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Public Places and Privacy


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Public Places and PrivacyA well-known joke repeated among Indian stand-up comics is that in the West, you can kiss in public, but you can’t piss. In India it is just the opposite – you can piss in public, but you can’t kiss. Moral standards and ideas of decency in our society have always demanded that affection between partners be reserved for the indoors, rather than be shown in full public view outdoors.

In fact, so strident has the moral policing become, in the name of ‘Indian values’ that police in small towns are shown on TV beating couples found in parks with lathis. They have opened themselves to such thrashing just by holding hands in public, or sitting too cosily together on a park bench. This increased intolerance for young couples to be seen together in public is a matter of distress to many young people.

“Not only in Meerut and smaller places, even in the bigger cities like Chennai and Mumbai, the police are becoming trigger happy about rounding up couples,” says Santhosh, a dance instructor. “I have my dance studio close to the beach, so I see them go up and begin questioning boys and girls who are just spending the evening in a dreamy fashion, talking. It makes me feel sad for them. Where should they go?”

In earlier times, I have experienced the kind acts of absolute strangers in crowded Mumbai, giving some space and quiet to me and my fiancé. But that was more than twenty years ago. Today, crowds seem more aggressive and intrusive, and the scales are tilted against the young. “Everywhere you go, there are people – people who won’t mind staring and sniggering. To even have a conversation, you feel conscious,” says Sukumar, a graphic designer. “At the end of it, you have to go to a restaurant or a movie – just to be able to talk or hold hands. Imagine, a five hundred rupee evening, when you could have been happy with five!”

While the media and movies make much of romance, the general population has not really caught on. Perhaps it is because so many ideas about love and commitment, sex and relationships, bonding and demonstrating affection are never discussed or shared between us. As a society, we still live with many spoken and unspoken taboos even as the signs of change bang loudly on our doors.

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