CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER
When a young couple was caught on camera kissing and hugging each other in Kerala, and it was labelled as ‘immoral activity’ which India would not tolerate, started the online Kiss of Love campaign in Facebook. A brief research on this campaign would show that people supporting it are basically spreading the message against moral policing, which unfortunately has become very much ‘happening’ in India for past few years. In the Indian society moral policing begins right from our own homes. Consider a Twin or an adolescent child asking his parents about what is sex and you may in the very next minute, presume what answer he might get: either the (progressive) parents would tell him that this is nothing but a process of reproduction, or the (orthodox) parents would thrash him and ask him to stop speaking with his friends who are over enthusiastic about the subject, or curtail his TV timing. Rarely any parent would feel that the children of Technology era may find their answer in the internet without letting their parents even having a trace of it. our generation who were connected to our friends and relatives through landline phones and snail mails and our parents or grandparents could never have imagined that sexual gratification of oneself could be achieved by exchanging sexted photographs through phones; mostly grew up watching young couples doing such ‘immoral activities’ like kissing and hugging in shady places. Some of the much popular places of young couple of our generation in various metro cities were Victoria Memorial in Kolkata or Lal Bag garden in Bangalore or the Marina beach in Chennai . Other than these, bushy and lonely places in the colleges or Universities also provided excellent ‘private’ places for young couples. Unlike these days, couples did not have in- built camera devices with them to capture the private moments, but there were ‘spies’ (mostly engaged by the families), who would act as agents of moral policing by taking voyeur pictures only to either motivate the parents to forcefully stop the rendezvous or make a police complaint against the boy for harassing the girl. In some cases such acts of moral policing had also been used to defame the girl and her family. Many of such young couples may not finally make a strong couple and start a family. Even in this generation also, this observation stands true. There are umpteen amounts of resources available which may vouch that either the girl was emotionally overpowered by the boy, who wanted enjoy the forbidden pleasure; or both of them wanted to enjoy sexual stimulation by non-penetrative body contact which may include kissing, rubbing, hugging etc. For matured and older teens and young adults of extremely orthodox families, this may be the result of suppression of sexual fantasies. But could such activities like kissing be called ‘immoral’ when done in public places? While the Indian Penal Code gives a broader view on this in S.294(a) by stating that any obscene act done in public is punishable by law; for senior teens it may become even more risky with the existence of Prevention of children from sexual offences Act,2012. But note that none of these laws explain what is ‘immoral’ or what is ‘obscene’. However, there are some regional laws which have covered such subjects under the broader nuance of ‘nuisance’ in public; for example, Police Acts in many metro cities such Kolkata, Karnataka, Bombay police Acts etc, gives power to any officer to take action against any individual for exposing oneself indecently in public places or committing wilful nuisance in public places. While the word ‘indecent’ has also a broader connotation quite like the word ‘obscenity’ under the Indian laws, kissing in public with sexual connotation has been tagged as a subject of indecency due to these laws which were influenced by Indian culture as well as British colonial understanding of ruling the country. But our judiciary has shown an extra ordinary modern mind set when it comes to supporting these laws or police actions for arresting couples for kissing in public. Consider this one case in 2009 where the Delhi High Court refused to accept the case against a young married couple who were caught kissing in the metro station; the High court ruled that kissing by newly married couple in public place can not be called obscene(http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Kissing-in-public-by-married-couple-not-obscene-HC/articleshow/4066941.cms) ; or consider the case of Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty kissing case which attracted huge comments from moral policing groups. In 2007 Gere was sentenced to be arrested for kissing Shilpa on the dais where they were promoting AIDS awareness campaign by a Rajasthan Court. Subsequently the Supreme court quashed the order stating that there was nothing obscene in the act of Gere kissing Shilpa.
But then why such hype about kissing in public?
I am one who opposes the idea of publicising emotions, especially those with sexual connotation in public. 15 years back as a fresh law graduate when I arrived in Chennai, I had been a victim of such moral policing when I was ‘caught’ patting my the-then boy friend, now husband as I was appreciating him for one of his scholarly articles. I was warned not only by the parents of some adult women who stayed in the working women’s hostel, but also by the matron and other board members of the Hostel. They felt by seeing me other women would also pick up this habit. It was alarming for me as I understood Tamil Nadu is extremely orthodox when it comes to public display of emotion to your boyfriend or husband. But on the very next day I did get to see so many couples in the Marina beach doing a bit more than what I did. May be I should have been bold enough to confront the society. But the ‘damage’ was already done. I started realising the fact that if one publicly displays his/her emotions the protestors may warn or create a havoc not because they are propagating the so called ‘decent’ culture of India, but because they may also instantly feel the suppressed sexual desire to touch the ‘target’ and ‘experiment’ the same activities. My realisation was not born out of imagination. It was due to several write-ups about mob-sexual violence and sexual psychology of people who were brought up by families where sexual violence was considered as normal trick for ‘taming’ women. I was not bold and aware as the NALSAR university girls who fought back the people who were filming them when they were enjoying their farewell party at a pub (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/people/Wronged-girls-now-ready-to-fight-back/articleshow/19542082.cms). But now when I am aware, I am still a little rigid; but don’t fall in the strict group of moral police who would thrash the young couple. The public kissing campaign can neither get full support from me as my understanding says there may be some (rare) incidents where campaigners especially women may have to face unwanted harassment.
My understanding has one more reason. Consider some instances when young women receive some ‘smily’ and it is not to be smiled at all….. women receiving ‘kiss’ through apps in their digital devices has started becoming an alarming issue now. In the digital place too we have private as well as public place and when a stranger starts sending ‘kiss’ to a woman either in the public chat room or private profiles, it becomes not only annoying, but also frightening to the ‘target’. I have seen many women who had received such ‘kiss’ from strangers or little known acquaintances, start feeling extremely uncomfortable in the digital space. The signal is clear; if kissing in public place is not a ‘crime’ then why would sending a ‘kiss’ online be a crime? We need to understand that every revolution, every positive improvement has a side effect and it depends upon how the message is being interpreted by individuals. While kissing or physical touching by two lovers in public places especially in serene atmosphere or lonely places can be a sweet experience for them, the ‘scene’ may not leave a sweet memory for many. Digital place anonymity has posed a dangerous question on the safety of women and activities such as ‘kissing in public’ (even if it is between two lovers or if the kiss is not made with sexual connotation) may also have a darker shadow in the digital space.
We need more awareness and education regarding usage of digital space and the most important; we need to have better sex-education, health and hygiene education in the schools. Let us hope love spreads everywhere and in a very comfortable way not leaving behind any track to let hate or mischievousness destroy the beautiful feeling of human beings.