By Aishwarya Chaurasia
I, like most of my friends, grew up in a house where an evening of entertainment meant either a dinner at a fancy restaurant or a Bollywood movie. I remember how, while watching a Bollywood movie, my family rejoiced when the hero convinced the heroine to marry him, after romancing her throughout the movie, and boo’ed the hero or heroine’s father, for trying to separate the loving couple.
However, I also remember how my mother cringed, and my father sighed disapprovingly at the couple who sat next to us, holding hands. It was always followed by some kind of verbal admonishment—either “there are kids in the theatre” or “is that what they do in front of their mothers and sisters?”
One way or another, my parents and the rest of the “civilised” gentry, found a way to make the poor couple uncomfortable for minding their own business. In a country where Shahrukh’s romantic songs, and Salman’s pick-up lines receive a rousing and cheerful applause audiences, the mere sight of a little public display of affection (PDA), still remains a strict no-no.
Righteous moral policing becoming the norm
The recent incident in Kolkata, which involved a young couple being assaulted by an angry group of elderly people for allegedly standing too close, reeks of a misplaced sense of morality, and so called “bharatiye sanskaar”.
Such incidents are not new to India. If you use public transport as a frequent mode of transportation, chances are, you have either been harassed yourself or witnessed a couple be subject to creepy sniggering or dismissive glances. I too have been a subject of ridicule, for merely talking to my male friend in a crowded bus, which offended a woman so much that she thought it fair to scream in a language I didn’t understand, and offer me her seat away from the boy.
Whether it’s during Valentine’s Day or at “family restaurants”, moral policing at even the slightest hint of PDA between consenting adults, finds its way faster than police force at the scene of a crime. Amidst all this, I wonder how Khajuraho, a temple filled sculptures of men, women, and animals in various explicit sexual poses, withstood the test of time. It is surprising that the temple hasn’t been destroyed by my prudish countrymen in a fit of righteous anger.
Is it moral to be repressed?
This aversion to PDA is somewhat understandable among the older generation, especially given their largely conservative background. But, what about when the wide-eyed millennial smirks, and unapologetically stares at a couple?
The reason for this apparent uneasiness with PDA stems from a childhood of suppressed feelings and sexuality. The stories of Krishna “goofing around” with his female friends may now seem odd and hypocritical, coming from a set of people who teach their kids to hide their sexuality, and chide them when they ask questions about their bodies.
In a normal Indian household, a girl is generally told not hang her recently washed undergarments to dry out in the open, and a boy is actively discouraged from talking about periods, porn or condoms aloud. Boys are expected to hangout with other boys, and girls dare not mention anything about a boy in front of her parents.
From teachers skipping the reproduction chapter in biology classes in schools, to parents hushing the kid when he/she innocently asks about his/her birth—young adults are largely treated as kids and are eventually conditioned to think of such subjects as taboo. The constant reminder to keep interactions with the opposite sex to a minimum, results in the development of insecurities and low self-esteem.
Many Indians, even today, believe that a girl and a boy cannot have an asexual, platonic relationship. Indians as a group are not accustomed to see members of the opposite sex interacting with each other, much less “standing too close”; which to us, is an unusual sight. Very soon the repressive ideologies indoctrinated in us kicks in, making us cringe at such a sight, like we have witnessed something unpalatable.
However, this is not a healthy attitude. As a society, we need to be more open, and accepting of people around us. There needs to be a massive change in India’s perception on what constitutes as acceptable behaviour in public. Children should be taught that urinating on roads is shameful behaviour, not hugging or holding hands.
Sex education is important, not only to contain population explosion and STDs, but, also to help create awareness and instil progressive attitudes among the new generation. So, the next time you see a couple “standing too close”, try not to do a double take, and maybe, just maybe, continue minding your own business.
Aishwarya Chaurasia is a Delhi-based MBA student.
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