ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Neither Moral Nor Policing

The police surveillance on young people in Kerala seems to have risen to new heights with active monitoring of youth lifestyles, which the police perceive to be linked to youth crime. These micro-fascisms only reveal the growing weakness of the pillars of 20th century Malayalee social disciplining. It is up to the politicised youth, however, to turn this into an opportunity for democratic transformation.

Among the new coinages that have gained currency in public debate in the Kerala of the new millennium, the most prominent one, undoubtedly is sadaachaara policing, or “moral policing.” The coinage gained velocity of circulation in and through the anti-Hindutva “Kiss of Love” protests in 2015, when young people protested at the rock-solid sexual conservatism that dominates public spaces in the state, reinforced by religious conservatisms. The “Kiss of Love” struggles gave a name to the widespread surveillance imposed and violence perpetrated against especially young people, or more broadly, against all those who transgress conservative sexual norms—and it quickly became a part of youth vocabulary, as a synonym for a dirty practice. However, this practice is not new at all, though the sudden rise of media attention towards incidents of moral policing may convey the impression that it has suddenly reached grave proportions.

Indeed, if there is anything that is characteristic of Kerala’s moral policing, it is its very normality, its banality—it is certainly not something that follows in the wake of a moral panic. Also, moral policing need not involve the state at all, though both the police and judiciary here are enthusiastic proponents of moral policing, even in violation of the law. Typically, the perpetrators are gangs of men (though women are equally capable of it, particularly school and college teachers, and in a very recent incident, policewomen) who accost couples or groups, allege sexual impropriety, and go on to publicly humiliate, assault, or threaten them. Often they incarnate as naattukaar (local people)—civil society, so to say, zealous of protecting “decency” and even the “security” of women in their localities. But the vigilante brigades may also be political party activists keen to target the leaders or prominent members of their rivals. So common, so normal, were these acts that they were even counted as evidence for the “goodness” of rural people, rescuing others and their localities from vice.

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Updated On : 9th Mar, 2017
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