OVER the last 20 years or so, a majority of India’s cities have beautifully developed into economically formidable, energetic, modern metropolises. It is truly remarkable to witness this gradual change every few months, when I visit home. Albeit India’s gradual westernisation and economic reformation, certain pockets of the country prefer adhering to the more “traditional” ways of life.
Amidst the large, bustling populace, a large percentage of teenage girls and women live in apprehension – fearing that because of the way they choose to present themselves or dress in public, their lives will be at stake. Essentially, conservative group of vigilantes, predominantly comprised of males, inflict suffering on those who may pose as a threat to tradition, resulting in brutal acid attacks.
These frequent attacks, coupled with the lack of government intervention in society, has led to a grave misunderstanding in certain facets of modern Indian society – the duty of “raising awareness,” and dictating moral codes lies in the hands of moral vigilante groups. The issue does not stop at India: earlier this year, a 14-year-old girl in Beitar Illite faced similar consequences for wearing “loose fitting pants” in public, resulting in acid being poured over her stomach and legs, forming brutal burn wounds. A similar, but milder incident occurred in Toronto, where a police officer insinuated that women ought to “avoid dressing like sluts” in order to prevent getting assaulted or raped. What occurred in Toronto, is evidently no where near as cruel or impulsive as acid attack incidents, but yields the same effect from females in society, in that it poses us with a vital question – whose duty is it to prevent violent attacks against women, for their choice of dressing? The police and government now face an ethical dilemma as to what is acceptable in society: violent attacks to prevent women from being ostracised, or women dressing more “provocatively?”
Moral policing, or “modesty patrolling” may be defined as any religious or cultural extremist group advocating the preservation of traditional thinking in society, with the supposed intent of “bettering society,” through criminal acts, typically in the form of violent, brutal behaviour towards a particular social group – be it women, a certain religion, or any other type of “outsider” who may intentionally, or unintentionally in this case, defy that extremist group. This moral duty that society has left to extremist groups is “hidden power”, thereby giving them the liberty to inflict pain, or even take an individual’s life in a matter of seconds, without them facing any consequences for their “righteous” actions.
This brings light to another issue, as to whether the government is solely responsible for regulating such attacks – after the recent attacks outside a college in India, “the police refused to react to such threats,” and the government has not taken any measures to retaliate against the actions of such groups. Surely, the general public may be enraged by the fact that not much is being said or done to alleviate such attacks against females, however, we must consider – to what extent can the government intervene? My locus is that it is imperative for the government to tighten their tolerance towards moral policing groups who commit such attacks in the name of tradition. The question that lingers though, is how can authority take measures to restrict, or least reduce such behaviour?
However, further reflection allows us to question why women are being threatened for dressing in a supposedly sexual manner – when one thinks about the core of the issue, moral vigilantes are not very different to the government, in that they commit these attacks as a means of making others aware of the possibility of facing rape for dressing provocatively. Undoubtedly, I maintain that their method of “protecting” women is completely unacceptable, however, it is worth considering why such groups go about committing these attacks.
Must this warning be achieved solely through dreadful threats and other forms of violence? Perhaps it is neither the extremist group, nor the government’s duty to “protect” women from rape and other acts alike, but rather, society ought to give individuals the liberty to present themselves as they want. The tradition of moral vigilantes taking the liberty to inflict pain on others must die down, in order for true culture and modernity to coexist in harmony.
Moreover, one can argue that there is no possibility of completely eliminating moral vigilantes in society, be it in India or elsewhere – one does hold the right believe in whatever they choose to, and if conservatism is their choice, then so be it – rather than focusing our energies on abolishing such groups, we, society, must urge such vigilantes to mend their methods of championing culture and tradition. Additionally, women in such scenarios should continue wearing what they feel most comfortable in, but it is necessary that they temper it with what is acceptable in that particular situation.
Moral policing through violence is a tradition itself, a tradition that should be abolished immediately, in order to allow culture to coexist with modern society. Instead of resorting to the government or moral vigilantes, I believe that as global citizens, we should instead, shift from moral policing, to community policing – the general public should work in union with the government through “proactive problem solving” in order to address the issue of violence against women – towards anyone, in fact. In engaging with the community, the government can deal with such attacks firmly and effectively. However, in order to do so, the government should take heed to such attacks immediately, and should not allow such attacks to escalate. Any form of moral policing in this regard is not acceptable in this day and age, as people inherently know what is right and wrong, and ergo chose to follow their inner conscience. Should such circumstances occur, which they certainly do, there is no point in complaining thereafter.