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The Rediff Special/Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai

April 26, 2005

For Mumbai's lovebirds, the men in khaki -- no friendly figure to begin with -- have taken on a more sinister air following last week's rape of a 16-year-old girl by a policeman.

On April 21, constable Sunil Atmaram More summoned the girl and her friend, who were strolling on ritzy Marine Drive in south Mumbai, to his chowky, intimidated the boys into leaving and raped her.

The incident has shocked Mumbai residents out of their customary chalta hai attitude. For couples, especially, it has injected extra fear, for very often they are at the receiving end of the policeman's zeal to enforce the law that bans 'indecent' behaviour in public places.

What if it had happened to you? | Are women in Mumbai safe?

"I regularly visit parks and cozy corners with my girlfriend. I fear the police can pick us up for no reason and harass us as they have been doing with others. The policemen have too much power and they can do anything to ordinary citizens," says Amit Shah.

Section 110 of the Mumbai Police Act says 'any 'indecent' behaviour in public places, including kissing, putting arms around the neck or reclining on your companion's lap, is punishable.' The fine for being let off on bail is Rs 1,250.

If the 'offenders' don't pay up, they are taken into custody for a day. The next day, they are produced before a magistrate, who decides on the punishment which could go up to seven days' imprisonment.

Special: Rapist cop could face life term

For young at heart Mumbaikars, there is a unusual problem that forces them into the open: the city's legendary squeeze on space. With crowded homes, the letup often is public places like the park, beach etc.

Says Shah, "I had absolutely no idea that such laws exist. If two married people do not have a place in the city they might want to spend time in the park. Now, if I put my hand around my wife's shoulders I don't think anybody should have an objection to that. I think this law must be amended."

Salim Shaikh, another regular at Mumbai's green spots, says. "I agree that kissing in public places should be banned, but there should be warnings about it. How are couples expected to follow the law when there are no notice boards put up in public places?"

"Eunuchs bother people at public places in Mumbai," he adds, "and now we have to fear policemen too. When a policeman tells us to accompany him for questioning we have no other option but to go along. The fear of our parents forces us to follow the policeman quietly."

In 2002, in a highly publicised affair, the police arrested 30 couples for obscenity at Mumbai's 'love spot', Bandra Bandstand, and fined them Rs 1,250 each, and let them go after taking down their address and checking out their relationship. Though most of the couples were either married or engaged, the police defended the action by stating that the entire exercise was to protect the couples from robbers. The police also said local residents had complained about obscenity in the area.

Shrikant Khalap, who frequently visits parks with his girlfriend, remembers that incident all too well.

"On one hand we talk of India as a nation of youngsters. And here we have a law that says a 21-year-old boy can't put his arms around his 18-year-old girlfriend in public places. If I do that, I will be arrested. What kind of law is this? We have been declared as adults by the Constitution. I think it is high time we change such laws and don't give the police too much of power."


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Number of User Comments: 59




Sub: young couples and cops.

the law relating to " offence " of expressing love in public requires to be removed. i am a regular visitor abroad. i do come ...


Posted by csrao





Sub: Archiac Laws and police power- Lacking focus

The centuries old laws with respect to human ships to be reviewd and amended to give space for living happily in the current contesxt. Everyone ...


Posted by AswathaKumar





Sub: they are gods

Yes and if it against laws to hold hands and kiss then all such laws with specific details should be put on such potential sights.How ...


Posted by cool





Sub: POLICEMEN HAVE TOO MUCH POWER

I think it is well if police men are petrolling around he park,street and at any chowk but it does't meanb that tthey will harmed ...


Posted by SANJAY KUMAR





Sub: Couples in Public Places

All very well for the police to patrol beaches, parks and other places. What has the police got to say to those couples who are ...


Posted by Tony McMahon




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