Monday, August 06, 2007

Of Public Moralities

Thinking of moral police, the first sight coming to mind would probably that be of some bhagwa clad hooligans blackening the faces of young couples on the marine lines or perhaps breaking the glass panes of gift shops on a valentine's day.

Immediate impulsive response from any modernized Gen Y youth would be sheer revulsion. We instantly revoke our fundamental right to freedom of expression, to do and behave as we please. We remind that we are mature adults and we know what's good and what's bad for us. And the self appointed burghers of social morality have no business telling us what to do and what not to do in our public and private life. Ours is a generation that was born free, having internalized our rights to freedom of all possible kinds and there’s no chance we would accept any attempts at curbing these rights.

Much of the blame for having brought the bad name and a rather negative connotation to moral influencing - to the extent of calling it a disciplinarian act of moral policing- lies with the fanatic defenders of the social morals who do not think twice before transcending all limits of decency in their own ways of protesting. Given that they have the right to freedom of expression too, they are very well allowed to voice their concerns with whatever they call as indecent. But well, let have them do it within the ambit of law and social courtesy. Becoming violent in their protests, they only display their own helplessness in saving a virtuous culture and their desperation to gain control with a whip on a free generation. They leave us with no option but to dismiss them as power mongers who’re just seeking a way to establish their identity.

Moral policing of public behavior or commercialization of feelings is not so much about the offended sensibilities than it is about some other kind of grievance at the heart of the moral cops. They can’t stand the overwhelming and allegedly negative influence of the western lifestyle and culture on our youth. This would include the MTV and Coca Cola culture and at a more general level, the consumerism and hedonism that are becoming ingrained in our traditionally austere and satvik culture. However, they forget to draw the distinction between the evolution of a fast moving society and blind copying of western life. As the global media converges, and the access to information from cultures and lifestyles across the world spreads, we have to be open to cross cultural influence that would flow both ways.

There’ll be people in America practicing Yoga and there’ll be people in India kissing on the streets. This is a cultural amalgamation process which is a natural component to the evolution of the human civilization itself. To try and put artificial barriers in this process of evolution is nothing but a folly. Another aspect of it is also the convergence of the world as a marketplace. If Archies wants to sell Valentines’ day greetings in India, and people want to buy it, what’s the problem? Indians have traditionally not objectified feelings and emotions with material gifts but if it makes someone feel good, there's no reason why someone should object. Or are they finding it difficult to digest that a foreign company is making money out of selling emotions to us? Why don’t these cops try and popularize Karwa Chouth in America. I’m sure it would sell.

A culture has its inherent strengths which sustain it in course of evolution. It’s the voice of the masses, which has consciously or unconsciously transferred it generation by generation and there is no need to be so insecure about Indian culture and tradition suffering a blow due to the juggernauts of western imperial culture. If the culture can’t stand it’s ground in its own right, it will become extinct anyway and it doesn’t need to be protected. The roots of our culture are sufficiently strong for it to take care of itself.

Another recent dimension to moral policing came about with the havoc wreck by the moral cops at an art exhibition, where a student artist, in his own dreamy eyed works had in some ways transcended limits of decency. Now obviously, going all over to destroy the place and manhandle the artist is no way of registering a protest. However, careful handling of such situations would need judgment on the part of neutral parties as to what is reasonable and what’s not. Going too far with the right to freedom of expression, might actually end up offending even some neutral sensibilities and invite trouble. A nude depiction of Bharat Mata, which by all social mores is a motherhood figure is something that ruffled more feathers than just the moral brigade.

As a civil society, we do allow our parents to guide their children when they see us going wrong somewhere and that’s the role these sainiks seem to be usurping. And well, despite the claims about being adults and knowing what's good for oneself, it's only us who have indulged in drug addiction, drunken driving, promiscuous lives that have left behind hurts and emotional baggage. On a broader level, a moralizing influence of culture could've been a welcome one, but the independence freaks that we are, any impositions and restrictions on what we want to do, is not going to be taken lightly.

It does remain to note however, that it is for us, the young people to decide whether we apply our sensibility while adopting certain western ways of dressing, behavior, music and other things. We are to be responsible for our own behavior so we don’t give a chance to the moral brigades to raise fingers at us, accusing us of irresponsible actions.

So while I would not paint nudes of Indian Godesses, be intentionally blasphemous and disrespect the sentiments of the public, If I have to give someone a rose on valentines’ day, if I have to kiss someone good night when dropping home, I will fight tooth and nail for my right to freedom.


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