Moral Policing

Moral Policing: This has been rendered as a dirty word, especially after the recent happenings in Mangalore. Lots of people have written for and against the so called ‘pub culture’. Saris and chaddis of pink colour have been exchanged. When the dust has settled down, it is time to look at ‘moral policing’ with a more clear vision. I present to the readers excerpts from three reports which appeared coincidentally on the same Mumbai issue of Times of India dated 9th February 2009. They are:


Pub as a sign of freedom


   It is clear that what happened in Mangalore was terrible and the perpetrators of the crime must be punished. Our problem is increasingly not that we are becoming more intolerant as a society (a favourite question for TV panel discussions), but that we are becoming more tolerant of symbolic intolerance. We tolerate publicity seeking nonentities too much, giving them way too much leeway in mounting these symbolic assaults on basic freedoms. We are afraid of giving them salutary punishment and end up creating monsters who gradually turn real.

   And then, there is the larger question. It is one thing to uphold the principle that every individual has the right to exercise his or her freedom to do whatever is legal, including having a drink at a pub without being questioned, molested or beaten up. Drinking as a sign of freedom is one thing, but to literally promote the
cause of drinking is quite another. No one can be prevented from drinking, but that doesn’t quite translate into everyone being encouraged to do so. The principle needs vigorous upholding, the practice not necessarily so. Just as banning depiction of smoking on screen can be opposed as a violation of a basic freedom, but that cannot mean we should promote the act of smoking—we cannot confuse the principle with the practice.

   From the looks of it, we live in a time when it is important to celebrate things like bar girls, drinking, sexual openness as marks of freedom. The same fervour does not extend to issues like the right to dissent or the right to free information (the RTI is the result of action by committed groups and not any mainstream media action). The idea of freedom seems to have gone through an interesting transformation. In popular imagination, it no longer exists as an idea in its capitalized, lofty avatar and is instead pursued as a set of pleasurable activities in our everyday life. Freedom has implicitly become synonymous with the freedom to have fun without hindrances or challenges.

And who can challenge the fact that what we called the middle-class Indian way of life till a few years ago, looked upon drinking as an undesirable social evil. It is not unnatural for a large part of India to be uncomfortable with a change that they are neither prepared for nor comfortable with. That doesn’t give them a right to beat up people, but surely they have a right to hold that view and pursue all legitimate means of promoting their beliefs.
To dismiss these by labelling them as right wing reactionaries who are coming in the way of India’s progress could well be an act of self-deception.

Freedom comes from being independent-minded, and that means liberation from biases of all kinds and the ability to genuinely appreciate all sides of an argument.


‘Governance has to be consensual’


   Justice Chandrachud said there are “essentially three forces that are shaping the times we live in—politics, economics and technology”.

   A networked society is increasingly becoming the trend and the assumption in such a scenario is that equal access to information and technology will enable good rule of the law.

   Yet, he said ironically, “these are also the times when it is commonplace for women to go for a drink to a pub after a hard day’s work only to be pulled out and thrashed in the name of shaping the morals of society’’, and also the times “where you have a government banning a movie only because it can’t control a likely outcry or when “15 policemen are killed by Naxalites’’.

   “As a result, there is a huge disjoint, as it were, between a society and the self-proclaimed protectors of morality,’’ he said.


Universal Religion Is Moral Behaviour

Acharya Mahaprajna


The word ‘religion’ is ingrained in our psyche. It is because of over familiarity that people feel less inclined towards religion. Today religion is acceptable only on the basis of experimentation. At one end are people who want forever to keep to tradition. They do not want any change. At the opposite end are those who reject religion. Both these extreme viewpoints are incapable of creating a balance.

   If acceptance of the hereditary character of religion is not desirable, its rejection is altogether undesirable. No one who thinks in the language of unity, harmony and love can ever reject religion. In the absence of understanding the distinction between institutionalised religion and religion as spirituality, people make the mistake of rejecting religion.

   A religion divorced from spirituality is shackled by externally imposed rules. Religion ought to be the culmination of independent awareness and not an imposition. When people regard themselves as Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs, they do so because of genealogy, not religiousness. Genealogy can be a source of inspiration to religion; it cannot be its soul. The soul of religion is spirituality. Only that person is religious who experiences spiritual awakening, irrespective of genealogy.

   No system of government can pose a challenge to a religion that is spiritual. The question of protecting religion arises only when religion is supposed to have an existence separate from that of the religious person. Bliss and spiritual alertness are the soul of religion.


   Morality is a relative term. If socially approved mores are deemed morality, their form can never be unchanging. Morality as end-result of religion is assessed not by social beliefs but by personal purity. There is no place for exploitation, oppression, arrogance and frenzy in the behaviour of a religious person. Propriety, truthfulness and simplicity constitute morality. Shall we call him religious who does not reflect the spirit of religion in his behaviour?

   Religion is first reflected in morality and only later in worship. Will a mansion without a strong foundation endure? Can a structure build on worship without morality be able to afford proper protection? In the absence of morality, the place of worship will tumble and religion will not be safe on this earth.


Having read the above reports, one can see clearly the concepts of social behaviour, morality and spirituality. They are in a way interlinked. Religion does not enter the picture here, at least, not yet. Having agreed that morality is important for the development of an individual, it quite clearly needs a mentor, a period of introspection and some training. Shall we say we need a guru, not necessarily a religious one? Then we would not need the self-proclaimed protectors of morality and we can show them the door. We will be our own police to protect our morality. Yes we need moral policing, but it has to be from our own realized self. Moral Policing is, after all, not a dirty word.



One Response to “Moral Policing”

  1. Moral Policing – Why Not? « OPEN MIND Says:

    […] Note: You may read my earlier blog on this subject […]

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