Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004



Social Concerns


Talibanisation of India

When the Mullahs in Iran curbed personal freedom, Indian political leaders cried out loudly and called them names. Yet, India is now witnessing the same frightening restrictions on individual rights.

Some months ago, the police in Madras/Chennai, one of India’s IT capitals and fourth largest metro, placed cameras along the seafront ostensibly to check crime. But young courting couples on the beach found that they were the targets. When the cameras caught them stealing a kiss, the police blackmailed them by threatening to disclose their affairs to their parents. Madras/Chennai did stop with this.

One of the leading universities in the city, Anna University, has imposed a dress code on its girl students. No jeans, no sleeveless tops, no tights. The university’s vice-chancellor said that such outfits provoked boys and men to leach. When the girls howled and protested, the university quickly extended the ban to boy students as well. What, no jeans? The boys were furious, and naturally so. There was more to come.

At a well-known Madras/Chennai star hotel disco, some unknown men photographed dancing couples. The police later charged them and hounded them out like criminals, and the hotel administration was accused of promoting “indecency”. A part of the hotel licence was cancelled.

In Bangalore, another IT hub in southern India, the police have ordered that only classical music be played in pubs and discos! “You cannot play music that provokes dancing. Nightclubs have been told to play classical numbers”, said Amardipta Biswas, secretary, Bangalore Resto-Lounge Bar and Discotheque Owners’ Association.

In Bombay/Mumbai, hundreds of girls who made a living by dancing in bars lost their jobs when the government banned these joints. They are now on the streets.

In Calcutta/Kolkata, the police recently chased a cab that had a man and a woman who had their arms round each other.

In India, the moral police is out in full strength with binoculars and a determined attitude to invade private space and rough up men and women whose only crime is to have yielded to something natural.

Politicians, especially those who belong to Rightwing hardcore factions, say that dancing in discos and public display of sexual affection are against Indian culture. When questioned about the erotic stone structures that adorn Indian temples and the Kamasutra, the Indian treatise on sex, the politicians have no answer.

A leading lawyer and social activist, Geeta Ramaseshan, wrote an angry article in “The New Indian Express”, where she said: “At the best of times, the definition of culture is problematic. Culture is a not a monolith structure, but is vibrant and evolving. However most of us tend to understand it only in a particular context based on our background and conditioning, and forget the existence of sub-cultures in society”.

Sub-cultures are important today, and in India, these closely resemble ones that were part of the pre-British society, when sex was not locked away in closets, when sex was worshipped and encouraged even outside the institution of marriage. All this was actively discouraged when the British came to rule India, and their annoying Victorian prudery does not seem to leave the minds of Indian administrators.

Modern India views intimacy between man and woman as something perfectly normal, and sex outside matrimony is not frowned upon. Several surveys conducted in recent times by the media have found that pre and extra-marital sex were becoming increasingly common, and that men and women were no longer inhibited about holding hands or hugging or kissing in public.

The question now is one of personal freedom: there are many who feel that two consenting adults have every right to use their private space the way they want to.

A disturbing offshoot of this moral policing in India is that women become prime targets. Oppressive practices are often justified under the garb of culture, and women are invariably forced to uphold these mores. They are prevented from wearing what they want to. They are told to preserve the sanctity of marriage. They are blamed when the men stray. Women are abused and called whores when they desire to escape from stifling marital relationships. And in a patriarchal society such as India, such male domination easily slips into a state that resembles the one that the Talibans administered.

It is time that culture is allowed to flourish in a free flowing manner. It is time that culture and state power are kept apart.

(This story was posted on this website on October 23 2005)

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