Mumbai: The next time a wave of affection overcomes you, think twice before you reach out to give your friend a warm hug -- you may have to pay for it, in cash. This is what happened to Kuber Sarup (25) on Thursday who was subjected to a harrowing ordeal by cops, whose moral sensibilities he outraged by hugging a girl goodbye, along with a peck on the cheek. Cops attached to the Khar police station allegedly harassed him for 'indecent behavior in public' and made him pay Rs 1,200 for a court hearing.
Mr Sarup, who owns a production company, was driving back to his Andheri home. He stopped at Carter Road to return a mobile handset to his friend, who had lent it to him a few days back. He said, "I picked her up from Carter Road, and we spent 5 minutes in the car, exchanging pleasantries. After this I returned her mobile. We then tried to flag down a rickshaw for her."
"I gave her a friendly hug and a peck on her cheek as a farewell gesture, after which she stepped into the rickshaw. In a moment, a police inspector and a constable attached to the Khar police station emerged from the nearby police chowky to accost me. I was shocked when they accused me of engaging in indecent behavior in public."
Mr Sarup tried to reason with them, explaining that he had done nothing that could be labeled 'indecent'. "I even hug and peck my mother and brother. What's indecent about this affectionate gesture? Were we making out or kissing? I tried to make them see reason, but they refused to budge from their opinion." Sarup was then stuffed into a police van and taken to the Khar police station. Here, cops demanded Rs 1,200 as a deposit, so they could present him to court the following day, for his 'indecent act'.
"I refused to pay the fine, and instead, warned that I would file a complaint against them, for subjecting me to such harassment and ill-treatment. Unfazed, they replied that I could only lodge a complaint against them at court. Then, the inspector tried to hug me, just to demonstrate that the hug I had given my friend was indecent."
Incensed, Mr Sarup refused to pay the fine. "The cops then gave me two options: I could either pay the deposit and appear in court the next day, or spend the night in the lock-up and be produced at court the next day," he said. "Not wanting to spend the night behind bars, I had no option but to cough up the amount."
'We have footage!'
The argument took an interesting turn when the cops told him that they had CCTV footage to prove that he had outraged public modesty. His response, however, threw them off guard. Relieved that the footage could help him prove his innocence, he asked to be shown the footage. Cops did a quick U-turn, saying that he was an ordinary citizen who was not privy to such confidential footage.
Sociologist Nandini Sardesai said, "Even my students hug and peck each other on the cheeks by way of greeting. What is indecent about that? Societal norms are constantly changing, and the youth today is more open about exhibiting feelings. All sections of society must learn to tolerate each other's ways of living. The policemen must be made to undergo an orientation course, to judge what is decent and what is not, so that they don't end up harassing people." Social activist Bharati Kakkad said, "Nowadays it is the norm to greet family and friends with a hug and a peck on the cheek. It definitely does not amount to indecent behavior." Noted criminal lawyer Shreekant Bhat, said, "Booking the individual under Section 110 of the Bombay Police Act seems to be irrelevant. The concerned person must pay the deposit and appeal to the morning court. The case would then be transferred to a regular court, and then the individual can engage good lawyers and ask for cross-examination of the policemen."
The other side
Mid-DAY approached Senior Inspector attached to Khar police station Mangesh Pote, asking him what could be considered a standard definition of indecency. His response -- "What is not decent is indecent." Asked to respond to the incident that had taken place within the walls of the station, he said, "Indecency is subjective to each and every person, and there are no fixed parameters to judge it. But broadly speaking, as per the parameters of Indian culture, I consider the act of a boy hugging and pecking a girl on her cheek as indecent, one that makes him liable to be booked under the relevant sections of the Bombay Police Act for indecency."