Being a romeo is risky business in India


by Sunny
22nd December, 2005 at 11:06 am    

I have a short and slightly embarassing incident to relate. About ten years ago I was on holiday in India, enthusiastically exchanging saliva with my then girlfriend at a secluded area of a park. The ideal place of choice for a new generation.

A bloody policeman spotted us and decided that arresting us was the best course of action under the pretence of ‘soliciting sex’. Wtf! I was persuaded by my gf that paying him off was a more sensible path of action than trying to use his stick to beat him. Anyway, we both escaped unscathed, though I was a bit poorer.

So why I am I relating this silly story? Well, I was read this story (hat tip Jay Singh) and found it, well, poetic.

The BBC reports.

Two policewomen have been suspended in the northern Indian city of Meerut for slapping and punching couples who were dating in a public park.

Police were carrying out “Operation Romeo”, which they said was to target the sexual harassment of women.

Anti-police protests erupted after TV pictures showed officers punching and pulling the hair of young women.

Police chief Rajiv Ranjan said the drive was to tackle obscenity but the officers had “clearly gone overboard”.

Overboard – yeah right. I was middle-class enough to buy my way out of trouble, but there are plenty in India who can’t. They are faced with an abuse of power.

Yahoo News also points out:

In Meerut, students shouting “Down with police dictatorship” have staged demonstrations and burnt effigies of police officers.

The outcry, including from women groups, has forced the police to suspend two women officers and probe the incident.

One of India’s most conservative states, Uttar Pradesh is also one of the most crime-ridden, known for gangs indulging in murder, extortion and kidnapping. People in Meerut are amazed that police have the time to go after dating couples.

I’m a bit surprised the Indian blogosphere hasn’t made a big deal out of this, but either way, this incident highlights two growing trends.

Firstly, it is another example of morality in India getting skewed out of control. The police is busy harassing couples in parks, actresses are getting harassed for talking about safe sex and tourists are being fed guidelines – all the while that AIDS is not getting sufficient attention.

What makes it worse is that none of these cases are really about protecting morality (they never usually are), but about groups of powerful people scape-goating the powerless for their own needs. The police, the politicians and the government – they all beat the morality drum when it suits them.

The second point, and the upside of all this, is that growing competition between television and press outlets in India is leading to sting operations that force more accountability.

There are many examples: the big Tehelka.com sting operation that uncovered corruption at the upper echelons of government; Shakti Kapoor caught with his pants down, the more recent ‘cash for questions‘ sting by CobraPost and Aaj Tak (also behind the latest video).

The result is that corrupt power-brokers are being caught like never before and that is most definitely a good thing. Blogging will slowly but surely add to this competition – again a great thing.

The only two worries are that the victims may be the ones easy to catch rather than the real big fish, and that such sting operations may go out of fashion. Maybe foreign competition and ownership may be the saviour in this regard. Either way – expect plenty more such scandals!


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Filed in: India,Moral police,South Asia






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  1. DesiPundit » Romeo And Juliet - Are Not Indian Mind You!

    [...] Being a Romeo is risky business in India says Pickled Politics. With the police bashing up innocent couples in Meerut, strange laws in Bombay and dresscodes in Madras – This damn moral policing is getting to me! [...]


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  1. Jai (not Jay) Singh — on 22nd December, 2005 at 11:20 am  

    =>”I’m a bit surprised the Indian blogosphere hasn’t made a big deal out of this”

    There’s a debate about the Meerut incident on Sepia Mutiny:

    http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/002770.html#comment39404

    Some of the Indian satellite/cable news channels have also been jumping all over this controversy.

  2. Rohin — on 22nd December, 2005 at 11:27 am  

    Yeah, I took a beating from some angry feminist in that thread Jai!

    CobraPost and Aaj Tak, I must admit, I had not heard of before. But they’re carving out a nice niche for themselves. If India is awakening to bold investigative journalism, that’s a truly great thing. Not only do I admire those who put themselves at risk (mess around with the wrong people in the UK, you may get beaten up, mess around with the wrong people in India and you might just vanish) but investigative journalism can achieve a great deal when it comes to swaying public opinion.

  3. Nush — on 22nd December, 2005 at 11:48 am  

    yeah i read about this today as there have been effigies of the police commisioner being burnt.

    its being reported that in india kissing in pubic is considered taboo

  4. Rohin — on 22nd December, 2005 at 11:56 am  

    “its being reported that in india kissing in pubic is considered taboo”

    It is taboo. I forgot to mention as well, my Dad was arrested back in the 70s for ‘doing a Sunny’ in Delhi. Not literally doing a Sunny, you dirty pervs. He also palmed the coppers some Mahatmas and they let him off.

    Kolkata has surprised even me by being ahead of the game when it comes to young couples, having set up ‘love zones’ for them to canoodle freely. What with BLR’s dancing ban, Mumbai’s bar ban and Delhi’s general boringness, Kolkata is enjoying a positive renaissance. Someplace Else (a club in Cal) has popped up everywhere, I keep seeing it in films.

  5. Jai Singh — on 22nd December, 2005 at 12:08 pm  

    Rohin,

    Yes I read your somewhat heated exchange on that thread; I think she was just being over-sensitive and had misinterpreted your use of “that” word. Or possibly she’s a new arrival to SM and just isn’t familiar with your on-line personality, or the British Asian sense of humour.

    =>”its being reported that in india kissing in pubic is considered taboo ”

    It’s not just “taboo” — isn’t it actually still illegal, technically ?

    (I may be wrong here).

  6. Rohin — on 22nd December, 2005 at 12:18 pm  

    Hmm I don’t know that it’s illegal, anyone know for sure? I don’t think so. But what is technically still illegal is homosexuality, which always surprises me.

    In fact I remember an article about this – I’m sure kissing per se is not illegal, because there were some pictures of men and women drinking, kissing and dancing published in a Tamil Nadu paper and the police tried to arrest them. But they had no grounds.

    Police have also used cameras against the public. Mumbai police have misused seafront CCTV cameras to film couples (and you can guess what the police were doing, ew) and then used the film to blackmail the lovers.

    I think about moving to India a lot. One of the major major major factors I hesitate is the police. They’re no better than in any other developing country. ‘India Shining’ certainly hasn’t made it to the police force.

  7. Gunjan — on 22nd December, 2005 at 12:18 pm  

    :$ when are you leaving? weren’t you supposed to be on holiday?

    Last time i went to bombay it was ‘fashion’ to french kiss in public, didn’t notice anyone getting arrested.
    I guess some police officers harass & intimidate people to make easy money esp. in small towns/cities.

    Even if people had the time to complain about the official, no action would be taken because the next official will most probably be just as corrupt.
    No one has the time & money to act against the corrupt indian system, mostly it seems like a waste of energy to fight against it.

  8. Neel — on 22nd December, 2005 at 12:26 pm  

    I went Gujarat and few months back and was walking round in jeans and a T-shirt. Everyone was staring, when i asked my cousin why he said t-shirts are considered underwear and that i should put something on over it. !

    Later that day i was whistling a tune whilst a few girls were walking by and I was told to not do that cos the girls might think i was trying it on them !! Goodness knows what would have happened if i was actually caught doing something really dodgy (like kissing some girl).

    But outside the major cities and tourist spots India is socially conservative and its jus something you live with when you go there.

  9. Rohin — on 22nd December, 2005 at 12:35 pm  

    What?! A T-shirt? Was this in some village? That’s going a bit far. As a guy I wear any old crap in India and no one cares. But whistling at girls – well that’s classic eve-teasing, as it’s called. You obviously have to be whistling some Bollywood cheese. Most go for SRK classics like Dil To Pagal Hai or DDLJ. But I favour the old time hits, and no one can whistle Yaadon ki Baaraat like me!

  10. Jai Singh — on 22nd December, 2005 at 12:36 pm  

    Again, I may be wrong, but as far as I know, kissing is interpreted as “public indecency or obscenity”; I guess it’s a grey area in legal terms and therefore open to (mis)interpretation, but that’s the explanation I’ve heard from various members of the older generation anyway.

    There’s been a lot of on-screen kissing in some of the more risque Hindi films recently (mostly involving Emraan Hashmi, funnily enough), so perhaps the legality of the act is interpreted as applying more to kissing in public spaces, ie. where other people are around.

    I haven’t lived in India and also have little knowledge of the Indian legal system in this regard, so perhaps other commenters are in a better position to clarify all this. In any case, unmarried couples socialising in public definitely isn’t illegal in India — at least as long as they keep their hands off each other.

  11. Neel — on 22nd December, 2005 at 12:47 pm  

    It was a smallish town but most areas I’ve been to in Gujarat are very conservative and you would certainly attract unwanted attention acting or wearing anything different/revealing.

  12. Pocahontas — on 22nd December, 2005 at 12:52 pm  

    No one told me when I was back in Bombay last month that kissing was illegal!! I was privy to some very passionate stuff going on in Juhu beach, don’t think the couples involved knew it either.

  13. Dynesh — on 22nd December, 2005 at 1:18 pm  

    Well in Chennai, where I live, the police wanted to arrest people partying inside a private hotel for causing a ‘public’ nuisance…and only did it after a photographer from a tamil tabloid smuggled his camera in and took pictures of a husband and wife (read: evil degraders of morality) kissing…even that is actually conjecture…homosexuality is still illegal, though it is not defined as such – Section 377 of the PC states all unnatural acts can be punished. So ever since Victorian times, following from our ‘British Masters’, we have defined homosexuality to be un-natural. Yet when when the (ex) ‘Masters’ ditched that law in the 60s, we saw no reason to follow suit. Our ban on homosexuality is actually a remanant of a victorian law, not 2000 year old morality.

  14. Bikhair — on 22nd December, 2005 at 2:19 pm  

    Sunny,

    I’ve only seen animals do it at the park. Whats your excuse?

  15. FOB — on 22nd December, 2005 at 4:35 pm  

    It varies by location in India. North India is pretty conservative .
    Bombay as a whole is pretty liberal. Its definitley not illegal to kiss in public .Believe me,you will see a plenty of making out on the various seafronts , beaches and parks throughout the city.
    The cops are scum though, you have to pay them off and they let you be.

  16. Rohin — on 22nd December, 2005 at 6:36 pm  

    Juhu, Malabar Hills etc are liberal. I wouldn’t say Mumbai is that different from any other big city in India, overall. And whilst the north/south divide used to exist in these matters – the north was definitely more conservative – now there’s not much difference. Of course the shit holes of UP and Bihar cloud the picture, but apart from those two states, India is much of a muchness.

  17. Sunny — on 22nd December, 2005 at 8:57 pm  

    Gunjan – I can’t stay away. Damn this blog and its addictiveness :(

    Dynesh – my episode actually happened in Chennai and I its so damn conservative. In comparison Mumbai is a different planet.

  18. FOB — on 22nd December, 2005 at 9:34 pm  

    Rohin , Bandra is where the real action is in Bombay :) Juhu, Malabar Hill is so 80s yaar…
    I have lived in Bangalore too and it rocks…
    Delhi sucks big time

  19. Rohin — on 23rd December, 2005 at 2:52 am  

    FOB, BLR rockED. The nightlife’s taken a hammering now…unless you know which out of towners or private parties to go to. I’m sure BLR won’t stay quiet, things will return to normal soon. Ish.

    I wouldn’t say Delhi sucks big time, it’s just…Delhi. It’s where I grew up so of course I’m fond of it. But as a 4 year old I wasn’t interested in the meagre nightlife!

  20. Sunny — on 23rd December, 2005 at 4:57 am  

    You want messed up nightlife, go to Chandigarh! The bloody bars even closed at 10:30 :(
    That place is the pits for going out.

  21. Mirax — on 23rd December, 2005 at 6:06 am  

    About 10 years back, I went backpacking across N India with a Chinese male friend. Oh, the intense curiosity of the Indians we met on buses and trains and pretty much everywhere else as to the nature of our relationship was amusing at first but got really irritating after 3 months. I am glad that I don’t speak or really understand hindi because I am sure that unpleasant comments were directed at us; I understood the snide looks alright!
    And the degree of sexual harassment/attempted molest on trains and buses was incredible. Long-suffering Indian female friends gave invaluable advice on how to deal with such but it was disheartening to be so much under threat so much of the time. I travelled alone from Gorakpur (horrible town) to delhi once and it was the most unsafe journey I’d ever undertaken.

    I had family in South India that I did not visit because , the only ‘safe’ way I could then travel was with a vanload of male relatives in tow.

    Indian attitudes to women (and sexuality) are so damn hypocritical.

  22. Mirax — on 23rd December, 2005 at 6:11 am  

    I’ve only seen animals do it at the park. Whats your excuse?

    We are animals?

    Really, I am not being facetious, do look this up.

  23. ?! — on 23rd December, 2005 at 8:41 am  

    SUCH a lot of cliched “middle class morality” and “scum police” statements that read right out of the wog bible.

    “What makes it worse is that none of these cases are really about protecting morality (they never usually are), but about groups of powerful people scape-goating the powerless for their own needs. The police, the politicians and the government – they all beat the morality drum when it suits them”.

    Name ONE country in the world that does not answer to above description.

    Policemen world over are prone to brutality. And going overboard. Is the London subway shooting by the cops or the whatisname King incident in Los Angeles any different ?

    The moral policing is presently politically an attractive platform. Analogous to the way Intelligent Design has become a political issue. Like others, this will eventually find its way to political oblivion.

    As for safety of women, I guess it is localised, even within India. And despite the cliches, I see plenty of women going out and working. And fairly coping. The times are changing and while we aren’t quite the most liberated, the old cliches don’t really hold either.

    It’s like the ” Americans have legalised porn sites that claim to show rape/teen sex etc, they must be a nation of perverts” kind of rant that you hear ever so often in India.

    Tis like the old cows on the roads and snakecharmers stuff. And is amazing when desis do it.

  24. Navin Harish — on 23rd December, 2005 at 9:15 am  

    I agree that the moral policing is a bit too much. I was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to never have to sit in secluded spots with my girlfriend but I know what happened to you is very common. Another thing that is very common is being harrased by eunuchs for the same reason. They’ll walk up to cosy couples and demand money.
    I think closing down the dance bars in Bombay is an example of the same mentality of authorities that want to instill some “values” among us. Check out an entry on my blog about the same thing

  25. Neel — on 23rd December, 2005 at 9:43 am  

    Mumbai and Bangalore are fine but at the end of the day im not gonna go to some park and lips a girl if I know its gonna attract a whole heap of attention and offend people.

    U said nightlife in Chandigarh is crap, Gujarat = no alcohol, bars or anything close (which personally i dont mind). Its either the Cinema or ‘Ice cream cafes’ that have sprung up in the main cities in recent years that are main places to relax in evenings.

  26. El Cid — on 23rd December, 2005 at 9:45 am  

    Talking of moral policing, just would what Osama say about his lovely niece!!
    Reason #245,987 why his dreams for an Islamicised world are doomed.

  27. Siddharth — on 23rd December, 2005 at 10:56 am  

    hmmm I bet she’s high mainrenance though. :-D

  28. Uncleji lovelorn in Ludhania — on 23rd December, 2005 at 12:13 pm  

    “You want messed up nightlife, go to Chandigarh!”

    Should come down and party in Unloved Ludhania.
    I’ll trade all of that for a handful of bookshops and a bit of culture (yes punjabis can read)

    I just wanted to point that its not just a case of big city/ same town. Try smooching in public in Punjab Bagh in Delhi and see how far you get…..

  29. Uncleji lovelorn in Ludhania — on 23rd December, 2005 at 12:22 pm  

    I have same there is something very twisted in the modern India approach to sex, compared to the West even when its being used to sell stuff or in the movies its treated as something dirty, seedy and brutish, calucated to the excite the seat ripping check greased back hair yoof.

    Or I am just a old codger

  30. j0nz — on 23rd December, 2005 at 1:27 pm  

    I wouldn’t mind being Romeo to Bin Laden’s niece

  31. j0nz — on 23rd December, 2005 at 1:29 pm  

    Oops didn’t see El Cid’s post there. And she’s high maintenance, defo!

  32. Sunny — on 23rd December, 2005 at 8:55 pm  

    What the hell is the wog bible exactly? Getting annoyed at police brutality is middle-class liberal sentiment now?

  33. Neil — on 23rd December, 2005 at 11:16 pm  

    Being honest, if we were policemen in India we would blatantly do the same thing. Its not exactly brutality to wave the lathi at a smooching couple anyway. ‘Live and dont let live’ I say.

  34. ?! — on 24th December, 2005 at 4:52 am  

    WOG . Western Oriental Gent. Whiter than than white sahibs, decrying the hidebound heathen mentality. The post implies it, the comments chorus adds to it.

    BTW, all these sting operations may not be such a good thing after all. Because after the sensational expose, nobody really cares to follow up. Eventually maybe the public will grow deadened to it and yawn, just another corrupt cop/politico/officer on cam story will die down.

    If say, they had followed the path taken by IE in the Stock market scam, which sustained pressure by following up the action taken, or the Hindu’s expose of Bofors, which led to a detailed investigation, it would’ve been better.

    One hopes. And waits.

  35. El Cid — on 24th December, 2005 at 8:33 am  

    ?!,
    I assume you live in India. But WOG, while standing for western oriental gentlemen, is a very derogatory term in Anglo Saxon countries aimed at black people.
    The exception is Australia, where it seems to be aimed at foreigners generally, particularly slavs and latins. Hence the term “wogball” for football.
    “Whiter than white sahibs” — maybe that is closer to its original meaning. But the term doesn’t travel as you intended.

  36. ?! — on 24th December, 2005 at 3:22 pm  

    El Cid, peccavi :)

    The sentiments in the rant hold.

  37. Rohin — on 24th December, 2005 at 4:26 pm  

    WOG does not stand for Western Oriental Gentleman, it’s a modern myth. It’s from Gollywog, which is a derogatory term for a black person.

    “There is some speculation that wog is an acronym for one of the following: Western Oriental Gentleman, Worthy Oriental Gentleman, Wily Oriental Gentleman, Wonderful Oriental Gentleman, or Working On Government Serive. The numerous variations and a lack of supporting evidence suggest that wog was not an acronym… Wog is both an ethnic slur and a racial epithet.” [Link]

    I’ve lived in India for years. If you think that police there are the same standard as police in the UK, for example, you’re deluding yourself.

  38. raz — on 24th December, 2005 at 5:01 pm  

    Rohin, they can’t be as bad as the Pakistani police, surely. Even I can admit that :)

  39. Sunny — on 24th December, 2005 at 10:35 pm  

    decrying the hidebound heathen mentality.
    What in the bloody hell is that supposed to mean? Have you actually lived in India before you spout such drivel? Some of the police there are nice people but their tendency to abuse power in return for favours is legendary, which I’ve had personal experience of plenty of times.

    To talk about it, and have a media expose of police brutality is to be applauded because it may force better standards, like it did with the Rodney King incident in LA. An extended media investigation may be suitable in other circumstances (when exposing deep rooted corruption), but that isn’t to say such stings are no use.

    The idea that people will eventually get bored of stings and not care is an argument I don’t buy. Some people may become bored, but it may also force better standards because some people will watch it and react. It may also force the media to be more daring and push the boundaries with their stings (going after bigger fish for example), which is a good thing.

    Either way, the media should be in competition to inform their readerership, and find ways of getting heard.

  40. DesiDudeInAustin — on 29th December, 2005 at 12:06 am  

    Aaah Sunny, nothing says love like a little saliva swapping in the park :)

  41. harry — on 10th April, 2006 at 5:33 pm  

    moral policing sucks!

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