Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004



Social Concerns


Sex and morality, Indian style

Sex and morality are once again creating problems in India. The other day, the Madras police went on an overdrive arresting couples in every public place in the city. In parks, on the beaches and even on the roads, the police became the community’s moral-keepers the moment they saw couples holding hands or engaging in harmless petting. In their desperation to perform, the police turned out to be abusive and humiliating, invading private space with public abandon.

V. Suresh of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties condemned police action, describing it as “a circus”. The move was a serious invasion of privacy and rank bad method of policing. It was like asking men and women to go back to the 1900s, he said.

The police appear unrepentant saying that they had only arrested those guilty of indecent sexual behaviour.

A young couple at the receiving end for just holding hands said they used parks and the beach for a breath of fresh air and normal privacy, because they could not afford restaurants or hotel rooms. In any case, unlike in Japan, hotels in India do not rent out rooms on an hourly basis. There are no love hotels in India where couples can find a bit of piece and quietude.

Morality and sex have become points of harrowing conflict in India, a civilization that gave the world its best sexual treatise, Kamasutra, whose author Vatsyayana described sexual fulfilment in a way that body and soul came together in perfect harmony. But India’s moral-brigade has increasingly begun playing spoilsport, and their policing goes beyond separating courting couples.

There has been much hullabaloo over sex education in schools in recent weeks. Such education has never been Indian schools’ strong suit, but nine of the States rejected a new sexual curriculum introduced by the Federal Government. They included some of the most populous States, such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, where teachers threatened to make bonfires out of the new books.

Some teachers were angry that the new texts included chapters on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. In India, 44 per cent of reported AIDS cases affect people between 15 and 29. There were other teachers who were horrified that the texts included diagrams of naked bodies and genitalia.

However, the crux of the matter is political impediment with India’s ultra-conservative Rightwing politicians calling the new course a Western import, because UNICEF had developed the program along with the Indian Government.

Muslims were also angry. Nasratullah Afandi of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an Islamic cultural organisation, lamented that teaching sex education was part of an attempt to create a “homogenised culture”. “Anyway, sex is instinctive,” he added. “It is not necessary to teach children about it.”

However, the Christian community seemed untouched by this entire ruckus. The Catholic Church that runs over 100 schools in Bombay has been teaching about sex, concentrating, though, on AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Sadly, the Indian Government is now planning to modify the text, probably highlighting “life skills” and doing away with the sex portions. A truncated version may appear by the end of this year.

The moot point is sexual prudery coupled with moral undertones that robs individuals of their freedom. Moral policing has now become a regular phenomenon, and it extends to even very innocuous things like Valentine cards. In Bombay and some other cities, these are looked upon as an alien practice, and hence must be put down.

Even more disquieting is the dress code that borders on suffocating sexual conservatism. Colleges forbid girls from wearing skirts or jeans, proclaiming that these are “seductive and hence invite sexual attention”.

Yet, India’s capital city has a notorious record in rape and eve teasing. The other metropolises are not far behind. Sociologists aver that such restrictive dress codes and moral policing may well lead to sexual frustration, which can manifest in abnormal human behaviour.

But who bothers, the least of all, rightwing politicians whose obsession with religion and morality may well encourage the rise of a sick community.

(Webposted September 21 2007)