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Moral Policing in Manipur is now seen in a new form of patriarchy, with women as propagators and the medium, a way they seem to have taken out of long suppression.
In early October, a mob led by women-folk in a locality in Bishnupur, state of Manipur recently “caught” a man and woman who are supposedly having an “illicit affair”. Reportedly the man and woman in question were alleged as having an (extra marital) relationship.
The duo was given a “befitting punishment” by the community people. Both the woman and the man were reportedly paraded in public on the streets.
Humiliating them, shaming them in public, the duo was made to wear a garland made of empty water plastic bottles and were made to face the public wrath. They were abused left and right – physically and mentally, calling them names and forcibly “marrying them”.
The incident was recorded and was circulated on social media that goes viral within an hour.
Most distressing and depressing of the incident was that the daughter of the woman, about 7-8 years of age, was seen in the video struggling to be in her mother’s lap and to have tried to protect her mother. The girl was abused and physically assaulted along with her mother.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the video went viral, it forced the state agency into action. Fourteen persons including ten women were arrested in connection with the incident and were remanded in judicial custody. It remains to be seen if the state law can provide some relief (if not justice ) for the survivors – both the man and the woman, including the girl child.
This is not first such incidents of moral policing in the state of Manipur. Such acts of policing by village folks occurs most frequently in cases related to ‘immorality’ – a relationship considered illegal or immoral for the community the person belong. These are relationships that are socially not- sanctioned. Such (illicit) relationships are considered a shame to/for the community/ society, or to the family.
In such cases the women in such relationship(s) were those mostly accused and blamed for the ‘immoral act’. They are outcaste, stigmatised and are considered ‘dirty’, and a shame for the community.
Moral policing in Manipur are carried out in the name of certain social organisations or a ‘civil society’, most commonly under the umbrella of women groups. Considered a conscience keeper of the society/ community, these women organisations would be alerted by people in case of any information of such ‘immoral behaviour’, or ‘illicit relations’ within the community or society.
The legal aspect of moral policing is one thing, but what have come out in such incident is the ridicule of women groups, and the remarks such as “women are against women” or “women are the worst enemy of women”. Even though in recent times such moral policing has happened spontaneously, without any organisation leading, women’s organisations would be automatically drawn into criticisms and ridiculing by so called progressives at large.
Such frequent incidents of moral policing and shaming victims in Manipur state have raised many questions. It is true that the key people at the forefront in such incidents are women. And that too under a certain umbrella of a women organisation. In certain other cases such as in Tribal societies it is the Tribe based organisations (all-boys club) who led the “moral policing”.
This calls for a re-look at such organisations. Why is moral policing carried out under such umbrella? Instantly, People would point finger at civil society or traditional organisations. Though in recent times this is spontaneous, wherein an alarm is raised, and a mob just appeared and began to act immediately.
Moral Policing can happen in an environment that promotes patriarchy, in a society that preserves traditional patriarchy in various forms.
In a state like Manipur where the society has strong traditional norms and customary practices, believes systems, patriarchy become even more entrenched. This patriarchal nature and display takes different forms and levels in modern age and current times. The most visible signs of patriarchy’s new face is Moral Policing or Mob Policing for “alleged immoral act”.
Moral policing is an act that is traditionally accepted and socially sanctioned.
A woman caught in adultery is socially accepted as indulging in an illegal act against the culture/ custom/ tradition. It is considered a ‘sin’ committed not only against ‘god’, but a ‘sin’ committed against one’s community or society.
This is so deeply ingrained in people’s minds, that when a woman is found to be in an (illicit) relationship, automatically or spontaneously people are ready to teach and preach morality by policing them. All the actors need no mobilising; they come spontaneously as they are already so much into the concept of ‘morality’ that they need no mobilising.
In the current form of patriarchy, women folk are in the forefront. Policing which is considered a ‘male domain’ have now been taken into their hands by the women folk. This is an indication that women who have long been suppressed have come out to take law into their own hands. To voice out that – we too can take law into our hands. And in their sub-conscious minds, in this ‘uprising’ against their suppression, they have unfortunately begun to victimise women – women who are marginalised, and socially and politically weaker.
Rise of moral policing is an alarm bell of the further entrenching of patriarchy in the society, in a new form and face. This must be seen in the context of the current situation and space. Unwittingly, women became the propagator of this new form of Patriarchy.
Legal awareness of the situation, or legal entity alone will not be the right approach to this moral policing. It requires a comprehensive act, collective efforts of all right thinking citizens to dismantle patriarchy in its various forms and levels. One small step could be a review and relook at the existing patriarchal practices and traditions, beliefs, and customs.
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Independent journalist writing on/ of north-east India and engaging with women groups in the
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