Moral policing
Local officials visited the village and cautioned the elders against taking the law into their own hands by issuing such bans.

The announcement of a ban on wearing ‘nighties’ during the daytime in a West Godavari village prompted a sharing frenzy on social media in the district, forcing local authorities to visit the place and launch an enquiry.

Behind the ban, which is clearly about moral policing, are elderly women and some men in Thokalapalle village who say they find it “inconvenient” to see young women and girls going in nighties to nearby shops, village meetings and other formal occasions.

Based on their request, some six months ago, the village elders arranged for announcements to be made over loudspeakers that a fine of Rs 2,000 would be slapped on women seen wearing nighties in the streets between 7 am and 7 pm. They also announced a reward of Rs 1,000 for those who report any violations of the ban. Those suffering from ill-health were spared from the ban and allowed to wear nighties round the clock.

There have been no complaints against the ban to authorities so far and nobody has been fined all these months. But during the recent Diwali festival, some residents informed the local media about the ban, which then went viral on social media locally. The villagers confidently told visiting local media why they supported the ban.

When local revenue and police officials enquired about this during their visit to the village on Thursday, the elders said that they announced the ban following pressure from women themselves. They told officials that nobody had been penalised till now and that it was just a small announcement meant to put “a little fear” into young women and girls.

The elderly women, sticking to their absurd argument, said that it was not “appropriate” to wear nighties outside the home and for all occasions, though these may be comfortable to wear. They argued that these nighties are meant for night-time dressing only and are also not part of "Hindu" culture. Their contention was that the younger generation does not wear traditional outfits like sarees or half-sarees or dupattas at home and while moving around in the village; they wear nighties even while visiting the temple to offer puja. The elderly women alleged that the young do not care about discipline and are not abiding by ‘kattubatlu’ (conventions) set down by their ancestors.

The elders defended their decision to impose the ban saying that it is the general practice in their village to take decisions after discussions in village gatherings called ‘sanghams’, a tradition being observed for many generations.

Thokalapalle is a remote village located on the fringes of the sprawling Kolleru lake. It falls under the Nidamarru mandal limits of Unguturu Assembly constituency.

When contacted, Nidamarru Tehsildar M Sundar Raju said he visited the village along with the local sub-inspector of police and they found no law and order problems because of the ban. He said he cautioned the village elders against taking the law into their own hands by issuing such bans that do not have any legal standing. The villagers were also asked to provide immediate information to the available officials if anyone was punished or fined in this respect.

Officials created awareness among the residents that it was incorrect to put the rights of others at risk with such unlawful regulations.

Officials said they were taking all steps necessary to prevent the ‘nighties’ issue from becoming a major problem in the village and surrounding areas. They plan another visit to Thokalapalle soon to get information from more residents. The overall effort is to prevent untoward incidents and ensure peaceful living in the villages, says Tehsildar Raju, who made the visit based on social media posts and despite the fact that there was no formal complaint.

Mainly a fishing village, Thokalapalle has nearly 1,000 families who belong to the ‘vaddi’ community. As per the 2011 census, the village has a population of 3,272 with a literacy rate of 62.63%, lower than the state average of 67.02%. Male literacy in the village is at 68.10% and female literacy is at 57.36%.

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