CHENNAI: The Outlook Speak Out debate 2010 in Chennai recalled a couple of controversial issues that rocked Tamil Nadu in the past but have almost faded out of the collective memory of the people, as a group of panelists expressed diverse views on the subject 'Moral Policing in a Democracy'.
The hullabaloo over certain remarks on premarital sex by actress Khushboo and the Anna University banning students wearing jeans for college were two old issues that came up for discussion at the debate, held as part of the 15th anniversary initiative of Outlook magazine, on Thursday with advocate Geetha Ramaseshan as moderator and Khushboo, Tamil writer Charu Nivedita, former vice chancellor of Anna University D Viswanathan, BJP leader Tamizhisai Soundarajan and journalist Gnani as panelists.
With Charu Nivedita, who set the tone of the debate, congratulating Khushboo for bravely facing the plethora of cases filed against her and taking a swipe at the vice chancellor for a statement that women students in jeans could be a distraction for students (it looked as if he was not aware that it was Viswanathan who did it), the debate plunged straight into the subject.
Charu also recalled two incidents of moral policing and said that people of diverse ideological hues were united. When a naked Jain monk visited Chennai both followers of Periyar and RSS protested against it; and poet Leena Manimekalai earned the wrath of activists of the Hindu Makkal Katchi and also the communists from the Marxist-Leninist camp.
Though Viswanthan defended his decision as vice chancellor on the dress code, two young engineers from the audience openly challenged him during question hour. One of them, who studied in Anna University during Viswanthan's tenure, said that he had lost four years of his life. The other engineer said he had studied in a private college where boys and girls were not even allowed to talk to each other.
The issue of total segregation of boys and girls in college evoked a wide range of remarks though Viswanathan initially tried to deny any college was imposing such a rule on students, evoking a vociferous protest from the audience. Viswanthan, defending the conduct rules framed by him, said that no parent had ever opposed them.
Gnani, however, made it clear that parents had failed in bringing up their children with proper values and morals. He said 'moral' did not mean sexual morality alone but also other issues like corruption and added that the talk was that vice chancellor posts were being sold.
Other than Tamilisai Soundarajan, who went to the extent of saying that a woman drinking in a pub should be slapped and brought back home, and Viswanathan, the rest of the panelists stressed on individual choice and said that grown up people should be allowed to make their own decisions concerning their lives. Khushboo even pointed out how the law provides for freedom in a democratic society.
Outlook editorinchief Vinod Mehta was surprised to see the old Khushboo issue having its echo at the debate and said: "I thought it was over. But it has not."