Mumbai couple harassed, fined for hugging outside mall

Bandstand is nearly cordoned off, a production company owner had been pulled up a couple of years ago for hugging his friend goodbye and now, police in plainclothes accosted a couple on Saturday, dragged them to the police station and made them fork out a fine of Rs 1,200 for ‘indecent behaviour’; all this, because the woman had her arm around the man’s waist

In a case that reeks of moral policing, a couple out to watch a film over the weekend were pulled up by cops in plainclothes, dragged to the police station and made to fork out a fine of Rs 1,200 for ‘indecent behaviour’. Their crime? The woman had her arm around the man’s waist while they were sitting on a bench outside a Goregaon mall.

Runcil Rebello said Cheryl Godinho only had her arm around his waist and there was nothing indecent about it
Runcil Rebello said Cheryl Godinho only had her arm around his waist and there was nothing indecent about it

Bhayander resident Runcil Rebello (24) was out with his girlfriend Cheryl Godinho (25) to watch a movie at Oberoi Mall in Goregaon (East) on Saturday. Both are content writers for media organisations. After watching the film, the couple decided to sit on the benches outside the mall’s main entrance, adjacent to the highway. “We were sitting on the bench and my girlfriend’s hand was around my waist.

The benches have handles between each seat, so there was a fair amount of distance between us. Suddenly, two men and two women in plainclothes came up to us and said: ‘Come with us’,” recalled Rebello. Stunned, the couple asked them where and why. The group told them they were being taken to the police station and one of them allegedly touched Rebello’s arm, seemingly to pull him along.

An indignant Godinho protested and shouted, thinking it was a moral policing drive by a political party. The couple demanded to know who the men and women were, but didn’t get any response. “My girlfriend was arguing with a woman who seemed to be leading the operation.

A policeman in uniform probably a constable then showed up on the scene and started recording the argument on his mobile phone,” said Rebello, who tried to stop the cop from recording. It was only then that the woman from the group told Rebello they were policemen in plainclothes. She said that he couldn’t stop a police official the way he was trying to, and threatened to book him for misconduct against a cop.

'Doing too much'
The couple then asked the men and women to show their IDs to prove that they were cops. “The policewoman who had been doing all the talking took out her ID, flashed it for a moment and put it back in her pocket even before I could read the name,” said Rebello.

The cops then told the couple they had been watching them from their van and that they had been ‘doing too many things’. They took the couple to the Dindoshi police station, where they were told to pay
Rs 1,200 for ‘behaving indecently’ in public. They were allowed to leave only after the fine was paid.

The receipt was issued in the name of the woman. Justifying the cops’s behaviour, a police officer said, “Many college couples and others indulge in such obscene acts in public. Families and young children go to these places and are forced to turn their heads away. Couples shouldn’t indulge in such acts in public; it’s very bad for society and children.”

He added that every police station forms a squad consisting of a woman officer, woman constable and two male policemen. The squads, in plainclothes, patrol public places in their jurisdiction especially those that are frequented by families and women — and catch people who misbehave or ogle at women. The squads also take couples indulging in any “obscene act” in public to the police station and fine them.

Rebello and Godinho were charged under Section 110 of the Bombay Police Act, which disallows any ‘indecent behaviour in public’. The charge can be contested in court. In a similar case in 2012, a man was charged for indecency when he planted a peck on a girl’s cheek in Khar. The man fought the charge in court for a year and was acquitted in 2013.

The other side
When he was asked about the incident, Subhash Dafle, senior police inspector of Dindoshi police station, said, “If they have been caught, they must have been doing something wrong.

The area near Oberoi mall is residential and local residents have complained to us that couples use the benches near the mall to indulge in obscene activities. Hence, our squads conduct these drives to fine such couples.”

Asked if sitting with an arm around the waist was considered indecent, Dafle replied, “The squad will only charge people found indulging in such acts.

Why would they charge anyone unnecessarily? If the couple found our action wrong, they have a right to move the court and, if they are not guilty, the court will take a decision.”

- Inputs by Shiva Devnath

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