Updated: August 10, 2015 7:52:14 pm
Couples. They spring everywhere in Mumbai. On sea fronts. In parks. On the steps of “discount and sale” malls. In movie theatres which run Bahubali. In railway compartments. You can even spot them on sky walks.
In Sewree—and in some parts of Mazgaon, where ‘old Bombay’ still exists in its shipyard horizons, the migrant locals have scribbled on long walls, “Couples beware. Do not loiter here”.
Resident associations across the city, in south Mumbai, in Worli and in Bandra, the self-proclaimed custodians of the sea fronts don’t love them either. They have several rules – “Don’t sit here”, “Do not crowd here”, “Do not kiss here”. In suburban buildings— boys and girls can meet but they are definitely not allowed to be a couple, after the society’s Cindrella hour.
At the iconic gardens in South Mumbai almost every bench is polite: ‘Only for Senior Citizens’ is written all over. But by the sunset hour you still spot couples everywhere. They have, well for a better word, “invaded” our public space, our privacy. So on Thursday — when they decided to seek some “private space” the Mumbai police decided to act on our behalf to “police”, well, the bedrooms.
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In quotes they shared later, they repeatedly stated that they had booked “three prostitutes” which saw everyone including a beautician and a fiance being asked to the accompaniment of repeated slaps, to explain what they were doing in bedrooms inside lodges.
On Thursday, as in the past, the legal section slapped was Section 110 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, which summarily stands for ‘behaving indecently in public’. In the police’s defense, the section does allow action as it reads, “no person shall willfully or indecently expose his person in any street or public place, whether from any house or building or not use any indecent language or behave indecently or riotously or in a disorderly manner in a street or place of public resort or in any office station or station house.”
On Thursday, the police did tick few boxes, ‘couples inside a bedroom’ is equal to ‘indecent’, check; ‘touching’ is equal to ‘disorderly manner’, check and ‘lodges’ is equal to ‘place of public resort’, check. The facts that the ‘couples’ were consenting adults, was overlooked.
The manner in which the raids were conducted indicated the prejudices and the morals held by the Mumbai police. All the women, for instance, were forced to prove they were not “prostitutes”.
On Monday, a news tabloid quoted the police commissioner saying that the school books will be brought out, to teach the police force the meaning of ‘indecent behaviour’. This is not the first time the police commissioner has found himself in an apologetic spot—trying to address “the issue”, taking the onus for his conservative staff. In September 2014, the same Mumbai Police had problems with a couple sitting on a bench at a mall after watching Finding Fanny. Post the movie, Cheryl Godinho, 25 and Runcil Rebello, 24, were seated on a bench, Cheryl had his arm around Runcil, only to be carted away to a police station with a fine of Rs 1,200. Police Commissioner Maria was quoted in a tabloid as stating that the anti-harassment squads did not have any business interfering with couples and promised sensitization programmes.
The same month, a group of friends were booked under Section 110, after the boys in the group touched the girls, while taking a selfie group hug. In 2012, a Khar based resident fought a case for a year after he was booked for indecent behavior– for kissing a girl’s cheek in public.
The last time the Mumbai Police used Section 110 and made headlines was during the AIB Roast where gestures, slangs and abuses disturbed them. In 2013, the same police force had even issued a police circular threatening action against “indecent behaviour by couples at sea-fronts stating that during low tide couples at sea fronts encouraged mugging, and anti-social elements.
The lesson that the Mumbai Police needs to learn is that when two consenting adults walk into a lodge it’s not indecent or anti-social or a “law and order” situation. It’s just plain old fashioned coupling.
This is Mumbai of 2015, not 1951.
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