Gendered sexual violence, sometimes manifested as rape, is actually larger than rape. In fact, it may often not take an overtly violent form at all. It may come out as an inadvertent and ‘well-intentioned’ remark, even as concern for women — for their safety, modesty or honour. Alert listeners should be getting alarmed when this vocabulary of concern starts shifting from questions of safety to ideas of honour, for that way lies another kind of danger, oppression and potential abuse. So, when the Mumbai police chief, Satyapal Singh, puts before his city a cleverly worded choice between “moral policing” and “immoral policing”, and expects people to naturally uphold the former for “the betterment of society”, then it is time for Mumbai’s men and women to think very hard, and very critically, about what exactly they are being told. Mr Singh was, of course, talking about the recent gang-rape in Mumbai, which he and his juniors have handled efficiently so far. But he went on to cast a disapproving eye on the “promiscuous culture” of metropolitan India, advocating a “balance” — in place of the “confusion” he saw everywhere — between safety and promiscuity.
It is required of all sensible adults, and near-adults, to remind this important and powerful policeman what precisely he is responsible for in this business of the “betterment of society”. The word, ‘policing’, can be used literally as well as metaphorically. Policing, in the literal sense, would mean ensuring that a young person does not get brutalized by a gang of rapists anywhere in the city. And policing, in the metaphorical sense, would mean vandalizing gift shops for selling ‘outlandish’ Valentine’s Day cards, or harassing young people for being amorous in public. The police, in their attitudes and actions, should be able to distinguish between these two senses of the word, understanding clearly that their duties lie in the literal, rather than metaphorical, practice of policing. In fact, one of their duties is to prevent this sort of metaphorical policing of the obnoxious kind, which plagues Mr Singh’s city more frequently than a modern democracy ought to allow. When a police chief is unable to make such a crucial distinction, and founds the rationale for his actions on this inability, then it is he who is confused — dangerously so — and must be compelled to do some serious thinking.