A couple from Kerala ended up becoming the victims of cyberbullying and moral policing when they decided to do something different for their post-wedding couple shoot.
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Due to the Coronavirus, Rishi Karthikeyan and Lakshmi were not in a position to celebrate their wedding the way they would have liked to. So, when they had the opportunity to do a couple shoot in the tea plantations of Vagamon in Idukki district of Kerala, they looked forward to it eagerly. The newlyweds wanted to do something that wasn’t cliché, but little did they know that their couple pictures would go viral, and end up being scrutinised in a negative light.
These ‘obscene’ pictures, as described by social media’s moral police, received massive and unnecessary outcry on social media where people abused, trolled, shamed, harassed, and posted vulgar comments against the couple, including their own relatives. Some even went to the extent of abusing the couple’s parents on social media, questioning their ‘culture’ and deeming the shoot as ‘indecent’. In an interview, Rishi, shared, “Both of us were very much clothed throughout the shoot. It is impossible not to be clothed as we were shooting outdoors, in a public place. That the photographer was able to capture aesthetic shots of us, is purely his creativity and camera skills. But most users, especially on Facebook, began moral policing me and my wife over the nature of the pictures.”
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Kerala is constantly getting caught up in the moral policing quagmire, which rears its ugly head in the guise of ‘protecting’ culture. This couple had taken the decision to do the shoot, and they were comfortable doing it. But their choice was questioned by a public who had no businesses in interfering.
Social media vigilantes, who often believe that they are ‘culture warriors’, forget to understand they have no right to muddle with people’s personal choices. It surprises us to see how public display of affection garners hostility and abuse from people on social media. Right from your nosy neighbours and the people within your own families to authorities, the idea of moral policing runs in them like it is a right. When they find, or see, something ‘immoral’ or not at par with their understanding of ‘decency’, they are not able stop themselves from either judging or spitting out comments against it. Moral policing is a tool used to assert patriarchal dominance in societies. People perpetuate such behaviours consciously in an attempt to ‘correct’ the immoral doings due to their conventional expectations of the social order.
Sections 292 to 294 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) in the country has a blurred understanding of “obscene acts” and what is deemed as “indecent”. Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code expresses that:
Whoever, to the annoyance of others:
(a) Does any obscene act in any public place, or
(b) Sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place,
shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.
Now, the issue here is that the IPC has not defined the word ‘public obscenity‘, which is why there exist various assumptions about it and it is left to the imagination of the public to define it. What happens, in this case, is that a group’s interpretation of morality, indecency, or obscenity is most likely to clash with the ideology of others. People themselves decide what is wrong and what is right. This is where Section 292, gives people the right to use the word ‘obscenity’ in their own understanding of the word.
This blurred understanding of what is real and what is based on the mere assumptions and ideologies of multiple, intersectional groups has led to the rise in moral policing, like we saw in the case of Rishi Karthikeyan and Lakshmi.
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