Surabhi Singh (with inputs from Akshay in Bhilai)

“If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked,” stated Sadat Hassan Manto the great author and playwright, who would lay bare the society’s double standards and particularly its hypocrisy when treatment meted out to women. Its good that Manto did not live long enough to see the dwindling character of this society, post independence era.

Its 21st century now and why then, we are forced to go back to Manto? Because, in this era of globalization and neo-liberalization, there is a pulse beating to the tune of chest thumping nationalism and rabid Hindutva fanaticism. Things that were normal a few years back, have now suddenly become crimes. Like eating beef, kissing in public, love marriages, dating, studying.. On the contrary, things that used to be crimes a few years back, have now become increasingly acceptable as the new normal. Like lynching, flogging, kidnapping, shooting men, women and children in a peaceful demonstration, blinding, gang rapes and child marriages.

At a time like this, a group of 100 youngsters, both girls and boys decided to stay together in a upscale neighbourhood at Bhilai, the quintessential Steel City in the heart of Chhattisgarh. They were living on rent and preparing for higher studies, competitive exams et al. It was almost a year since they lived in the Talpuri International Society, paying rent and minding their own business. However, all was not well in this neighbourhood, where middle class men and women, considered them “too free and independent” for their “sanskari” life. Things began going awry, after a few elderly people observed these youngsters enjoying a sip of liquor or an evening of music. The “Live-in” relationships became a bane for their regressive everyday life.

On Saturday, 27th of May, a group of 100 Policemen landed in the society at 3 am in the morning and began conducting door to door searches. What were they searching? Apparently, young men and women living together. After nearly three hours of this “search-operation”, around a 100 youths were rounded up and forced to huddle together in the Lawn. Additional Superintendent of Police, Shashi Mohan Singh, who is a celebrity cop, having acted in over 50 Bhojpuri and Chhattisgarhi Movies, sat these youngsters down and “advised” them on “Morality and Life Ethics.” The Next day newspapers screamed with headlines “Around a 100 youths caught in Suspicious circumstances with bag full of condoms, empty liquor bottles and hukkahs.”

The newspaper clipping shows a group of young men and women huddled together, with their faces covered, with the Cop hovering over them. The newspaper article published in Patrika newspaper, goes on to claim that the youths had been creating unnecessary trouble in the area, and that the society people were “upset with their dubious charades.” Neither the newspaper article nor the cops interviews mention what exactly are these “dubious and suspicious” acts?

One of the local Bhilai youths contacted India Resists and stated that, “ The youths have been booked under Section 151 of IPC for living together and roaming around freely.” India Resists could not ascertain whether the youths who had been taken to the police station were bailed out even after 48 hours of their arrest. The local shopkeepers asserted that there was prostitution happening in one of the houses.

Some of the girls tried to reason out with the Police, that Live In relationship is now legal after Supreme Court has categorically sanctioned it last year. But, neither the media, nor the Cops or even the people in the Gated Community would have any logical explanation coming from them. The future of the women rounded up and the young men who were being detained in the police station remains dubious.
A state that has atleast 7 farmers killing themselves everyday, that has one of the worst maternal mortality rate, that has its Adivasi villagers dying from the fact that they were forced to dig out a dead cow and eat it-because they had nothing to eat for days- has its residents losing their sleep over “Live In” relationships of a few youths.

The hypocrisy of Hindutva State, the moral compass of its police, the generic patriarchy of its lawmakers and the offensive high handedness of its police has its youth huddling in a corner with covered faces, trying to navigate a future.