Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Hindu Right's War on Courtship

People may be familiar with the story -- there's been a national outcry against the recent police beatings of couples who were doing nothing more than sitting together in a public park in broad daylight.

What interests me is the logic by which people support the beatings. I was at my parents' house (with access to Zee News) when this story broke, and what surprised me was the readiness of the Hindu right to make this a viable issue: that the police are right to beat anyone who appears to be on a date. They were actually holding (sizeable) protests against the fact that the police are being investigated! And here is a quote in the Times from one of the police officers accused of brutality:

Meerut police officials conceded that some officers overreacted. But they also defended their actions. Couples sat in "objectionable poses," said a defiant Mamta Gautam, a police officer accused in the beatings, including some with their heads in their partners' laps. Yes, Ms. Gautam went on, she had slapped those who tried to run away when the police asked for names and addresses. "If they were not doing anything illegal, why they wanted to run away?" the policewoman demanded in an interview. "I do not consider that what we did was wrong."

When you're thinking paranoid, it's easy to magnify the unspeakable deeds of your cultural opponent. In this case, the couples sitting together are presumed to be "doing something illegal," not because of what Mr. Gautam saw, but because of what she didn't see!

On top of this are added other social issues, including caste. Again from the Times:

That afternoon in Gandhi Park, even a young woman sitting alone was not spared. The woman, who gave her name only as Priyanka, said she was waiting on a park bench when the shouting of the police and their targets interrupted her thoughts. Getting up from her bench, Priyanka said she walked in the direction of the commotion when a police officer, Ms. Gautam, as it turned out, pounced on her and accused her of being a prostitute.

What is more, Priyanka said, the policewoman slapped her and called her a "chamari," a slur based on her caste.

The more I hear from Officer Mamta Gautam, the more I hope she gets discharged from the police as speedily as possible.

UPDATE: Portions of this post have been changed. Sorry for the confusion.


Blogger greensatya said...

There is a greater malaise in Indian system. There is no empowerment of the common citizens, there is no dignity in being a common citizen. This is the reason the police force thinks themself as guardian and not to service the Indians. What right does have a policeman to beat someone ? They can talk and if at all they think something illegal is done, they should be booked.

Can Police in any developed country violate some one's private space like this? Why the police think that they can beat anyone ?

The most disempowered in India are its citizens.

11:16 AM  
Blogger witnwisdumb said...

Something MUST be done. And I mean something more than sitting at a computer and typing away, and raising an 'outcry'. greensatya is right - we are a disempowered lot. We need to empower ourselves. And I'm not talking about resorting to rebellion or anarchy (although it WOULD be nice to methodically publicly humiliate and embarass the police personnel that committed these crimes) - I am talking about an organized 'citizen's brigade', a lobby of sorts, and one that wields power. Many of us 'powerless' citizens actually are quite powerful figures in society, and even if we aren't, we'd make a formidable force if we just united against [expletive censored] like the ones so commonly found in every government office. There is a lot that can be accomplished by talking to the higher authorities, the ones that have a little less water on the brain than these low level [expletive censored].

11:32 AM  
Blogger Vikrum said...

Hi Amardeep,

Nice post. I like your comparison of bigotry in the US with bigotry in India. I recently wrote this post on the same article. My main point is there is no logical reason for prohibiting public displays of love in India.

12:14 PM  
Blogger RaajK said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Blogchaat, I agree with you, except that I get a little uncomfortable when you bring up an appeal to highly-placed persons as a possible remedy.

Actually, while the UP police have swiftly moved to suspend Mamta Gautam, that approach can actually make it worse. One shouldn't underestimate the power of reactionary "moral" outrage as a political force in society. The way to fight it is from the bottom-up, not the top-down.

The anti-gay marriage backlash in the U.S. is probably one of the key reasons George W. Bush was reelected despite his dismal performance in the first term. The Christian right managed to scare people with this bogeyman of the "gay lifestyle." The problem is that the laws are being changed by the courts, while most Americans remain opposed to the concept of gay marriage.

Something similar is quite possible in India; I think the BJP has a "morals" card it could play here if it wants to. (Watch out for Sushma Swaraj!)

2:52 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

I wanted to note that I had to delete a comment by RaajK above. It contains a vulgar word for a sex act that is inappropriate on this blog. An edited version of RaajK's comment is as follows (Blogger doesn't allow me to edit the actual comment):

Why do you want to show your affection in publc,in the first place? Do you want to prove your love to others rather than the person you are in love with?

Go show it in front of your parents. Not me. Public space belongs to me as well. It is not meant to satisfy your voyeuristic pleasure by getting a [deleted] from your girlfriend in the park.

Smoke as you will. But don't cause ME cancer. No. Thank You.

Ok you demand for it. No wrong. The future implications of your demand will be like this:

Fact (1): In india 260 million people officially are below poverty line and get less than $1 a day, near starvation.

Implied: We have nothing to lose. Jail can give us a better and peaceful life.

-> Go see a half-naked,beautiful,rich girl. Rape. Go to jail. End of story.

500 rapes in a year occur on an average in Delhi now. This may go up to 1000, who knows. That's what you demand in the name of freedom.

Blame it on the atrocious inequality. Freedom to Indians have become a way of mocking at the poor. NRIs wake up. You still want public kissing...? Yes. Go for it.

What I find so disturbing in this comment is the casual invocation of rape.

In many ways, RaajK is proving the point I was making in this post.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Id it is said...

In both case it's sheer ignorance leading to petty mindedness! "Forgive them, for they know not"
Great post.

4:58 PM  
Blogger BangaloreGuy said...

The Police who commit such acts get away because they remain nameless and "united".

It happened on National TV, otherwise they would probably have been feted for their acts.

The best thing would be to sue them, naming them all, putting up their pics (in public) so that anyone who dares do that again will know that they'll not escape in anonymity.

6:25 AM  
Blogger BangaloreGuy said...

The Police who commit such acts get away because they remain nameless and "united".

It happened on National TV, otherwise they would probably have been feted for their acts.

The best thing would be to sue them, naming them all, putting up their pics (in public) so that anyone who dares do that again will know that they'll not escape in anonymity.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

RaajK not only invokes rape casually, he seems to link it to public display of affection. When I was in college in Delhi in the early seventies, a girl seen with a boy on campus or elsewhere, was often the target of verbal and physical assault by other males. The logic being, "If you can do it with him, you probably will do it with us." (Affection or free choice not being a factor in the equation). I see that things haven't changed much in thirty years.

The hostility to gays in the US follows a similar but flip logic - that "they" might inflict on "us" what they are doing to each other. Again, free will, proclivity and and just common decency, do not enter the picture

12:52 PM  
Blogger Gameboys said...

Amardeep, I haven't followed the fall out of this episode keenly, but I think it is important to point out that the incumbent administration in UP is not Hindu-right - it is ruled by a centrist coalition (more left than right) that prides itself on protecting 'secularism'. I personally think this is a mindset prevalent among large sections of the police and administration. Witness the ruckus in Tamil Nadu in recent times, where the two main parties are Dravidian parties (who are also into culture politics, I must admit).

Btw, it was ironic to have a Sangh Pracharak (former BJP secretary-general Sanjay Joshi) resigning because of an alleged sex-tape! How the cookie crumbles. Sweet music, I'm sure, to people who were harassed by BJP-Sena goons on account of Valentine's Day celebrations etc.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Gameboys said...

In my opinion, it is unwise for young people to push displays of public affection a little too far (in India), considering a majority of the people are not comfortable with it. That doesn't give the Police any right to behave arbitarily or beat up anyone with reason, but the Police are smart enough (in a perverse way) to take advantage of the popular sentiment - they invite very little censure because these incidents are seen to be affecting a minor, elite section of the society (though that is a myth).
- Nanda Kishore

9:09 PM  
Blogger Gameboys said...

beat up anyone with reason

I meant without reason...good God, the police are getting to me ;)

9:24 PM  
Blogger Kumar said...

Dr. Singh:

I'm surprised by the large crowds in support of the police actions. From what you saw on Zee TV, could you tell if they were rent-a-crowds or the genuine thing?

P.S. Belated Happy New Year, Dr. Singh.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

NOTE: The portions of this post dealing with gay marriage had to be removed. Sorry for the confusion.

7:30 PM  
Blogger serendipity said...

In the 80s and 90s, it was well known that places like Buddha Jayanti Park and Kamla Nehru Ridge are hangouts for couples in Delhi. From my limited experience, let me point out:
(a) the couples in these parks may be living with parents, relatives or roommates, and cannot meet "in private" without drawing copious amounts of attention.
(b) these couples are not displaying "public attention" - they are in secluded spots, in out-of-the-way parks - parks that are well known spots for being couple-magnets. They are not making out in the middle of the street.

While growing up in India, it was difficult for a couple to get together (even in Mumbai - friends have been harassed in Bandra Beach and Chowpatty) in a place one's parents did not know of. In Delhi, Archies and Nirulas filled this gap for the middle class. In recent times, Barista and Cafe Coffee day serve this purpose. For those from the lower middle class, who can’t afford Rs 50 cups of coffee, a public park is a more convenient spot.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Buddha said...

Nice post, wanted to travel to India, but when i read all this about India i feel i still have to prepare my mind.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous nona said...

Re the Meerut incident that you are discussing, there is a very interesting recent documentary on it - MORALITY TV AND THE LOVING JIHAD (dir: Paromita Vohra). The film analyses the current "breaking news" syndrome of the news channels and looks at how the mainstream media shares the blame for this incident (and other such incidents)....

12:16 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home