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Of Moral Policing and the Media


Moral policing has been a heated topic of discussion over the past few weeks in across all news channels of the country. Though an old topic, but fresh debate was triggered when Mumbai Police, right before Independence Day raided beach resorts across the city and booked couples for indecent behaviour. To be specific, according to the Indian Express, the police registered 54 cases under the Maharashtra (Bombay) Police Act and 13 couples were specifically booked for indecent behaviour.

The media, after this incident, immediately went haywire. Prominent anchors and panellists talked about how there has been a breach of ‘Right to Liberty’ as guaranteed by the Constitution and how authorities have breached into the personal space of an individual. This debate was also a succession of the recently invoked and evoked Porn Ban, where in the state decided to curtail what we wanted to see and what not.

The entire debate here can be pegged around two broad ideas, the idea of indecency and the idea of purification, something which we all Indians are very much hooked upon. Of all markers which we have, culture has been constant that has driven the nation for civilizations. And even today, the fight is how well do we adhere to our culture. The immediate justification after the Porn Ban and the raids by the Mumbai police was to that of the incubation of culture from the amplifying levels of indecency. And the media rightly argued as to who decides the levels of indecency and how one try to impose culture on what someone does. The act of moral policing here comes in as a product of the simplistic belief that anything that is traditional is sanctimonious.

Parallel to this entire debate of ‘indecency’, there is another raising concern in the state of India and that is of the issue of women safety. On one hand, we are here on a civilizing mission by booking consenting adults under an act of indecency and at the same time we have some random citizen of the country masturbating onto a foreigner, in public. Clearly, the mission has reached out to people who need it the most.

Indecency has also been linked to what attire one wears. Time and again, the moral police force of the country has argued as to how women attires provoke men, pollute our culture and spreads indecency. Remember the poster incident where in several posters with “women who wear decent clothes are seen with respect by the people” written on them in Hindi were put up in Mumbai’s Juhu and Vile Parle? Then we have our Khap Panchayats talking about how wearing Jeans corrupts our culture. To shorten the debate, the narrative of ‘moral policing’ broadly revolves around the subject of public display of affection, culture, morality and attire.

A very key component here is the Media and there seems to be no need as to underline what the power of free press can in countering such a situation. During the recent raids and the porn ban, fraction of our media defended our ‘right to liberty’ and personal space very well. But what happens when a media institution themselves becomes an authority of moral policing?

This is an instance from Guwahati, Assam, where a local news channel aired a news feature on the growing trend of wearing shorts amongst the young ladies of the city. The most problematic bit of the entire problematic feature was the fact that there seemed to be a gross violation of journalistic ethics as well as moral norms, in the production of the feature.

In the name of culture, our favourite tool, the news reporter went around the city, shooting shots of girls wearing shorts. It was unclear as to if consent was taken from the girls who was showcased in the news package. The feature started with the preconceived notion that such attires are polluting the sanctity of the city and the rich Assamese culture. The news producers compared girls to monkeys by scripting that, Monkey’s have learnt to dress up while the importance of wearing clothes in a civil society has gone down. Further in the feature, there were inappropriate close ups by the camera person followed by the interview of a person who believes that girls wearing shorts attract male gaze and later on the blame falls on men. The worst of all, the entire production tone of the feature seems to be defending this very ideology.


Embedded at the end is video of the news piece followed by the English translation of the entire story. Watch the video, look at how the camera is being used, where is it being focused and what the story implies. Focus on the use of language and the use of the word ‘culture’ to defend the lead of the story.

We have had religious groups being the gatekeeper of our culture; we have had political parties being the gatekeepers of our culture and now we have a media group who seems to be the gatekeeper of our culture. What else can we expect now?

Understanding the fact that this isn’t the first piece written about the topic, but what separates this instance of ‘moral policing’ is the fact that Assamese consumer of news mostly rely on local channels a lot. Penetration of national media still seems to be very low in the North Eastern region and the recent satellite news boom in the local media industry has made remotest of villages in the region reach accessible zone of local media. As such, a prominent channel telecasting a news feature as such can have a very drastic impact of the large fraction of passive media consumers that the region has.

Another incident that came into the limelight was the 2012 incident of molestation that was telecasted by another media house of the region. Lack of trained journalists and lack of exposure has all contributed to such a scenario. But this instance has taken a totally different turn. At a time when the nation is condemning what happened in Mumbai via the so called fourth estate, there happens to be a part of the country where first the a media house is trying to moral police in the name of culture and further indulging in voyeuristic activities to justify their thought.

It’s high time to think, who is civilizing whom, and who has the right to civilize whom.



The News Piece: Translated
Anchor: If you are hungry, you need food. To save yourself from sun, rain and storm you need a house and to cover yourself, you need clothes.
Today our ‘agenda’ for today’s news is ‘Clothes’. Some of you might find this news offensive, but those who understands will understand the importance of our news.
<Graphics> Monkeys from the jungle are also wearing clothes

<Graphics> Monkeys from the jungle has also learnt to wash clothes
<Graphics> But the importance of clothes have gone down in a civilized society

<Cheesy Indi-pop songs>

00:52 (Upper Ticker) Even monkeys have learnt the importance of clothes
0:55 (Upper Ticker) Monkeys from jungle also now wears clothes.
00:58 Voice Over (VO): This is a visual from your lovely city, Guwahati
A lot of girls from these days prefer ‘shorts’
1:13: Now their preferred attire is ‘Half Pant’.
And consequently a fraction of city girls have wearing short clothes.
[Graphic and VO] 1:25: And maybe for this fraction of girls, ‘Fashion means Expose’.
[VO] 1:30: However they believe that it’s their right to wear whatever they want. Shorts are comfortable
1:40 [Interview 1: Girl]: It’s about the mindset of the people. We should wear something that makes us comfortable. But one can wear as per their fashion. And maybe that’s what they like.
1:50 [Interview 2: Girl]: If we go out on roads wearing shorts, for shopping, I don’t think so there is an issue with it.
[VO] 1:58: But why is that only 5 out of 100 girls need comfort? And because of this fashion and comfort, many people gaze into such shorts. 


2:10 <Assamese song on short clothes>

2:24: Girls in shorts or half pants, it is bad to say, but such kind of clothes sensitize the roads.
2:33: [Interview 3: Man]: The culture that Assam had is no longer there. And now they curse the male that you looked at her like indecently. Right now I saw a girl, the dress she is wearing, what do I say? The culture which we have, what we should wear, the way we should do hair, they way we should wear clothes; it’s no longer there.
[VO] 2:55: In the streets of Guwahati, there are ample of girls who are wearing shorts.
[Piece to Camera]: Spaceship has travelled to Mars from Earth. And at the same time, here in Assam we are debating about attires in Assam. How relevant it is?
[News clip: Assamese Singer] 3:07: The organizers have said that I can’t sing on stage if I don’t wear the traditional Assamese attire, Mekhla Chador.
3:15 [VO]: Yes, in the same city, where a singer cannot take the stage even after wearing decent clothes, there shouldn’t s any problem in making news out of attires that are being worn.
And these girls should also keep in mind that, culture isn’t preserved on stages, the stage of culture is society.
3:33: With Camera person Vipul Mazumdar, Heman Rajbonsi, Pratidin Time, Guwahati.


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