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Public Display Of Affection, And Its Relevance In The Urban Landscape

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By Nilima Chaudhary:

To kiss or not to kiss, is the eternal question! Well, at least for the ‘n’ number of love-struck souls out there. Mind you, it’s not just curious teenagers but also educated professionals, ageing uncles and aunties alike! Gone are those days, when we imagined a public park in our heads, we’d think of little children playing in the parks engrossed in their game of hide and seek. Fast forward to 2012, and the only image you can conjure up in your head is of a vast green carpet dotted with couples indulging in ‘risque behaviour’.

Whether we approve of it or not is another question, but it is one of the most commonplace sights in our life, especially in metropolitan cities. Parks are not the only haunts, others being private cabs, rickshaws and A/C buses. Although, one may criticize their gamey behavior in public but are we really qualified to judge them? And on the basis of what?

It makes me wonder at times, if love is an acceptable act then why is not it’s expression? Obviously, the term ‘expression’ is subject to interpretation but there should at least be an attempt made to define it! I think it’s safe to conclude that holding hands, hugging and even slight pecks in public are completely innocent. If these gestures make us all go mushy and ‘awww’y when we see them on the big screen, then why not in real life? Of course, there is always this question of ‘How much is too much?’ and it needs to be tackled wisely. When the situation turns from romance to carnality… err… does somebody need to get a room?

Under section 294 of the Indian Penal Code, Public Display of Affection (PDA) is a criminal offence with a punishment of imprisonment up to 3 months or a fine, or both. This law has been blatantly misused by the police and the lower courts to harass couples, apparently engaging in PDA. The problem is that the law doesn’t talk explicitly about PDA instead, in vague terms leaving behind enough scope for it to be misused. Therefore, an exhibitionist and persons hugging in public fall in the same category!

There is an urgent need to clarify and define what is obscene and what is not. India is a conservative country and anything new that creeps up is bound to startle our systems. In an age and time like today’s, where we deal with brand consciousness, latest gadgets, instant software updates, and facebook statuses and life at the speed of tweets, we still haven’t gotten over that ‘code of conduct’ between a parent and his/her child. Bringing your boyfriend or girlfriend home is a taboo for so many even if it is just hanging out! It leaves many like us with very few options and hence, we set out on an endless quest for ‘privacy’.

Times are changing and the youth definitely accepts PDA as a natural part of their life, be it with friends or a love interest. Simply put down, something as genuine as a hug or a kiss should not be source of such conflict. What do you think?

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  1. chakresh

    It is a very interesting topic which divides our society based on generation. Morals are function of social background. Read about an incident that happened to me

  2. Umapranathinarayan

    All world loves lovers? Naah!

                Good old Shakespeare once said all world loves lovers. Do they? May be in England of Shakespeare. Not so in India if we are to go by the evidence we have. 
                A youngster in the throes of his/her first love (or even second or third) has no freedom either in the house or outside to speak of the thrill or pain of the experience. They can share with nobody without being put down. Nor can the couple even meet to stare into each other’s eyes without drawing stares of disapproval from others around them. 
                Never make the mistake of having a rendezvous in the neighbourhood where you live. Not only the neighbours will look at you suspiciously and convey the information to your parents but even the locality’s Big Man’s (industrialist/contractor) watchman will give you a tongue lashing if he finds you talking with your favourite. He is also the keeper of the area’s morals, you see. If you have to talk go somewhere else, the watchman once advised a young couple in my neighbourhood, rather roughly. When the young man resented this unsought for advice the watchman bristled and raised his voice and advanced threateningly, forcing the youngsters to retreat in the interest of peace. Lovers, you see, are quite vulnerable to the self-appointed moral policemen. 
                An incident in Osmania University in Hyderabad showed the moral police at work. A boy who was speaking to a girl around 9 pm outside her hostel on the OU campus was beaten up by a group of boys as a punishment. However the girl was outraged. She roped in fellow ideologists of the Red variety and lodged a complaint against the moral policemen which were of the saffron variety. It is another story that the cops did not follow up but a point had been scored in favour of youngsters. How dare anyone impose their morals on others! 
                Only in India and I suppose in most Asian societies others’ affairs of the heart is the business of the neighbours and even the entire community. The idea of privacy and the right of the individual to go where the heart leads, with the person of one’s choice apparently is foreign to our people. The woes of the people in love apparently moved the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah. He must be the only politician to instruct the police not to harass lovers who frequent parks and gardens to seek solitude in each other’s company away from prying and frequently disapproving eyes. In a garden on a university campus, every now and then the watchman goes about poking the bushes with his lathi and when young girl and boy emerge from them, he shoos them away, I suspect, with spiteful glee. Not everybody is Farooq Abdullah, you see. 
                Some even find the young lovers easy prey. A group of teenagers comprising two girls and two boys were stopped by the police in the night as they were driving back after a party in a resort on the city outskirts of Hyderabad. All papers were in order but the police threatened to take them all to the police station and call their parents. The boys pleaded; the cops relented but only after emptying about Rs 1000 from their two purses. In another instance, desiring to escape from prying eyes a college-going couple decided to take refuge in the abundant rocks outlying the city. Parking his brand new motorbike the young man guided the girl up the highest rock and sat down for some heart-to-heart talk. Their joy was shortlived. From literally nowhere villagers emerged and threatened the couple with dire consequences if they did not stop ‘polluting’ the pristine environment. Rocks as the last resort? No way!
                There is hope though. The other day I took an NRI friend to see the latest showpiece of the city, on Hyderabad’s outskirts, the Hidden Lake or Durgam Cheruvu. The park has plenty of original shrubbery, natural rocks and trees around with themes worked around them. And for a change, it was not crowded with one billion people. The only crowd was under trees, behind the rocks and hidden behind the shrubs, two-somes who were lost to the world. Durgam Cheruvu is a paying park. The entry fee is a deterrent for the undesirable elements such as noisy kids, voluble parents and screaming vendors. There seems to be at least one positive aspect of liberalization, thank God!
    written by Dr. R. Akhileshwari, HOD, Mass Comm Dept , Loyola Academy, Hyderabad.

  3. Kiara

    So ironic, so much for moral codes , and yet we cannot control our population. Today’s youth in India have a very important role to play, in many ways we reflect to our earlier generations values of true liberty and freedom, I would always support decency, but the intolerance on part of our previous generations , willful denial, of something so natural such as harmless pda, and yet not being able to stop violent crimes, what kind of balance is this? when rapes occur, its the girl’s fault? when pda occurs we shut our eyes and cop them out, our society seems too confused with so much going on, yet when bollywood starts off with a sleaze fest, its acceptable? Why are we so intolerant? it is NOT Indian culture at all!!! our ancient Indian civilisations valued females just as much as males. People are simply unwilling to acknowledge and confront their own shortcomings and trying to control and dominate everyone around. if these custodians of ‘indian culture’ cannot stop the rape of a 3 year old then they should just put their heads in the sand and stop trying to make everyone else so miserable. their intolerance only extends to the radius of their terrorisation. With all the ridiculous dress codes to restricting females in every way possible, and empowering the criminals by making the society suit their needs, instead of condemning them , we have it all backwards. its time to wake up

    1. Ankur C. Roybarman

      I agree with you completely. It is my humble opinion that the situation in India today feels like we live in the 17th century.

  4. Mudit Jain

    a couple having romance in public should not be a crime ,if we say India is a democratic country then why people are not free to express their emotions ,if a person wants to hug someone then he or she needs to hire a room or some private area ,??
    if India wants to walk along with western countries then why aren’t they adopting these western cultures??

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