Ahead of Valentine’s day, we look at why couples flock to parks and monuments in search of safe spaces in an oppressive society.

On the next page of this week’s Valentine’s Day special issue, you will find the weekly travel column – by yours truly – on Sunder Nursery. I won’t spoil that piece, but the reason we chose the sprawling park for an issue surrounding the theme of romance was because of its most prominent visitors: couples looking for safe spaces to share moments of love in a country where loving outside of wedlock is taboo.

This dislike of expressing love or affection is particularly curious when you look around at the things that make up desi culture. This is a country that’s known for its infamously romantic films with lines like, “Pyar soch samajh kar nahi kiya jata… bas ho jata hai” (”Love doesn’t happen by plan, it just happens”) and for songs with heart wrenching lyrics like, “Tujh mein rab dikhta hai” (“I see god in you”). Despite these dramatic and cheesy notions of love pervading our entertainment, being in a relationship in India is often no less than a game of high stakes.

For most students in college, inviting their significant other home is a hard proposition as well when living with family. Hotel rooms are often off-limits as well, due to financial constraints (and sometimes moral ones). That rules out almost any form of private safe spaces for young people to share moments of affection. This is exactly why parks and monuments such as Lodhi Gardens, Sunder Nursery, Humayun’s Tomb and more have become safe havens for young couples looking to catch a break from the rest of a deeply conservative country.

It is a socially acceptable convention in most liberal spaces around the world to indulge in public displays of affection that include holding hands, hugging, kissing and more – as a sign of affection. In India though, all of the above are taboo. Innocent acts of affection in the parks that are supposed to be safe havens for the young are still met with looks of disgust and in extreme cases, violent interventions on the behalf of prude strangers.

Online social spaces like Reddit are often full of such firsthand instances by young lovers looking to spend time together but facing harassment by strangers. Worse, there are instances of police officers using this atmosphere of oppression and fear surrounding young lovers to extort the youth for money. In a specific instance posted to the Reddit community r/tamilnadu last year, a police constable and a sub inspector tried to blackmail a couple for a ridiculous 10,000 rupees for a hug and a kiss. The couple later had to approach the collector of the district to apprehend the police officer behind this blackmailing. The officers were found to have been extorting couples for three years before finally being apprehended. The fact that the poster and his significant other had to appeal to government officials in the first place after losing 10,000 rupees is a big mark on the authorities. In addition, the young couple were also terrified of the prospect of having to testify against the police officer in court as this meant publicly disclosing their relationship to their families – another sign of the social stigma surrounding the idea of young people dating.

In the face of instances like these, it is no doubt that even the aforementioned “safe havens” aren’t truly safe. It creates a fear in the youth to even attempt to express any sort of affection – even if it’s simply holding hands with a significant other. This fear is after all exactly what this moral police attempts to create in an effort to control how consenting adults express love and affection between each other. There is no logical reason why sharing a kiss or a hug with someone you love should be more than just a simple gesture to show care. Often, the harassers cite preventing “western influences” as the reason behind their actions. It is interesting how expressing affection consensually is “western” and “bad” while Delhi is known as the “Rape capital” and India ranks as the 9th most dangerous country for women travellers.

Further, the case in Tamil Nadu involved a heterosexual couple. However, these parks are often also a safe haven for members of the LGBTQ community looking to find safe corners in the vast expanses of such parks. The general bigoted atmosphere throughout Indian society means that these quick, stolen moments of love and affection are often even more treasured. However, for members of the community, PDA is generally a much bigger risk due to the possibility of added persecution on the behalf of patriarchal bigots.

Looking out at the landscape of a country blitzing past population records while vehemently discouraging love and affection, one must wonder if in the end this story is not about love or hate but instead about control. This moral policing reeks of conservative, patriarchal ideals that still believe that a woman’s sexuality is to be controlled. It further seems to cling to hetero-normative sexist values where any form of affection is seen as dirty – especially if the consenting adults belong to the queer community. Because of course, being terrified of love and sex is how India became the most populated country in the world. What they do not seem to be able to comprehend is that humans are social animals and seek warmth as they run into each other’s arms. It is a shame that a country that claims to celebrate love is so terrible at providing its citizens the right to love.

This piece was first featured in our print newsletter. Look out for us the next time you’re on campus!

Read Also: DUB Travels: Silent Nights in Sunder Nursery

Siddharth Kumar

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On 16th October, an intimate video shot in Delhi Metro was made viral on social media. Immediately, the comments’ sections were polarized in two groups. While many slammed and shamed the couple for openly indulging in PDA and violating “Indian Values”, many criticized the person who posted it online and urged others to report the video so that it can be taken down by Facebook. The original post was taken down, though video can still be found online.

This incident has stirred a debate around the issues of PDA a.k.a public display of affection, moral policing, legality and Privacy Rights, and also raised the questions of what is acceptable and what isn’t. Here is an attempt to deconstruct the various diktats that have risen around this episode.

PDA is illegal – Yes, under section 294 of the Indian Penal Code, causing annoyance to others through “obscene acts” is a criminal offence with a punishment of imprisonment up to 3 months or a fine, or both, but because this law does not give explicit definitions of “obscene acts”, it is blatantly misused by police and vigilante to harass couples. Besides, the law gives freedom of subjective interpretation and hence, the cases involved depend on the disposition of police or the judge involved. For example, in 2008 Shilpa Shetty and Richard Gere were booked in Obscenity Charge for kissing during a public function, but the court quashed all charges and instead described such legal complaints as “frivolous”. While the courts thought that kissing was no big deal, our observation tells us that a wide section of society clearly considers kissing a taboo. Many cited 294 of IPC to justify the video. It’s true, my friend, that according to this vague legal verbatim the couple can be booked, but since when legality has became morality? Triple Talaq is valid, homosexuality is criminal…will you also justify them simply because it’s legal?

The couple was asking for it – We often tend to get uncomfortable seeing couples kissing in parks or theatres. Many of us are not comfortable with showing affection. But how does your reluctance for public display of love give you the right to accuse others of indecent behavior, impair their image and seriously jeopardize their privacy and even security? One can only imagine what they must be going through. To say that the couple was asking for it displays typical victim blaming and as much as you would like to believe so, nobody likes to be filmed secretly, bombarded with unnecessary attention or be the subject of public ridicule. The couple may have exercised better discretion and sensibility keeping in mind that they are in a public space. However, if they made you so uncomfortable then instead of making a video to satisfy your voyeuristic tendencies, you should have either told them to get a room or simply averted your gaze.

Such behaviour is against Indian Culture/Sanskars – First of all, who has the right to decide which actions are in accordance with Indian culture?  I’m a part of Indian public so, does my opinion count?  Secondly, once upon a time Sati, child marriage and untouchability were accepted part of the Indian culture, were such “cultural” notions/practices not challenged? Lastly, if your sanskaar allows a creep to circulate MMS, but shames consenting adults then god bless you. By the way, I suggest you to see some pictures of Khajuraho temple as well.

One shouldn’t expect any privacy in public spaces – While one shouldn’t necessarily expect any privacy in public place, one doesn’t expect to be filmed, that too without consent either.

Uncertain state of Right to Privacy in India – While the Supreme Court has held privacy to be a fundamental right, it is restricted to certain aspects of a person’s life.  There is no statutory privacy legislation at present that comprehensively protects privacy. Rather, a combination of acts- 67 and 67(A) of IT Act, 354C of IPC, 66E of ITA-2000, these too are often tricky and insufficient.

Overall, the Privacy Rights need to be strengthened in India. Fortunately, some efforts have been made in this direction, such as Justice A. P. Shah panel, appointed by the Planning Commission  has recommended comprehensive laws to protect privacy and personal data in the private as well as public spheres. Similarly, The Privacy (Protection) Bill, 2013 is also a step in establishing concrete and clear provisions. Hopefully, this Bill sees the light of the day, till then; let us stop being the internet-version of Bajraj Dal.

Image Credits: tulunadunews.com

Niharika Dabral

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