Scene one: A knock at the door of a hotel room. Scene two: a couple handcuffed and being driven away in a police jeep. When I was a kid, I remember watching such scenes in certain Tamil movies. A few decades on, have things changed? Not quite. In fact, these are now opening shots in tv news stories of actual ‘raids’ by the moral police. What happened in a Mumbai hotel recently can happen anywhere else in India. It has happened in other cities and will take place again as long as people and enforcement agencies are ignorant about the law – both its letter and spirit.
Press the rewind button in Mumbai. If news reports are to be believed, more than a dozen couples were pulled out of their hotel rooms and booked for “indecent behaviour in a public place.” Some were slapped on the way out for exercising their fundamental right of speech and expression, all of them were taken to the police station, their parents were summoned and they were booked for essentially being behind closed doors. A girl revealed that the police swoop down has left her feeling suicidal. What was the trigger ? An alleged tip off about some illegal activities, possibly even terror related going on in a particular place. Arguably, like a source of a journalist or a confession to a priest, a tip off to the cops can never really be cross checked. Who were these couples? They were young consenting adults, one was even engaged to be married soon. What was their crime? That they were not married!
As a normal, prudent, progressive citizen,
I am entitled to raise a few questions.
Who outsourced parenting to the police? It’s a different matter that even parents these days are increasingly adopting a hands-off stance towards their grown up sons and daughters.
Aren’t we often told about the abnormal police – public ratio, which is roughly 100 cops per lakh people. This is less than half the United Nations recommended ratio of 222. Ironically, reported figures suggest that there are 3 policemen for every VIP in the country. My point is if they are so short staffed, why do they waste time interfering in the private lives of citizens and behaving like peeping toms? In all fairness, not everyone is the same and I will resist the temptation of broad brushing. There are good khakhi sections in our very own Tamil Nadu who help couples who elope to get married in police stations!
The National Crime Records Bureau pegs the number of rape cases at over 37,000 in India in the year gone by. So our men in khakhi cannot control sexual assault but have a problem with consensual sex? Alright, they got a tip off. What did they find after the raid?
Ask politicians who control the police and you will hear precious gems of wisdom. “Boys will be boys”. “It’s not possible for 4 men to rape a woman”. “Farmers suicides are due to failed love affairs”. The crap never ceases.
How can a room in a hotel be a public place? The common areas in a hotel like the lobby, restaurants, stairways, elevators and parking lots may be public places. A room, especially one with a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door is as private as private can get. Barging into such places or pulling out occupants without a warrant or probable cause, except for some regressive mindset or bee in the bonnet, could well attract Sec 441 of the Indian Penal Code for Criminal Trespass.
And how do you define “indecent behaviour”? Even the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act makes only soliciting in a public place and making a living out of the earnings of prostitution a punishable offence. No less an institution than the Supreme Court had raised questions on whether prostitution itself needs to be legalised. Live-in relationships are being increasingly recognised even in matters of family law. So
how in the name of God can anyone interpret the presence of two consenting adults in a hotel room as “indecent behaviour in a public place”? If not law books, can someone please donate dictionaries to these ‘protectors of the law’?
Alright, what is the alternative to consenting adults in a hotel room? Holding hands, hugging or kissing in a park or beach? OMG! Sacrilege! What have I just said? The unofficial moral police would go bonkers. How can Indian culture be destroyed, they scream for the tv cameras, holding aloft brooms and slippers. Hypocrisy is second nature to these sections who get worked up over public display of affection but seem to have no problem with violence in public, urinating in public, smoking in public or sexual assault in public transport.
We really need to be led by the nose, by the Government as an incentive for paying our taxes, don’t we? From your hotel room that is also a bedroom, your kitchen to your drawing room. Can we eat beef? Ask big daddy. Can we watch x rated videos? Ask big daddy. Can we make love? Ask big daddy. And oh, don’t forget to get an NOC from the local cop.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)