How Obscene Were The Students Actually Being In The Viral UoL Video?
The world has been a hypocritical cesspool of overreaching moral policing from the very first days of civilization. Saviours of sacredness have pilfered the peace of common people under dubious pretexts of ‘protecting the social fabric’ from day one. Pundits of all religions, fervent followers of almost all theologies have extolled this thing and abhorred that one. This behaviour is often rooted in controlling the masses and creating a sense of identity. What’s sacred for one group is forbidden by the other. Social habits, dietary trends, and even something as personal as one’s attire is dictated.
Let us consider the confusing dichotomy of ‘Moral Vs Immoral.’ Some from the more advanced parts of the world might declare discussion over these matters to be obscure, or redundant at best. But it is also a sad reality that for people from developing parts of the world, these questions still matter. Our current discussion is somewhat rooted in the recent incident that took place in University of Lahore – “UoL.”
For readers unaware of the reference to UoL, here’s a brief recap. A lady was proposed by a gentleman in open public on university premises, flowers were exchanged and there was a brief hug too. Videos became viral, morality police started patrolling the virtual roads of social media, and thus came the uncalled-for reaction of UoL’s administration; expulsion of the couple.
News floated around social media that the proposing boy was being haunted by ‘ghairatmand’ [proud] brothers of the lady seen in video, for dishonouring the name of their family in open. Battle ensued, camps were created, and each participant was furiously participating in the debate around this seemingly common matter. The discussion came to a point where opposition to the misconceived and illegal decision of UoL administration was defended by claiming that things like murder and hugs are prohibited ab initio, therefore any claim to its validity is outrightly ‘misplaced’. I am still unable to fathom as to what acrobatics of moral philosophy were employed to equate something as harmless as hugs and other expressions of love between two consenting adults with something ghastly like murder.
Keeping in view this recent incident, it is time we discuss as to what “obscenity” is, and whether any component of the act done by the young couple falls under the heading. At this juncture it is imperative that Section 294 of Pakistan Penal Code ‘Obscene acts and songs’ be discussed, as the same was referred by a learned friend while expressing his opinion over the subject.
In plain words, Section 294 gives authority to the office concerned to take cognizance of “any obscene act in any public place” done to the annoyance of others. Although there’s no explanation given in section ibid as to who these ‘others’ are, but prudence suggests that they must be someone in the same physical vicinity to those committing the said act. This conclusion is reached keeping in view the fact that the said law was inserted in 1895, a long time before social media and viral videos were even conceived. Although from the videos that went viral, it is easily observable that none in the physical locale of the proposing couple are annoyed, on the contrary, all available can be witnessed cheering to the humble expressions of adoration being exchanged before them. Further, it is also to be noted that the said section provides zero disclosure over what can be deemed ‘obscene’. However, in a judgment reported as PLJ 2009 Lah, the learned Court has most prudently observed that “No precise or arithmetical definition of the word that would cover all possible cases can be given. whether the questioned act is obscene or not will have to be judged on the facts of each case in the context of its surroundings”. The acts of the couple neither caused any immediate annoyance, nor can something that’s unusually considered a sign of fondness be arbitrarily declared as obscene.
This brings us to the last part of our discussion: Why the outrage? The answer to this may be much more complicated than what is stated here, therefore this piece is best seen as a humble attempt to understand the phenomenon of public outrage.
One shouldn’t forget that moral policing, even if done with the most innocent intentions, puts at risk the life and social standing of all at the receiving end of the barrel. People in our part of the world are often brought up on a diet of hatred and repression. Love is prohibited, so are all expressions of it. This reminds me of a clichéd but unfortunately accurate quote I came across almost a decade ago on social media, “you can piss in public, but you can’t kiss in public.”
Hate coupled with misplaced anger has eaten up the very heart of society that we exist in. Our newly concocted identities are based on the foundations of antagonism towards what our Eastern heritage actually placed in high regard: love. It is time that we as a society looked back at history and reflected on what bitter Frankensteins we have become.
The author is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He tweets @sheraza29