BJP Ruled Jharkhand-Police ‘Raid’ Hotel With Consenting Adults, Detain Young Couples For 8 Hours
Those arrested were not released despite showing proof of age
Ranchi, Jharkhand: In a shocking case of moral policing and violation of privacy in Ranchi, the police on Sunday pounced upon four adult couples staying at a hotel in the city’s Booty More area, manhandled them, and hauled them off to the Sadar police station.
Despite the couples providing proof of their age, they were detained for almost eight hours and finally handed over to their parents upon furnishing of PR bonds. Worse, pictures of the couples in their rooms were clicked and made their way to WhatsApp groups.
The ‘raid’, carried out at a hotel that ties up with OYO Rooms, turned into a public spectacle with both media persons and nearby residents gathering to watch.
The youngsters had booked the rooms online in relationship mode on the OYO app, which allows adult unmarried couples to stay in hotels upon furnishing of valid identification cards.
The couples, in this case, were consenting adults studying at reputed colleges in the city.
‘I accept they are adults’
When asked why the youngsters were taken to the police station when it was established that they were not minors and had not committed any crime, DSP Deepak Pandey said that identity cards were not enough and the police had to check whether the cards were genuine.
“We cannot do verification on the road and that’s why we took them to the police station. I accept they are adults but we have to follow the rules and they had to be handed over to their parents only,” he said.
The DSP’s response was more guarded – he tried to pin the blame on media persons – when asked why the couples were photographed in a compromising position (even pictures of used condoms in one of the rooms were clicked), who allowed the photography and how the pictures ended up going viral on social media?
On further probing, it turned out that everyone had clicked pictures during the ‘raid’.
SSP Anish Gupta said “we are guessing that media persons accompanying the raiding party clicked the pictures. We will take strict action if a complaint is filed regarding the pictures”.
Activists and residents cry foul
While some pointed out that the police had no business poking their nose into the private affairs of consenting adults, the residents of the posh locality where the hotel is situated had long been uncomfortable over the property.
According to the information available, the hotel owners had opened the 12-room block in Vrinda Residency apartments this May and a provisional licence was granted by the Ranchi Municipal Corporation on July 7, 2018.
Trouble started when nearby residents started raising objections to the existence of the hotel in the apartment clubhouse, where the builder had initially promised a gymnasium, tennis court and banquet hall.
One of the complainants, Ranjeet Kumar Singh, said: “High net worth individuals live in this posh locality. Earlier, the builder was running a banquet hall from the clubhouse but then he started a hotel without informing anyone. We realised what was going on after the hotel put up an OYO board.”
The residents submitted a written complaint against the builder to the municipal commissioner, but no action was taken despite violation of the norm disallowing commercial use of residential property.
“On Sunday, we saw a couple fight outside the clubhouse and informed the police. We are not against couples meeting but we can’t allow it in residential areas because that would be a bad influence on our kids,” Singh explained.
City-based social activist Mangesh Jha was, however, appalled at the police action and urged for sensitisation of the force.
“The police have got a huge responsibility on their shoulders. They have no business publicly humiliating the youth as it can traumatise them for life. When the police knew the youth were adults and had booked the rooms through the mobile app, they should not have dragged them to the police station. Who will be answerable if one of them decides to take an extreme step to avoid further humiliation?” Jha asked.
What about privacy?
Smaller Indian cities are yet to wake up to the concept of individual privacy, and this is not the first case of harassment of consenting adults by police and vigilante groups.
Attitudes to premarital sex are such that hotels in smaller cities are often not willing to provide accommodation to young couples – even though aggregator apps such as StayUncle, OYO Rooms, Airbnb and Makemytrip advertise ‘unmarried couples are welcome’ in their listings.
Problems occur at the time of check-in, and the aggregators have now been forced to add tags like ‘no rooms for unmarried couples’ for certain properties.
In Ranchi, three hotels in a tie-up with OYO Rooms currently provide lodging to unmarried couples. The current hotel in question is no longer available on the OYO app, and all queries to OYO’s public relation department relating to the development went unanswered.
Hotel owner Sarabjit Singh said: “Smaller cities have tightly-knit communities, which make it easier for rumours to fly. Cops and moral policing gangs are another reason why we are reluctant to subscribe to options which are common for our counterparts in bigger cities like Delhi and Kolkata.”
In the absence of options, youngsters are often overcharged for a stay by shady hotels where police raids often lead to abuse and extortion. “I have gone through such an incident when my girlfriend came visiting over the weekend. She didn’t wish to stay at her parent’s place and I booked a hotel for her. The next day, the premises were raided by cops who went banging on doors in the dead of night. Luckily, we managed to avoid trouble by shelling out Rs 10,000,” said Chandan Tiwari, a marketing professional.
In India, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, defines commercial sex – sexual act performed in lieu of money – alone as a crime. “The problem with the Indian legal system is that moral laws are often confused with legal ones. This confusion is further fanned by police and vigilante groups to impose their own conservative moral code on young blood vying for freedom,” Samavesh Bhanjdeo, a Jharkhand High Court lawyer, said.
(Manmohan Singh is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)