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Moral policing for political points: Fringe groups are harassing couples to enter the mainstream

By Ila Ananya

At around Valentine’s Day this year, Bajrang Dal leaders in Odisha announced that they would force anyone declaring their love on Facebook to get married. It was a step further from their usual announcements to marry off couples seen together in public, but it’s hardly surprising.

The announcement, of course, left a lot to imagination. Imagine a room full of Bajrang Dal members, all hunched up over a monitor and staring at Facebook, tabulating a long list of all the women and men in love, shaking their fists vehemently at a woman who wasn’t wearing a dupatta on her date and a man who had five heart emojis and three roses in his status. Perhaps they were wondering about their own relationship statuses. And what would they do for a Facebook post about someone’s toota dil? Would they host a break-up party?

 Moral policing for political points: Fringe groups are harassing couples to enter the mainstream

Representational image. AFP

On 17 March, there was another case of moral policing couples, this time in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra. It was done by ‘parties’ that took offence when a man saw his girlfriend on the road, stopped the car and proposed to her. Then they hugged, and a person who filmed all this uploaded the video online. Ever since, self-appointed, ‘concerned’ parties, such as the Mumbai-based Sunni Muslim group Raza Academy (last seen issuing a fatwa against AR Rahman and Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi), threatened to force the couple to do squats (eh?) and wanted to organise a demonstration against them. In all the drama, the president of the National Lokhind Party then decided that they wanted to take legal action against the couple who “stopped traffic.”

How did Raza Academy give the entire incident deep thought and consideration and come up with squats as a punishment? Maybe they called a meeting of all their members just to discuss this. But let us not mock them, they may be standing in the middle of traffic but they are obviously looking at the stars. Inspiration is nigh with Yogi Adityanath making hate speeches who is soon to be UP’s next Chief Minister.

Every schoolchild knows about the Shiv Sena’s moral policing in Mumbai. But in a lot of these cases, where you hear that some couple was beaten up or not allowed to get married or taken to the police station, the ‘parties’ involved are often more obscure — ones that you don’t really hear of until you see them in the papers. Because if you don’t quite have the stomach for everything that makes the Yogi successful and effective, moral policing couples is the next most low-budget, cost-effective way for a start-up party to get a national presence.

For instance, how many people had heard of the Sri Ram Sene before their Mangalore pub attack back in 2009? The group of 40 men had attacked young women and men at a pub, beating them up and viciously accusing women of violating traditional Indian values, saying that they were not being sanskaari naariyan. “Whoever has done this has done a good job. Girls going to pubs is not acceptable. So whatever the Sene members did was right,” Pramod Muthalik, chief of the ambitious Sri Ram Sene said back then. Muthalik was first a member of the Bajrang Dal, before he formed the Karnataka unit of the Shiv Sena before starting his own brand. Back then, a strategic video recording of the women being beaten up was leaked to the media. Then, the Sri Ram Sene shot to ‘fame’, becoming well known for its moral policing, for burning effigies, and grabbing national attention. Back in 2014, Muthalik even had a brief, brief stint in the BJP.

You may or may not have heard of the Hindu Makkal Katchi in Tamil Nadu. People may be less inclined to get worked up about anti-Valentine’s Day violence (as opposed to back in 2009) but you can’t blame the Katchi for trying what’s worked. “Don’t reinvent the wheel.” Isn’t that what they say in corporate parlance? In any case, the Katchi organised protests against Valentine’s Day in Chennai this year, attempting to ‘educate’ couples about the true difference between love and lust, claiming that relationships between unmarried people are responsible for sexual assault. Since violence is the best way to get noticed, they said they would slap couples if required. One Hindu Makkal Katchi member was quoted as saying back in February, “If I find them, I tell them that love will only ruin you, and if they don’t heed my words, I slap them.”

Do these party members really believe in what they say about women and marriage?

A large-scale expose of right-wing politicians by Cobrapost and Gulail found, in horrifying conversations, right-wing Hindu men treating Hindu and Muslim women as property to be exchanged. “If she doesn’t listen to us, we hit her. We get her beaten up. We misbehave,” a Bharatiya Janata Party leader said about ‘saving’ Hindu women married to Muslim men. As TLF wrote then, these men were using “marriage as a weapon of war”. The truth is that across the political spectrum, the easiest way for aspirants to climb the ladder is step on a pile of women’s bodies.

The thing is for small ‘parties’ or small politicians in big parties, there can be no easier agenda than fixing ‘immoral’ couples or policing women. Because imagine actually engaging with major issues such as poverty or caste or environmental crises or inequality. Oh no, that’s not the stuff you can fix with a squat or two.

The Ladies Finger (TLF) is a leading online women’s magazine delivering fresh and witty perspectives on politics, culture, health, sex, work and everything in between.

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Updated Date: Mar 19, 2017 15:58:33 IST