How I have been punished for being with a man.
I wasn’t surprised when the Mumbai Police nabbed 40 young couples from homestays and hotels at Aksa Beach. Just a few days later, when my fiancé and I were headed to a beach resort in Gorai we were stopped, our belongings checked and interrogated about what we were doing in that part of town. We were so intimidated that we canned our plans for the weekend. The incident left us angry and shaken.
Residents of Bandra, a Mumbai suburb, have recently complained about an anonymous group putting up posters of couples making out at various locations: Fitness trainer Leena Mogre was among the lead protestors and, in retaliation, the elevators of her gym were plastered with even more of these posters. Social media has seen mixed reactions to this incident, garnering support from those who consider this “an art project” and those, like Corporator Asif Zarkaria who appear hell-bent on nabbing the ‘miscreants.’
In a city where issues such as rape, molestation and eve-teasing are still not addressed adequately, there is instead a more sinister form of moral policing and intolerance creeping in. Young Indians today finds themselves with few places that allow them any privacy without the overwhelming burden of value judgement.
The Housing Society Hassle
My fiancé lives alone in Mumbai. The housing society of his building made an issue when any women came to see him: The watchman chastised him, the secretary of the society issued him a notice to terminate his lease and the chairman told him that the ‘image’ of the building was being jeopardized when ‘bachelors get girls home’. Tired of the harassment, he moved out but his new housing society also questioned him whenever I came to spend the night: Luckily, this stopped once he told them that we were going to be married soon.
In today’s Mumbai paying the rent on time, handing over the deposit and maintaining the property are no longer the criteria of a good tenant but abstaining from pre-marital sex is. The collective moral judgement of the housing society now holds sway and the suitability of a tenant is inextricably linked to his sex life.
The view from my fiancé's house
Roomies and Friends to the Rescue
My friend Anahita says it would have been difficult for her to find any cuddle time with her boyfriend since he stays in a rented 1 BHK flat with his room-mate. Luckily the roommate is understanding: “When he knows I am coming over, he goes and hangs out for a couple of hours and gives us the time we need. But it gets awkward sometimes.”
Friends whose places are empty during the day, with parents at work, are the saving grace for many youngsters. Says Nishant, “It’s really sad that we cannot express our affection for the one we love. People around us have become more prudish by the day. We cannot hold hands in parks or embrace each other or even give a peck on the cheek to someone in public.”
Those who stay with their parents also have a hard time despite having their own room. Some, like Deepika are lucky: Her parents respect her privacy and they don’t really interfere. Her boyfriend even stays over for the night.“My folks don’t give a damn- not because they don’t care but because they believe that as an adult, I can make my own decisions about love and sex because they are mine to make”
The Outstation Ogres
Those who think that there is solace outside Mumbai are mistaken: Last year I went on a road trip to the Kaas Plateau (valley of flowers) in Satara. Exhausted after changing two buses and walking for miles, we hit the city to find a place to stay the night and have a few beers. Most hotels were full but we found one where there was a room. The receptionist asked us all for ID proof then said, “Are you married?” Instinctively, we said “No” and he flatly refused to give us a room. Tired of arguing, we left. After a long search we found a hotel that gave us rooms but with single beds, kept 10 feet apart: The journey had turned into a nightmare but left us with a story to tell our children - if we’re allowed to make any.
My fiancé and I
Wedded Bliss? Not Really.
Manisha, a media consultant from Bangalore had an arranged marriage four years ago. She first had to stay with her husband who lived with his mother, father, brother, and the brother’s wife in a 1-BHK apartment. They got no privacy whatsoever. Even after moving into a 2-BHK, it was difficult to control the constant flow of relatives who kept visiting or staying over. “We are both working professionals and the weekend is the only time we get to ourselves. But we are inundated with relatives. By the end of the day we are too tired to talk to each other, let alone make love.”
Punit who lives with his wife in a 2-BHK with his grandmother, parents and sister says, “I take my wife out on trips when we need to spend quality time together. At home, it is awkward to make out in front of our families but then we don’t have an option until we buy our own place. This is India – families here are still narrow-minded about couples hugging each other, how can they be comfortable about them making-out openly? We have to find a way out on our own.”
Did a Camp provide Refuge? NO!
My fiancé and I recently planned a camping trip with friends at a lakeside resort just outside the city. Our plan was marred once again by the cops who nabbed us all and appeared hell bent on locking us up. “This case will be solved only in court,” they said, further adding, “No one is allowed to stay the night here, this site is not meant for that.” It was too late to get bail and the only thing that worked in our favour was that another two of us spoke Marathi. It took a long time but they finally let us go. The combination of girls, alcohol, guitars and a djembe was, in their minds, a set up for only one thing: a night of sex and drugs.
Camping near Pawna Dam, Lonavla
Decades of Policing
Moral policing isn’t a new phenomenon. India has seen this regressive practice with the Khap Panchayats: a recent news report spoke of one which ordered a young man’s sister to be raped and paraded naked because her brother had eloped with a woman he loved. Newspapers across the country are filled with reports of attacks on young lovers; of intolerant politics, senseless moral policing and self-righteous citizenry. Young people are asked to ‘dress appropriately’ and ‘behave decently’ by people with no real authority to do so. Sadly, instead of improving, the trend appears to be getting worse. Perhaps it is just part of the wave of contradictions that young Indians must face as their country changes and develops; where the old meets the new and where many different India’s collide, often with senseless and cruel results.
My 101 guide to spots which aren’t safe for couples anymore:
Walking / jogging promenades
Where we go instead of where couples go
Places where I have got some intimate moments:
3 star hotels
Pubs / cafes / bars
By Divya Naik