I am an Indian-American woman, born and brought up in the United States, where affection between couples in public spaces is normal, so much so that we often roll our eyes at couples who are expressing their love for each other so passionately because we are, frankly, jealous and annoyed that we are single!
Public display of affection is just not a big deal for us, because being in a relationship is not a big deal, because love is not a controversial thing but, rather, a human truth. Here in India, expressing love and affection are not so freely accepted. The impropriety of expressing love in public sits in the minds of the older generations as it brings shame to the families if the couple is seen together. It also attracts the attention of the cheaper eyes that taunt and tease. And then there are the moral police, who are actual police or a group of people enforcing a certain moral code, who believe that public display of affection is an imported idea that doesn’t quite “fit” in Indian sanskar.
I was once in a lane at night with the guy that I was dating, and I so desperately wanted to be close to him, but people stare with the aim to shame. There was simply no place for us to go for just a bit of privacy, and there’s not a single empty lane in Indian cities. There are eyes everywhere, that’s how full our cities are. If we do find an empty space that’s silent, it doesn’t feel safe and we are suspicious of it. Every corner of the city is getting more congested by the day and young couples usually live with their families until marriage. So, with judgmental eyes on the streets, no space at home, and moral police ready to intervene at any moment, where can couples go to be free?
Every night in Pune, I see couples sitting on benches, the man’s arm draped around the woman and they are sitting there, silent, looking at each other and talking to fill the space. I want to ask them, “Don’t you want to do just a little more? What’s stopping you?”
Honestly? This is such a small thing that I want to laugh at how controlled we keep ourselves in India. Perhaps all the control that we’re supposed to keep on our impulses, all the repression, is the source of all the issues, of all the sexual violence. The more we repress, the more issues societies have. If we don’t accept sex and displays of affection, and the less willing we are to give couples their space, I believe that the more negative aspects of society, such as the cheap thrill of eve teasing and the much darker evil of prostitution will rise.
Pune is a relatively modern city. Looking at India as a whole, there are still places where men and women can’t be seen walking together if they’re not married.
Perhaps we’re so afraid of being close in public because touch can be misunderstood. When we read about “touch” in the paper, we read about sexual violence. But this is not the only kind of touch, and affection between two people who actually care about each other is perhaps being confused with a more violent touch. We also hear about cases where onlookers beat up the man because they feel like he is “bothering” the woman.
Then there are cases are of moral policing. The police in large modern cities like Bangalore and Mumbai have been known to break apart couples who are sitting together in the evenings. The question to ask is: who gave these moral police the authority? Who has the authority when it comes to expressing affection? It certainly does not belong with the government. Culture belongs in the hands of the people. Suppressing love for the sake of “decency” and “morality” is pathetic. Who is the guardian of “Indian culture”? If two people want to share a moment in public (that isn’t graphic and explicit for the rest of us), what’s the harm?
But I understand that for all this to change, there should be a change in the mindsets of the people, and I honestly don’t know if that will happen anytime soon. We need to start talking about love more openly.
What do you think?
Picture courtesy – https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-india-dehradun-sign-on-grounds-of-the-buddhist-temple-of-dehradun-68168782.html