Grow up, Mumbai police

The Mumbai police’s arrest of over 40 couples for ‘indecent behaviour’ is yet another example of state agencies appropriating for themselves the role of moral police.

Last Thursday, Mumbai police raided hotels and lodges in Mumbai’s Madh Island and Aksa area, dragged couples out of the rooms and detained them in a police station for several hours. They harassed and humiliated the students; women were made to prove they aren’t prostitutes. Parents were summoned. While the couples are young college students, they are consenting adults. It is not the business of the police or anyone else to decide what they should or shouldn’t do in the privacy of a hotel room. Clearly, the police action was way out of line. Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria has ordered an inquiry into the raids. While this is welcome, an inquiry will not undo the damage done. Photographs of the couples appeared in newspapers the following day. This would stain these youngsters’ reputation irreversibly. A woman who was detained is reportedly suicidal.

It is not without irony that this incident took place in a city whose police force is constantly complaining about being under-staffed. Thus, when an illicit liquor tragedy happens or riots break out, Mumbai police whine that there weren’t enough cops for the job. There would be, if only they did the work they are supposed to. Policing individual morals is not part of their job description. If they used their time to do the work they are mandated to do, the police force would be more productive and Mumbai a safer city. That the Mumbai police has a penchant for arresting the wrong people was underscored some years ago, when they raided dance bars and took into custody hundreds of dance girls instead of the owners/clients of these exploitative bars, many of whom are politicians and police officers. More recently, some boys and girls were arrested for taking a selfie of a group hug.

Section 110 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951 criminalises “behaving indecently in public.” But what is indecent? Section 110 outlines a definition, which is at best vague – and thus open to misuse – outdated and ludicrous. It needs to be removed from the law books now. There is nothing indecent or anti-social in a couple sitting on a bench or holding hands in public or even indulging in physical intimacy in the privacy of a room. India’s cops and other self-appointed guardians of public morals need to grow up and act with maturity.

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