A girl using her cellphone in public can now be fined Rs 2,100 (about $320), ruled the local council of Madora, a village on the outskirts of Mathura, India.
“The girls in our village are not much educated," explained Gaffar Khan, the head of the village council, to The Hindustan Times. "We fear they might be led to a ‘wrong path’ and so to prevent it, restrictions are being imposed on girls to not use mobile phones in public or while walking through the village lanes."
The new rule was part of a larger initiative by the predominately Muslim village to "clean" the image of Madora. According to Khan, the council has also placed expensive penalties on gambling, alcohol consumption, and cow slaughter. These punishments are in response to reported stereotypes of Madora and its neighboring villages as places of "tatlu-baazi" or "cheats," a practice that involves tricking people out of money or valuable possessions.
“We are fed up with police raids and to discourage crime, it has been decided to stop the illegal practice of ‘tatlu-baazi’," said Khan.
How girls using their cellphones in public factors into this is puzzling, but the council does blame technology for affairs and elopements in the village.
The police said they believe the cellphone fine is an attempt to limit the interactions between men and women, as similar actions have been taken in other Indian villages to curb what are seen as inappropriate relationships. Suraj, a village in Gujarat, reportedly took things a step further and banned girls and unmarried women from possessing or using cellphones with the exception of sharing their parent's phone and receiving calls from relatives.
"We haven't really banned women from using cellphones" Khan insisted. "But whatever is done, should be done according to our tradition."
It has not been specified whether this rule, like the ban in Suraj, only applies to young girls and unmarried women, and Khan made no mention of why this fine does not apply to men. However, judging by his comments as to why the penalty was placed on women in the first place, we can infer that there is serious sexism and misogyny at work.
While police are willing to work with the village council to curb what they see as crime, Arun Kumar Singh, senior police officer, stated that law enforcement would also ensure that women's rights were not trampled on.
"We support their measures against illegal activities, but if there is anything that is against the freedom of women, then we will look into it," he said. "Such orders are against the constitution, and we will take action."
Fining women for using their cellphones in public is already a severe breech of women's freedoms. How far the authorities' "support" of the council extends in regard to the mobile phone rules remains to be seen, as does their support of Madora's girls.