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SCANT SENSE

How would the women of India look if the police were to design their clothes? There has been more than one demonstration of the police’s penchant for this line of work, for example, in 2007, when the police in Delhi declared that women should not dress “scantily” when travelling on “lonely roads”. This is a role the police take to like ducks to water, especially since it offers them a society-approved escape route when violence against women in public spaces increases. Do the police really believe that the objects of violence, whom they love to blame, would escape violence if they were covered head to toe? And what does this say about the propensities of policemen?

There is a special enthusiasm about this job of enforcing ‘morality’ instead of the law. Section 110 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951 hands over the baton of moral superiority wholly to the police. So the Mira Road police booked a model in Mumbai for ‘indecent’ behaviour, presumably because she was wearing a ‘skimpy’ dress late at night. She would probably have got off with a lecture on the design of her dress, she claims, had she not mentioned her name and profession. The temptation to make history was obviously too much for the policemen who immediately booked her under Section 110, for indecent behaviour in public. This provision has been used repeatedly by the police in Mumbai — to fine a young man kissing his girlfriend on the cheeks to say goodbye for example, or to pounce on a couple holding hands. A police chief has claimed, in effect, that allowing pairs to kiss or hold hands in public — ‘promiscuous’ acts — makes it impossible to create a safe and secure environment. India has no dearth of such amazing insights: maybe removing provisions such as Section 110 may help a little towards the lessening of such unpleasant amazements.