Why public display of affection is such a big NO NO in India

Sushmita Jha
Saturday, 16 June 2018

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. Is standing close to one another an ‘obscene act’? If not a couple, what if its a brother and a sister, or a father and a daughter, or even just friends for that matter. How is it obscene? Does the law give a detailed definition of what comes under obscenity? Well, no! It does not. Just because the law does not give an explicit definition of ‘obscene acts’, it is blatantly misused by the police, public and lower courts to harass couples. But what happens to the same group of people when women are eve-teased? Or someone who meets with an accident or someone is sexually harassed, right in front of their eyes? Where does the moral policing go then?

A few months back, Dum Dum metro station incident in Kolkata was flashing everywhere. Photos, videos of the incident went viral on social media. It was about a couple, who was standing ‘too close’ to each other in the metro, hence one senior passenger had a problem with it, so he with other men, just like him, started physically harassing the couple. The couple was thrown out of the metro and the man was beaten constantly by all these men. 

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. Is standing close to one another an ‘obscene act’? If not a couple, what if its a brother and a sister, or a father and a daughter, or even just friends for that matter. How is it obscene? Does the law give a detailed definition of what comes under obscenity? Well, no! It does not. Just because the law does not give an explicit definition of ‘obscene acts’, it is blatantly misused by the police, public and lower courts to harass couples. But what happens to the same group of people when women are eve-teased? Or someone who meets with an accident or someone is sexually harassed, right in front of their eyes? Where does the moral policing go then?

Public display of affection a.k.a PDA is regarded as unacceptable in India. Kissing and hugging in public is a taboo. However, same-sex physical contact is allowed. In 2007, when actor Richard Gere kissed Shilpa Shetty in an AIDS awareness event in New Delhi, a warrant for his arrest was issued by an Indian court. People burnt effigies of Gere and Shetty for publicly embracing in a ‘sexually provocative’ way. These cases of harassment of dating couples are bitterly criticised by a growing number of young Indians, who feel the need for a change in the perception on dating and public displays of affection. In the past, attacks by vigilante groups have taken place on those celebrating Valentine’s Day. Why would someone do that! attack or threaten someone who is just celebrating their love on the day of love? Why is it such a big problem in our country?

Well, India has always been a country of great values, morals and tradition. India is a modern country but when it narrows down to PDA, most Indians don’t seem to be very happy about the idea. India is a developing country, it is gradually adopting the western lifestyle but when it comes to PDA, they choose to protest against it whenever possible. There was an article which I read once and it said ‘25 things which truly makes us Indians’ and out of these 25 points, there was one point that said ‘ We great citizens will piss in public but not kiss. That’s against our Indian ethics. Our future generations will be born spastic if we indulge in PDA.” Just like we love our food with a hint of Indian spice, similarly, we also want the Indianised western culture to be followed in the country.

However, the number of couples celebrating Valentine’s Day has grown so much that these attacks have become ineffective in deterring couples. However, relaxation of previous generations’ social norms has made public displays of affection more common among India’s younger demographic. In the state of Kerala, a public hugging and kissing campaign (named Kiss Of Love) was launched in November 2014 in protest against moral policing.

The ratio of men to women is very high in India, out of every 100 men, there are near about 10 men, who will not get a woman. Imagine in the country of 100 crore population, if 10 per cent only gets to watch a couple being affectionate in public, it obviously adds to the sexual frustration, which results in sexual offences against women, Because hello! men are aroused! A simple peck on the cheek, a hug or just holding hands in public is highly criticised and frowned upon by elder men and women, just because they consider it arousing, therefore it is unacceptable in public.

Well, I am not denying the fact that there are a couple who go a little overboard while showing love to each other. Which is definitely unacceptable because there are children and their parents around and it gets uncomfortable for them. PDA is not bad, but one should be mature enough to act according to space around. And at the same time, no one has the right to harass someone just because they are in love. It has to work both ways. 

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