The existence of moral policing stems from the clash of morals of a person or group of people which have been built over time. There is a thin line between right and wrong, but the greater problem is the subjectivity associated with where this line needs to be drawn. The capacity of defining „righteousness‟ is aided by the existing morals of a person (which are again subject to change). But who actually decides whether our behavior is morally sound or not? Someone who has seen the world only through the eyes of a conservative? Or someone who is as progressive as time? IIT Delhi is quite frequently celebrated as the „home of some of the sharpest minds from around the country‟, but can it also be called as the hub of the „morally sound citizens of the nation‟? Can it also be called a place which is independent of the social concept of moral policing? Let us find out. “We were asked to go back to our hostel while we were sitting with some of our female friends near the Himadri Circle”, “The guards ask us to not sit with female friends alone”, “This moral policing is so insensitive and irrational”: to mention a few of the frequently heard comments whenever we talk about moral policing at IIT. This is found to be in accordance with the results of a survey conducted to know the views of the IITD junta. Have you ever been told by the guards to not stand with the opposite sex near the girls’ hostel area? 141 responses If yes, do you think it is justified?
120 responses On analyzing the views of this junta, our primary stakeholders, it was found that many of them have fallen victim to such kinds of moral policing. There have been various instances where a guy and a girl have been shooed away to their hostels by the omnipresent vigilantes, under the excuse that the two are not allowed to stand together or hold hands inside the institute, especially at night when they are very often told “Yeh koi ghoomne ka time thodi hota hai”. Many of the students have also reported that a number of guards have gone to the extent of stopping them from being loud or sitting in large groups at places like WindT. Students have very often been victims of the “Apna ID Card dikhao… ab isko Control Room se lena” threat. But what exactly is the motive behind all this? Is the administration at IITD actually trying to propagate these ideas in principle? In order to gain some clarity about the situation, we had a detailed discussion with Mr. Sandeep Sharma, Chief Security Officer (CSO), IITD. It was found out that the campus is often infiltrated with non-residents who are involved in activities that are outright illegal. The Security Control‟s primary agenda is ensuring the safety of all the residents on campus; the guards have also been specifically directed to ensure proper vigilance. Until and unless an area is dark or secluded and hence a potential security threat, the students have complete freedom of accessing those areas. According to the CSO, students are allowed to sit in areas such as the Biotech lawns, WindT, Red Square, etc. without any unnecessary disturbance caused by the guards. Also, in case this does not happen then students should contact the Security Control Room and sort it out. In addition, the much dreaded Security Van, „Jo ayegi toh panga hojayega’ actually has the primary purpose to keep a watch on the activities of the guards and to ensure that peace and calm is maintained. Furthermore, the van actually includes people from the control room who have assured us that moral policing is not their agenda. So, where exactly is this thin line between necessary policing and moral policing?
Do you think there should be as much vigilance as there is, all around the institute? 141 responses From the above chart, it can be observed that a major section of the respondents (nearly 43%) also believe that the presence of vigilance is necessary, primarily because its absence encourages possible security breaches. As far as security is concerned, we believe that the Security Control is justified in questioning the students about their identification, thereby justifying the action of the guard in demanding your ID Card. Hence, we request all the nightwalkers to make sure they carry their ID cards so that they cannot be blamed for being unable to establish their true identity. However, what you need to be aware of, as your right, is that once you have been identified as a student of IITD, the security officers can no longer stop you from doing something on moral grounds. So if, even after proving that you are a resident of IITD, the issue with the security guard persists, we advise you to handle the matter calmly. We thereby, encourage you to call the Security Control Room (Just dial 1000) and be assured that they will help you resolve your issue. We request your co-operation with the security, which has to do its job in the best way possible. In cases where students have been threatened directly or indirectly in the name of the „Security Van‟, we advise you to co-operate with them to establish your identity. However, if the matter still persists, we again encourage you to dial 1000. There have been reports of incidents where outsiders have caused a threat to the security of the residents and hence, we would not suggest you to go to dark and secluded areas where security can actually be compromised. The Security Control Room requests all residents to immediately inform them about any mis-happening or anything that seems abnormal by contacting them through phone or bysending them the image of the incident on their active WhatsApp contact number 09810100112.
Moral policing is a result of a constant war between necessary policing and enforcing vigilantism. More often than not it is rooted in an individual‟s decisions, which are a direct result of the prejudices and stereotypes that have been engraved upon them by the society. We rarely realize that we, as citizens of this nation and as members of the IITD community, have also been active propagators of the ideals of moral policing at more than a few levels.
To understand this, we analyzed some other aspects of the survey conducted:
Have you ever felt uncomfortable due to comments passed in your peer group? Comments about how you dress up, how you act etc.
From the above schematic, we observe that over 30% of the respondents have been prey to this induced form of moral policing for which the IITD community is responsible as a whole. The idea that every third respondent has faced this, especially in a premier institute of the country, establishes the need for change.
Going a level deeper, we ask this question,
“Why does moral policing actually exist?”. We believe that it is just a vocal manifestation of a deep seated social conditioning which very often governs people‟s opinions about the definition of right and wrong. To understand this we don‟t need to read about the damage done by anti-romeo squads or Bajrang Dal activists, but take a stern look in and around us. It will be best to illustrate this with an example. Let us take a girl, the perfect Brontë girl: best described by Charlotte Brontë as “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” She does as she wills and dresses as she pleases. But a lot of men and women in IIT have found her dressing sense „provocative‟ and „attention seeking‟. Whenever she wears something „inappropriate‟, a lot of the „wise know- it-all(s)‟ brand her as easy and pass judgments on her. A few months down the line, when she learns that her own friends have branded her as easy only because she dresses in a certain way or is friends with guys, she feels terrible and broken. She does not understand how wearing certain kind of clothes can result in her morals and character being questioned. Right then, she
is posed with two choices:
1) Be rebellious and not pay heed to any of this or, like it happens in a lot cases,
2) Start subscribing to the IITD community constructed, and passively imposed rectitude.
Victimization is not just localized to women; very often guys are judged by the way they choose to dress up, by the number of female friends they have, or even their sexual affinity. The problem germinates when a person feels that his or her set of morals, culture or way of social conditioning are superior, or more righteous than another‟s. He or she can either entrust themselves with the responsibility to „enlighten‟ and correct the other „inferior‟ by actively passing comments on peers, family members and strangers or, like a lot of students in our campus, he or she can passively pass judgments on the character of others. We believe that the problem persists in both cases and leads to avenues where our freedom is restricted. IIT Delhi has students from multiple states, communities and financial backgrounds, resulting in a wide diversity of definitions for right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, moral and immoral. In fact, most of these cases are circumstantial and cannot be segregated into such binaries; it is a lot greyer than black and white. We as members of the IITD community need to understand, appreciate and accept each other’s individuality. Change has to begin from within, only then can we be liberal, progressive and a community which is not burdened by the constant desire of getting accepted as „morally sound‟. With this, we urge our readers to realize their rights, to take a well-informed stance and to act accordingly in any situation which will in turn, help us all bring about real change.
Special Thanks to Professor Simona Sawhney; for helping and guiding us.