Valentine’s Day has become hugely popular in India with over 15,000 weddings being solemnized last year on that day and florists, jewelers and restaurants do big business as the celebration catches on. There’s also a downside to all this for lovers – the over-enthusiastic ‘moral police’ which is often out in full force to catch lovers for the sin of loving. Here novelist Nayana Currimbhoy discusses Valentine’s Day and how it’s seen by a segment of the traditionalists.
A kiss is just a Kiss – except when it is an Obscene Act
It was not easy being young lovers in Bombay, even in 1974. It involved a fair amount of lurking and sneaking. You could hold hands in wooded areas, or on the parapet facing the sea in Marine Drive, but you always felt furtive, even on Valentines Day. There were always leers and frowns.
Kissing was already an obscene act. Never seen in film. Sure, you could kiss at the back of darkened theaters, but there were likely to be leering men who sat in the second last row and looked back. You might even find an uncle. It was better to leave with downcast eyes.
But still, you could go home and listen to the Moody Blues record your boyfriend gave you – after your father went to sleep. Valentine’s Day was romantic, and intense. And private.
It was private because the West was still fairly remote. By the edge of the millennium, Valentine’s Day was catching on. The women’s magazines were suggesting special dresses and hairstyles, there were pink velvet hearts and cards in shops and romantic dinners for two in restaurants. There were also some reports of obscene acts on park benches. In India, a kiss is not just a kiss. It is an obscene act.
In 2005 the Pune Police posted the following guidelines for Valentine’s Day “No throwing of gulal under the influence of alcohol. No public displays of obscene gestures and emotions.”
Wait, I need to understand this. What are obscene emotions? How will they arrest lovers (under Section 188 – Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) for just thinking of kissing?
But still, young lovers went home and put roses under their pillows.
It’s getting harder, now that the youth of the Hindu Right has started observing Valentine’s day, urged and encouraged by their elders. Not only is it the day on which western-influenced young couples exchange vows of love, it is also a special day of obscene thoughts and acts for the fundamentalist youth, blessed, and even encouraged by their elders.
Their job is to catch lovers in the act, and then humiliate them publicly, and judging by these reports from around the country, our right-wing youths are having a fine time of it.
Bajrang Dal activists in Hyderabad declared, “If we find any couple sitting in parks or other places on Valentine’s Day, we will immediately call their parents or guardians and solemnize their marriage. Our volunteers will move about carrying garlands and vermilion for the wedding.”
In Mangalore young girls stated to be “cooing in bars” were dragged out by militants belonging to a militant group called Sri Ram Sena. “If people celebrate the day despite our warning, then we will definitely attack them,” said a group activist, Gangadhar Kulkarni. And it is more fun than sitting at home watching television, he should have added.
It was only a matter of time before rape was linked to Valentine’s Day.
“Since the Bharatiya youth is turning towards indulgence by blindly following westerners, it has been noticed that the sale of contraceptives peaks on this day in cities such as Mumbai and Pune. This leads to a rise in incidents of rapes and other atrocities,” HJS state convener Manoj Solanki said.
Wait, I need to digest this.
First what are other atrocities? Kissing, no doubt. It is permissible to mention rape, but a kiss cannot be mentioned in polite company?
Second, Solanki says the rise in the sale of contraceptives leads to the rise of incidents of rape. Did these youth line up with condoms on when they gang-raped the girl who was kissing her boyfriend on a park bench?
Kissing is obscene, rape is just boys having fun with girls who indulge in obscene acts. And the Police understand the difference. Following the gang-rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai in August 2013, Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh, when asked why police were stopping dancing in pubs and couples kissing in parks, but not rape, replied, “Should we do moral policing, or immoral policing?”
Where are the immoral police when you need them? We need them on Valentine’s Day.
Nayana Currimbhoy is the author of the novel Miss Timmins’ School for Girls (Harper, 2011) www.nayanacurrimbhoy.com