Malls and multiplexes do not make for a cosmopolitan city, if moral policing is the order of the day.

Chennai stands first in the whole of India when it comes to moral policing. Reason? The semi urban, semi-feudal Tamil society is still not ready to accept modern thoughts. Chennai cannot be called a cosmopolitan city just by looking at the huge malls and multiplexes. This is one city in India where foreigners are seldom seen. A few years ago, the police manhandled couples sitting in the Anna Nagar park. They were dragged to the police station, their parents were called in and warned, and the boys sent to Vellore prison. The police commissioner issued a general apology a few days later. In spite of this, Chennai’s approach towards moral policing has not changed.

Recently, the Chennai police bought a few bikes that can be driven in sand. You would have guessed the reason by now. The bikes are to be used as a means of surveillance, to keenly watch the couples sitting on the beach. This is the first time in India that any state has done anything like this.

Apart from the Chennai police, political parties, media and religious institutions are also taking the moral high ground in this issue. Magazines and papers publish pictures of women taken during cocktail parties or when they are sitting on the beach. Isn’t this an offence under law? Doesn’t this amount to trespassing into an individual’s life? But the individual’s rights are not given importance in India.

We cannot even think about this kind of invasion of privacy in developed countries. The existing laws in India were formed during the British rule and are still practiced. Even in Britain these laws have been long discarded.

Political parties are not any different. A few years ago, when a Jain monk, well over 70 years old, tried to enter Tamil Nadu, he was humiliated by Dravida Kazhagam and RSS activists because he was naked. Jain saints, who are naked throughout their lives, are forced to hide their private parts inside Tamil Nadu. Opposing the saint were two political outfits with opposite agendas — one declares there is no god while the other believes in god.

Nothing can be done openly in Tamil Nadu. Only in private. If an adult male and a female want to spend time together, they cannot do so. Since the society and the state are hypocritical, there is no private space for the common man. They cannot go to hotels, they cannot go to public places like the beach. A weeks ago, there was a raid on some pubs in Chennai. A number of youth were arrested. The boys were put in the lockup and the girls sent home with a warning. Their crime? They were drinking in the night in pubs. Since the government is conservative and moralistic, the police too behave likewise.

Recently, a PhD student from the University of Madras was talking with a male friend at the Indira Nagar MRTS station, and a police inspector felt the need to object to it. The inspector threatened the woman and said he would call her husband. Even when she told him that the man was a friend of her husband’s too, he continued to ill-treat them. The couple was saved when the public interfered.

Who will educate the police? Power generates from the government. It is the government’s duty to educate. But if the government itself is not progressive in its outlook, who will educate the the police? It’s time the intelligentsia and media started doing something about it.