Moral policing incidents chip away at social harmony in Mangaluru

10:45 AM Feb 25, 2023 | PTI |

The rising incidents of moral policing in coastal Karnataka, especially in Mangaluru, in the last few years have cast a shadow over the port city, once known as a liberal society with a cosmopolitan culture.


Social activists in the region reason that the deterioration in the social harmony happened after the growth of right-wing organisations, which have gained ground in the coastal belt.

They attribute the recurrence of such incidents as a result of the impunity granted to moral policing, political support to the outfits and a passive approach of the ruling BJP.

Moral policing occurs mostly where the Hindutva outfits like Bajrang Dal are strong, which has affected the psyche of the young generation including students.

The most glaring incident in the recent past was reported on July 25 last year when Bajrang Dal activists barged into a pub in the city protesting against women partying at the venue. Students were abused and chased away by the protestors.


The attack reminded everyone of the notorious assault on girls at another pub by Sri Rama Sene members in 2009. Observers say in most of the cases registered by the police, the accused go unpunished due to lack of evidence provided by law enforcement agencies.

A top police official, on condition of anonymity, told PTI they intervene only when complaints are raised about illegal activities in pubs and public places.

Right-wing organisations, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its youth wing Bajrang Dal, claim that their workers are only trying to protect the culture and tradition of the country and reminding the young generation about dignified behaviour in public spaces.

”The activists carry out such protests only to protect the culture and dignity of the nation,” says VHP leader Sharan Pumpwell. He claims that people belonging to different religions partying and drinking are against the basic tenets of our culture and the activists react only when complaints are received from the public.

Police said arrests are being made in many cases when a complaint is lodged. On several occasions, the victims do not wish to proceed with the cases, they contended.

In 2022, there were 41 moral policing cases in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts, according to Suresh B Bhat, activist and member of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), as detailed in a report titled ‘Chronicle of communal incidents in coastal districts of Karnataka’.

Of the incidents, 37 were by Hindu vigilantes while four were by fringe groups of Muslim vigilantes. There was an increase in the number of instances of moral policing too, as in 2021, a total of 37 incidents were reported, while in 2020, only nine such cases were reported.

In such instances of moral policing, couples who belonged to different faiths were either assaulted or handed over to the police by the vigilante groups, even if both the parties had been together wilfully.

Police pointed out that the act of moral policing does not fall under any specific section of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). However, their actions can attract charges under certain IPC sections. According to police, on moral policing incidents, they have been registering cases under IPC Sections 354 (outraging modesty of woman), 342 (wrongful confinement), 354 (molestation), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 149 (unlawful assembly).

DYFI leader Muneer Katipalla claims frequent incidents of moral policing occur with the tacit support of the ruling BJP in the state who prefer to remain mute spectators to such activities. These incidents are reflections of the agenda of polarisation, he asserted.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had last year stirred a controversy by his comment on moral policing. ”When sentiments are hurt, there will be action and reaction,” he said, inviting sharp criticism from the Opposition and social activists.

Last year, several cases of moral policing were reported in the city including the attack on the pub. Right-wing activists had assaulted a Muslim youth for travelling with a girl of a different faith in the city on March 5.

Again, on August 30, a 19-year-old Muslim student was beaten up and threatened by his college mates for befriending a Hindu girl.

A 27-year-old Muslim youth was dragged out of a private bus at Naguri in the city on October 21 and beaten up for travelling with a Hindu woman.

Bajrang Dal district leader Puneet Attavar had openly stated in December last that their activists will confront Muslim youth in the company of Hindu girls during New Year parties.

Police said activists of Hindutva outfits were behind the majority of attacks, while a section of Muslims were also involved in certain cases.

After the infamous attack on party-goers at the pub by Sri Rama Sene activists in 2009, the court which heard the case had opined that the investigating officer had not provided sufficient evidence in the moral policing case.

While acquitting the accused in the assault case in 2018, the court had observed that the officer failed to produce videos of the incident, which was shown by television channels. An indirect attempt was made by the officer to protect the real culprits, the court had remarked.

Activists in the city and the public in general feel the ugly behaviour exhibited by vigilantes must be prevented at any cost to ensure a dignified social atmosphere prevails in the city and the wider coastal region of the state.


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