and which does not cause a public disturbance is right and should be encouraged.

What should be done?
Archaic laws should be revoked or reformed to curb moral police who use the loopholes of various laws to attack the freedom of others. Police reforms should be carried out with sensitivity training and awareness about constitutional values. And also, there should be adequate patrolling, especially, on particular occasions and in public places. Local Intelligence gathering, filing FIR, and investigations against moral policing should also be promoted.

The judicial system needs a complete overhaul for giving access to people affordable, inclusive, and speedy justice. In addition to police reforms and judiciary overhaul, awareness generation and education can also help people to dissuade from aggressive stances. Public discussion and debates should be promoted in schools and colleges to create awareness and sensitization toward different moral policing.

People should avoid getting distracted by religious polarization and cherish and uphold the constitutional value of secularism. Voting is the biggest weapon and people should elect only the candidates who themselves are secular, tolerant, and respect the diversity of the nation.

What are some of the initiatives taken by the Government?
  • Supreme Court in 2016, declared Khap Panchayats illegal, which often decree or encourage honor killings or other institutionalized atrocities against boys and girls of different castes and religions who wish to get married or have married.
  • Supreme Court in 2017, in its landmark judgement, held that the Right to Privacy is a fundamental right protected under Article 21 of the constitution and this move would secure freedom from intrusion into one's home, the right to choose of food, etc. This move would curb moral policing such as mob lynching against eating cow meat. This judgment also lays the groundwork for Section 377 of the IPC to be struck down, thus securing the rights of the LGBT community.
  • Karnataka Government in 2017 issued a cultural policy that secures artists' liberty and creative freedom, in a move to remove the fear of artists from offending certain sections of the society.
  • Bengaluru city police have launched "Pink Hoysalas" police patrol vehicles for women's safety.
  • These are some of the initiatives taken by the Government against moral policing.
  • SC had ruled that minuscule priority was to be given to public morality, when in conflict with constitutional morality.

What is the recent Punjab HC ruling?
  • Individual autonomy could not be hampered by societal expectations in a vibrant democracy.
  • Moral policing by the public at large could neither be allowed nor forgiven.
  • It could also not be allowed to dictate the state's actions.
  • Protection can't be denied even if one of the partners is 'married'.
  • Protection of life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 could not be denied to a citizen merely because he happened to commit an offence punishable under the IPC.
Recent Developments by the Apex Court on Moral Policing:
  • The Supreme Court has ruled that policemen are not required to do moral policing, while ordering dismissal of a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) constable for seeking physical intimacy with his colleague's fianc´┐Że as a blackmail after he caught the lovers together.
  • A bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice JK Maheshwari was hearing the appeal filed by Central Industrial Security Force against Gujarat High Court's 2014 decision directing reinstatement of a constable in service with 50 per cent back wages from the date of his removal.
  • The top court has observed that the appellant constable is not a police officer, and even police officers are not required to do moral policing, or ask for physical favours or material goods.
  • Referring to the HC's order reversing the dismissal from service, the court has said that judicial review is not akin to adjudication of the case on merits and adequacy or inadequacy of evidence unless the court finds that the findings recorded are based on no evidence, perverse or are legally untenable.
  • According to the bench, the conclusions of fact, which are based upon evaluation and appreciation of evidence, when meticulously reached by the authorities, should not be interfered with merely because the court may have reached at a different conclusion.

"Moral Policing" is a vast notion since it includes different issues prevalent in our society. As I discussed in the beginning as to what compels an individual or a Non state actor to conduct moral policing and consequently, I discussed about several issues which have been occurred recently in our society. The code of Criminal Procedure plays an important role in impeding the harmful activities of an individual in a State through Section 144.

The most important part which I would like to bring in notice is how a State plays a pivotal role in averting harmful activities of an individual which is likely to hasten the process of communal tension in the society. As we deliberated in the beginning that how Mutalik's criminal writ petition was rejected on the ground of his infamous previous records in the State of Karnataka. That his criminal records were not cleared and several FIRs were registered against him for conducting grave moral policing.

I took up this case because I was able to relate it with the notion of 'Subjective belief'. It was through this case, that I was able to explain that how subjective belief worked where the members of "Sri Ram Sena" gave provocative speeches to the mass and tried to create Polarization in the society by inciting hatred among people who belonged to different groups.

It is really difficult to comprehend this subject from one point of view since it is a very vast topic and it accommodates not one but different types of offences. Mob lynching became a part of this topic and as we have seen that the process of execution of the victim had been solely hastened by the social media platforms and how a role of social media is violating the basic human rights of the innocents.

One of the crucial aspects which justifies the act of an individual and helps the legal fraternities to judge him/her acts as reasonable is the age of majority. When a child attains the age of majority, he becomes lawfully justified in choosing his/her life partner. Such decisions cannot be counteracted and subsequently annulled by the parent of a child.

In Jamshed and another vs state of Uttar Pradesh, the respondent was justified in marrying her partner since she had already attained the age of majority, and the girl's detention was held to be illegal. It was held that she was lawfully justified in marrying on her own will and that her decision was totally acceptable in the eye of law. We can overcome the predicaments which are caused by moral policing by promoting education and literacy in our society.

It is a kind of social epidemic because it is polluting our society rapidly and we need to curb such acute problems before it does much greater harm to our society by introducing awareness programs and schemes which are beneficial to the men as well as women of our society.

Written By: Bhaswat Prakash, Ajeenkya DY Patil University, Pune (B.A.LL.B)

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