Moral police need policing, too

Fearing public embarrassment, couples accused of infringing religious laws on morality often put themselves at risk of physical hurt, and even death.

WHEN a fatal accident happens, usually there will be an enquiry to find out the reasons behind it. Landslides may cause homes to be buried along with some occupants so an enquiry is needed to decide who is at fault and to be held responsible.

Or schoolchildren out on an excursion may wind up drowned and investigations must be done, not least to ensure such a tragedy never happens again.

Sometimes fatalities occur involving government departments or officials. A proper enquiry must therefore be done so that the public gets to know the truth and retains its trust in the government department or official.

Usually this happens because there is a public outcry over the death.

But one area where there is no public outcry is when there are fatalities as a result of khalwat (close proximity) raids.

Just recently a young man aged only 21 was found dead at the foot of his apartment building.

Apparently panicked by a raid by religious department officers, he had tried to escape through a window and fallen five floors.

Who is responsible for the death of such a young man?

When the police, in the course of their job, cause a fatal accident, they are brought to book. Their only defence would be that they were defending themselves.

But in the case of the 21-year-old, there was no aggression involved, unless one counts the fright that a group of moral police causes a young couple that we don’t know for certain were doing anything at all.

This is not the first time that young people have been put at risk because of these raids. Last New Year’s eve, religious department officers rounded up dozens of couples for allegedly committing khalwat.

In one case, a young girl, in attempting to escape, went onto a window ledge many floors high above the ground. Instead of persuading the girl to come in, the officers asked her boyfriend to coax her.

Had anything happened to her, who would have been blamed?

In other raids, people have fallen and suffered injuries. In none of these cases have any of the religious officers been held responsible or accountable for causing these injuries to happen.

Mostly that is because people are embarrassed to pursue any action against them.

But this reluctance means that these religious officers are free to act with impunity because they will never be called into account for the result of their actions.

They may say that their aim is only to prevent vice. But is there something in their job description that says that injuries and deaths of those they raid are acceptable by-products of their jobs?

Or is death considered an exemplary way to stop vice?

It is only when the victim or the victim’s family decides to take action that anyone is held accountable at all.

A few years ago a young woman sued the religious department for insulting her dignity and causing her shame in public, and won. But she is rare in her feistiness.

Most of the time, these cases pass by unnoticed. Worse still, judgments are made on their morals without them ever being able to defend themselves.

Indeed most people caught for khalwat are never asked to enter their defence. Usually they don’t have any legal representation in court, especially if they are young and poor.

Is this what moral policing means, for people to be found guilty unless proven innocent?

For people to have no recourse if they feel wrongly accused? For there to be no way to obtain compensation for injuries or even death?

People are charged in court regularly without legal representation. No auditing is ever done of the budgets of religious departments or whether they do what they are supposed to do, which apparently is to propagate religion.

But is religious propagation to be measured by how many people you catch for alleged vice?

Pretty soon there’ll be more people arrested than there are to be propagated to.

We need to get the moral police under control if we cannot ban them altogether. Never held up to account for neither their actions nor any transparency in whatever they do, they hide behind religion as justification for all sorts of misbehaviour.

Just as others are held responsible when accidents happen, religious officers must be, too. Otherwise we foster a society where it is not only impossible to have a private life but it becomes dangerous as well.

Source: The Star

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