Displaying affection in public

Understanding moral policing

We often shudder when we see a couple kissing, hugging or showing affection on the roads, parks or theatres. ‘Uncomfortable’ is what most of us tend to get when we see a couple indulged in some cosiness- mostly while they steal a kiss or share a hug. We mostly label such public display of affections (PDA) as indecent and anti-culture. However, does our averseness for public display of love give us the right to accuse them of indecent behaviour and mar their image and hit them black and blue? Personally, I feel, we don’t have the right!

Moral policing has been prevalent in our ‘democratic’ country since ages and in the recent times it has grown in size and structure and has become too common and predominant to neglect. ‘It is bad and anti-Indian’ is what we mostly hear from the moral vigilante.

“I hate those who involve in PDA. Arrey bhai if you want to get cosy then go to your room man and there you can do anything you want. But not on the roads please,” say several anonymous people while they put on their expert views on PDA.

Adding further they say, “Why do you need a day for love? These days like Valentine’s Day are nothing but only a commercial proposition. And good Indian girls and boys don’t hold each other’s hand in public. Neither do they hug or get cosy. This is an attack on our culture and we at anyhow have to stop it.”

Here I have failed to understand one thing as how our culture is under threat from couples who are in love? At most a couple may indulge in passionate kissing and is kissing so indecent? We don’t talk about sex in open as it is utterly a ‘private’ matter. But don’t we all know what sex is all about? If yes, then why this shyness and why the fear of the moral police?

The year was 2011. It was late evening and I was returning home from office. Having made myself comfortable by the window seat of the bus I was travelling, I was completely lost in the music played on my earplugs when a sudden burst of uncontrolled emotion shook me. I saw that a couple was fighting over some issue and they were calling each other with names, which I cannot write in black and white. All I can say is that the words were beyond the concept of ‘un-parliamentary’. After listening to their allegations and counter-allegations for some half-a-minute, I stood up and requested the couple to calm down and sort out their matters in a calmer way. May be my calm approached worked and they settled down and thus silence prevailed…

…and as I took my seat back, I wondered if I did some moral policing act by requesting the couple to calm down? What they were indulged in was wrong. Calling names and using cuss words in no way can be right…or can it be?  Why is that a couple kissing in public is an issue of ‘culture’ and the same couple fighting is a matter of ‘no concern’ at all? Why do we generally shrug off to a couple’s fight and term it as their ‘private’ matter? Isn’t kissing and hugging a private matter too?

“Kissing and fighting- both are bad but public kissing leaves such an impression on a young mind, which is beyond the concept of good and bad. It is just immoral! Our societal norms don’t allow certain things and we should follow the same. It sounds good when someone brings in certain rebellious ideas, but my friend we are social being and we have to abide by the restrictions,” says Vedant, a friend.

“And as far as moral policing is concerned, I feel it is good to reprimand but there should be no physicality involved,” he adds on.

Taming the ‘wrong’

A couple of weeks back it was reported by the news channels of Assam that police in Guwahati raided a particular lodge in the GNB Road area and arrested around five couples who were indulged in ‘indecent’ behaviour. The cameramen zoomed on the girls’ faces who were trying to shield the same with a piece of cloth. The reporters, who were at the scene, were shouting at the top of their voices and lecturing on the wrong in which the couples were involved in.

Moreover, news about girls getting drunk and walking the streets in inebriated condition is very common on the news channels. Talk shows follow after the reportage of such incidents and the panellists of such channels repeatedly preach on moral policing and the lack of morality among the youngsters.

What transpires from such shows is a completely different picture, where it is said with commandingly that the young generation is completely void of morality and that moral policing is the only way forward!

Here I remember a news report of 2010. The place was Mumbai, where the RSS and the Shiv Sena declared fatwa against Valentine’s Day and declared that they would marry-off any couple if they are seen together. And such was their vigilance and ‘correct’ judgment that they almost made a brother marry his sister as they were found walking the streets holding hands.

The same year several card shops in Pune were vandalised as they sold cards where a condom was attached with a message appealing all to indulge in safe sex.

“Why to display a condom in a card? By displaying condoms, the companies are encouraging the young people to indulge in pre-marital sex. We can’t let this happen,” echoed the Shiv Sainiks and the RSS workers.

Referring to the above context, a former colleague once said, “Valentine’s Day is a marketing strategy. Use of condoms in cards is a ploy to attract boys and girls in buying their cards and of course also use the condom. This way they are earning in loads, leave aside the morality part. I am against Valentines’ Day or PDA simply because these are the product of globalisation and these are simply draining us out.”

I belong to Guwahati and as a Guwahatian I know certain places where the couples get cosy. It is romantic, I would say. But, well, as I have said earlier, for some all these are wrong morally. One such place where one can find couples in large numbers is the Shanti Udyan- more popular as the Dighali Pukhuri Park. Hordes of couples visit the park everyday and sit under the shrubs and spent some time of togetherness. They kiss, they hug, they talk and they fight…nothing obscene!

Obscenity, I feel, enter only then when some pervert stands on the streets and rub their crotch while they stare at the couples. The voyeuristic pleasure that these people (mostly middle-age men) does make things look vulgar and obscene. And when some vigilante group catch hold of the poor couples in the name of moral policing, these perverts are the first one to jump into the scene and create ‘mayhem’ in the name of morality. But, who was actually immoral here? Leave aside open roads, there are even people who fix CCTV cameras in the rooms of their tenants’ and watch their private moments. Such people are seldom caught.

Pros and Cons

What has rotten us is the concept that Indian culture is different from cultures of other countries. How are we different? We, as a nation, are dirty, uneducated and poor. We are blinded by several misconceptions, superstitions and faiths. Majority of Indian still believes that a woman is actually responsible for the birth of a girl child and a man is called manly only when he forces himself on several women. These are correct morally and we don’t need moral policing to curb these!

I am not someone who is on a mission to change the society. Society is composed of individuals and I (as an individual) am doing the right and the just. I hate to be a moral police and I hate moral policing. If we take a look back, several sad episodes of moral policing will pop up.

  • In one such incident, in Kerala siblings were attacked by a group of people as they thought that the boy and the girl were in love but they belonged to different communities. Later on it was found that the girl used to go to tuitions after classes and her brother used to pick her up from the tuition centre.
  • Friends in Guwahati were forced to marry only because they were found sharing a cup of coffee in one of the coffee shops of the city. The incident took place during the late 1990s (1998 I guess but I am unsure of the exact date). The boy was engaged then and he met a friend of his to discuss for the bridal costume when from nowhere entered some members of a vigilante group. They dragged the couple out to the streets, slapped them, tore the girl’s cloth and forced them to marry. The girl later committed suicide.
  • In another incident, a boy of 32 years lost his job because his name was flashed in a local TV channel as one of the perpetrators of flash trade. As per report, the guy and his fiancée were romantically entangled when police barged into his rented room, arrested him and labelled him as a customer and his fiancée a sex worker. The sudden raid was made on the basis of a complaint from a local person. Whereabouts of the couple is not known.
  • In another incident, a girl was denied a packet of condoms by a pharmacist and she was also ridiculed and rebuked by the other customers present. The ‘fault’ of the girl was that she openly asked for a packet of condoms while she was still talking to her boyfriend over the phone and she was asking for the brand of his choice. She was called a ‘bitch’ by the other customers. The incident occurred right in front of my eyes.

Way forward

Of the incidents mentioned above, I failed to understand the logic behind the last incident. What harm could it possibly make to our culture if a girl buys condoms? I have failed to understand the immorality part here.

Love is an act of expression and this expression at times may be silent and at times may be public. Love is beyond the periphery of anything moral or immoral. As a citizen of a democratic country, I believe it should be people’s choice to decide about PDA and no one should be forced. People should be allowed to be who they are. Moral policing is required but it is required only to fight the immoral. There are more issues that require the moral ‘lathi’ and the young couples can certainly be spared as they are not creating any nuisance. Allow public kissing as public pissing is more obnoxious.

(The above article has been published in the February 2016 issue of Good Times of North East)

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