Grey Areas – Moral Policing

Biker, traveler, guitarist and content writer by profession – Sarat Gnanamgari , discusses the rather sticky subject of India’s very own moral police. His thoughts beg the question “protection of heritage or validation of savage regression?” Read on for Sarat’s interesting take on the subject.

Moral Policing’ has become one of the dirtiest phrases in our country. An average person has only to hear it to turn apoplectic and start foaming at the mouth, waxing eloquent on the evils of such a lawless and frivolous practice. The recent incident in Mangalore stunned the nation. A bunch of friends who got together at a homestay to celebrate a birthday party were assaulted by a group of right-wing nut jobs, who were supported by local administrative authorities and an unscrupulous media house in this heinous act. Their purported logic was that the group was engaging in lewd dancing and sexual activities. This was shocking, but hardly new. Incidents like this occur very regularly throughout the nation and any individual who takes it upon oneself to halfheartedly turn the pages of the newspaper to justify its subscription knows this much. Acts that deserve the fullest extent of righteous legal retribution and rage have now been accepted as part of the national narrative. This is extremely disturbing because a completely errant and prejudiced practice is now almost validated as a result of the laxity with which people react to such incidents. One can argue that there is uproar as far as citizens are concerned, and we certainly cannot discount the very active voice of citizens when crying out against such barbaric acts. Various platforms of social media are being leveraged now to effectively condemn such incidents and even bring fleeting policy changes into effect. Is that enough though? How can mere verbal condemnation bring changes in an insular extremist population? What can we do as supposedly empowered citizens to bring in a paradigm shift and ensure the erasure of such potential horrors? Where did all of this begin?

Our country pats itself on the back for housing ‘heritage’ temples adorned with sculptures of naked bodies and producing the world’s first book of systematic smut. The lesser known sexual rites of Tantric rituals also have strong roots in the scriptures that we hold so high above our heads. For a nation with a history of tolerance, and almost reverence, towards sexual relationships, one cannot help but ask the question, “What the hell happened?” On another extremely relevant note, our mythology and ‘heritage’ (culture, tradition, values, ideals, morals) impart to us not only the understanding, but also the directive that the female is to be respected at the very least, if not worshipped. Where did we lose this blessed principle? Extremists are championing the ideals of their individual interpretations of the code of morality and throwing their weight around with reckless abandon. It doesn’t help in the least that they have an army of acolytes ready to support their actions and ultimately condone them. Citing an incorrect precedent that the current generation is drifting away from the sanctity of the previous era, these gargoyles are trying hard to push their personal agenda down our throats, when, in fact, their generation wasn’t too different from ours in terms of overall experience. Every generation of a society has gone through some level of upheaval as far as codes of conduct are concerned. The degree of dissonance is what changes, but the presence of dissonance at each point in time is perhaps the only constant found throughout history. So, we can safely say (I’m hoping) that dissonant change is constant and so is the rebellion regarding the same. Why is it so hard for the old to accept the imminence of the new?

At the risk of offending the religiously inclined, may I put forth the hypothesis that every code of morality and propriety (societal or religious) was a consequence of the pervasive circumstances in effect at that time? Does that sound reasonable? I think it does. A cursory perusal of some of the directives found in the scriptures of major religions would shock uninformed individuals. ‘Righteous’ physical abuse, polygamy, slavery, and even murder were justified by patriarchal fundamentalists who wished to proselytize people and render some divinity to their own actions. As citizens of a halfway civilized society, we now find such notions far-fetched, appalling, and reprehensible. No human being in their right mind would argue for the revival of these practices because of their incompatibility with the existing standards of society. The hypothesis serves to explain the disconnect, in a way, and the friction between intransigent conservatism and the evolving society. Humans do not take to change too well. We find comfort in the status quo and we’re reluctant to give up the fuzzy feeling that our beliefs bestow upon us. The faith in our beliefs is so strong that it clouds our better judgment and allows for us to make the folly of passing judgment on others who don’t fall in line with our way of thinking. This is basic human nature and ineluctable up to a certain extent. Education helps in broadening the scope of our mind and consequentially, the level of our tolerance and acceptance, but human nature will still prevail in some small skirmishes. The problem arises when extremists channel these self-righteous beliefs into action and infringe upon the rights of individuals. In a landscape of shifting social tectonic plates, how do we deal with these seemingly never-ending pitched battles?

Modern religion has had no choice but to disassociate itself with aspects that are not congruent with the world today. Major religions and their religious leaders understand that they cannot work against progression and that they have to work with it to keep their primacy intact. With the pace at which knowledge is being added and discovered, self-appointed moral arbiters are fighting a losing battle against a coming storm of liberalization and broad-mindedness. It is the power of education and progressive thinking that we can leverage to eradicate the small-mindedness of anti-social elements. Stringent legal recourse and reforms will help address the symptoms on a smaller timescale, but a renaissance of thought is in order to destroy the root of this problem. I have always maintained the belief that this generation will be responsible for the adoption of a tolerant mindset that brings about a greater degree of peace than we’ve ever seen before. I’m sure that every preceding generation has felt this on some level or the other, and in a way, it is true. There is a perceptible shift in the trend and we’re all part of the machine that is moving towards connectedness and unity. We’re not there yet and we might never truly be, but I see the stop in the distance and I’m sure others do as well. All we can do is to adopt the homily of tolerance and acceptance and spread it around. The gentle ripples will iron out the turbulence hopefully, and one day, our children will see still water where we saw only tempest. I sign off with saying, “Here’s to hoping for the end of savage regression, once and for all.”

Learn more about Sarat Gnanamgari.

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About Shruti Bharath

Social entrepreneur and developmental writer, passionate about creating workable solutions in the areas of improving employability of youth and women through skill enhancement/training and generation of productive and sustainable employment opportunities.

2 comments

  1. Lovely, my friend, lovely…

  2. Thanks a lot Sharad 🙂

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