Lindsay Pereira: Love in the time of hatred

May 12, 2018, 06:15 IST | Lindsay Pereira

It's hard to understand how a country that once celebrated love publicly has turned into a place where couples have to think twice before holding hands

The saddest thing is how the people responsible for moral policing are allowed to get away with it. Representational Image
The saddest thing is how the people responsible for moral policing are allowed to get away with it. Representational Image

Lindsay PereiraI didn't watch the viral video featuring that young couple being abused and attacked by commuters on the Kolkata metro. I knew it would only upset me, like so many videos populating a million WhatsApp groups now do with depressing regularity. I also expected the faux outrage, followed by young men and women hugging each other publicly in acts of defiance to be documented for their Facebook pages.

That this didn't raise eyebrows a few hours after the furore died down is proof of how insensitive we have all become towards any attack on perceived acts of love. We live in a city that once routinely saw couples being attacked on Valentine's Day until the regressive folk responsible for the attacks realised it didn't get them brownie points. We also live in a city where couples holding hands have to deal with thousands of people eyeing them warily, as if the act of holding another human being's hand is alien to our culture. That this is the same culture that gave birth to the sculptures of Khajuraho is lost on millions of our countrymen who scan the streets for acts of intimacy that make them uncomfortable.

In 2015, a young man was stripped and brutally assaulted in public by right-wing activists in Mangalore who had a problem with him being in the company of a girl with different religious beliefs. They couldn't stand the idea of two young people choosing to ignore something as inane as religion in order to find a human connection. That same year, another young man in Kerala was beaten to death by a mob after being found in the house of a woman. To put this into perspective, there were a lot of people offended by what two adults were doing in the privacy of their own homes.

There's a streak of misogyny that runs through these attacks, too, of course, as anyone who remembers the 2009 attack on a pub in Mangalore will attest to. Young men and women were drinking alcohol, which, according to the clowns who routinely become spokespersons for our culture, was an insult to traditional Indian values. It's interesting how all these values involve men making decisions on behalf of women, worrying about their morality, taking it upon themselves to decide how women ought to behave in public for their own good.

What happened to the 13 couples and 35 other young men and women who were rounded up by the Mumbai police a couple of years ago following raids at hotels? They were all consenting adults who had simply checked into several hotels in Madh Island and Aksa. How can a supposedly civilised country justify the idea of policemen knocking on doors and taking couples into custody for choosing to spend time in a room together?

How do we reconcile something as barbaric and regressive as an 'anti-Romeo' squad? How do we make sense of people claiming to be offended by men and women kissing? How do people doing what evolution compels them to do offend other people? How do we explain to visitors that we live in a country where it's perfectly okay for policemen to ignore criminals and spend time patrolling public spaces in order to prevent men from being anywhere near women? And if this is how authorities believe they are protecting women from sexual harassment, what does that say about how millions of Indian men are taught to behave around women?

The saddest thing about these incidents is how the people responsible for them are allowed to get away with it. There aren't even slaps on the wrists, let alone repercussions that lead to any genuine change. People believe it's perfectly okay to harass a couple for hugging in public because they know that a mob can get away with murder. It's also why mobs do get away with murder so often in the world's largest democracy.

People who have problems with couples indulging in public displays of affection probably behave the way they do because they have never received much affection themselves. If you want to leave this country a better place than the way you found it, please do the right thing and hug your children, partners and loved ones more often. Also, please do it in public.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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