Yet again, the Mumbai Police have assumed that their responsibilities include the morality policing of consenting adults – this time in private spaces that they had paid for. Early on Thursday morning, officers raided hotel rooms in the beachside neighbourhoods of Madh Island and Aksa and detained 40 couples, charging them with indecent behaviour in public. Some of them were held in custody until they had phoned their parents. This is not new for the Mumbai Police, though usually they tend to restrict their zealous actions to public spaces where the law is ambiguous and they might have the tiniest fig leaf with which to cover themselves.

Last September, after a couple was detained outside a mall because the woman had her arm around her friend’s waist, Mumbai Commissioner Rakesh Maria reassured residents that the Mumbai Police would not be not the moral police. It’s time for Commissioner Maria to put his money where his mouth is and restrain his force, if for no other reason than because what they are doing is not backed by the law. It is perfectly legal to share a hotel room with a person, indeed a lover, to whom one is not married.

In an everyday sense, housing societies already ask for marriage certificates before they will rent a flat to a heterosexual couple. This isn't legal either but since the property is private there is often little they can do. Already, some hotels have started policing couples, asking for proof of marriage.

The Delhi example

Some years ago in September 2008, the Dwarka police station in New Delhi booked a couple for kissing  under the local Metro station. As it turned out, the woman and man were married to each other. The Delhi High Court quashed the case. “It is inconceivable how, even if one were to take what is stated in the FIR to be true, an expression of love by a young married couple would attract offence of obscenity and trigger the coercive process of law," Justice S Muralidhar said. The state was asked to pay compensation to the couple and the Delhi  Police Commissioner even offered to write a letter of apology to them.

This is the kind of response Mumbai desperately needs now.

But to defang the police, citizens also need to change their own attitudes. One strategy the police frequently employ is to threaten to call the parents of the couples they’ve detained.  How would the equation change if these young people could turn to the police and simply say, “Yes, do call my parents.” What would change if young people feared their parents less than they do the police?

The great dictators

The Central government has begun the process of telling Indians what they cannot watch on their  computers in the privacy of their homes, the Maharashtra government already dictates what citizens can eat, and now the Mumbai Police are telling residents where and with whom they can have sex.

Some people have been posting statements on social media asserting both, “I have shared a hotel room with a lover I was not married to” and “I will stand by my kids if they are ever harassed by the police for sharing a hotel room with a lover.”

Our only defence against this morality policing is to assert our own. This includes supporting our children’s right to say not just no to non-consensual sex but their right to say yes as consenting adults. One tweet asked if people would support the idea of their daughter’s sharing hotel rooms with their boyfriends. Our answer to this must be an unequivocal "yes".