"Dirty acts" in India: law or society?
I went to see a movie, The Dirty Picture. It tells the story of Silk Smitha, a South Indian actress who became famous for her “sexy” roles. She was vividly pictured in this movie, with a few suggestive scenes and A LOT of boobs (clivage) showing!!
Two things caught my attention from the audience.
The first one was an exclamation (of sheer surprise) from a middle-aged woman when the naked back of the actress came up on the screen (we later realised that she was sitting on a guy).
The second one was a middle-aged couple behind me; the man (like fat, bold, glasses, moustache) was fondling his woman’s boobs (the hand well inside the shirt) for more than an hour – she seemed to like it. In a houseful theatre, including children!!
Then it got me thinking…
Let us start with “public display of affection” (holding hands, kissing etc.). How many times
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did I hear about youngsters busted for such things?? (We will keep apart that men holding hands is a normal thing here and not a public display of affection.)
The law does ban it. Here it goes (Central Government Act, Section 294 in The Indian Penal Code, 1860 - source here):
“294. Obscene acts and songs. Whoever, to the annoyance of others,
a. does any obscene act in any public place, or
b. sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.”
BUT – wait for it! – I found a recent (2009) case by the Delhi High Court which stated “it is inconceivable how... an expression of love by a young married couple would attract an offence of obscenity and trigger the coercive process of law" (source BBC). Police had arrested a couple - a 28-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman - for kissing near a station. The police in Delhi had begun criminal proceedings against the couple for "sitting in an objectionable position near a metro (railway station) pillar and kissing due to which passers-by were feeling bad".
Not to be missed though, we are dealing here with a “married couple”.
What about unmarried couples then?
I had a few experiences where hotels would not let me and my Indian boyfriend stay together. Forget that it pissed me off, I wanted to understand. I was given the explanation that it is illegal to stay together when you are not married and that cops can come in and arrest you for prostitution. Prostitution!!
I have gone through the legal texts: “in 1950 the Government of India ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of others. In 1956 India passed the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1956 (SITA). The act was further amended and changed in 1986, resulting in the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (PITA).
I read (entirely) the SITA text (Immoral_Traffic_Prevention_Act_(ITPA)_1956.pdf), the main statute dealing with sex work in India. It defines (f) “prostitution“ as “the sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purposes or for consideration in money or in any other kind”. The text focuses more on punishing the third parties facilitating prostitution.
For instance it does not state what the prostitute faces whereas anyone living on the earnings of prostitution (as per the description it does not concern the prostitute herself: someone who lives on the earnings of the prostitution of any other person) faces punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both. Anyone procuring, inducing or taking person for the sake of prostitution shall be punishable on conviction with rigorous imprisonment for a term of not less than three years and not more than seven years and also with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees.
So according to the text, I am no prostitute and if I was, I could not be penalised!
I read that this text stated that “any sexual intercourse outside socially acceptable unions is likely to be regarded as prostitution.” But it is nowhere in the act.
Which leads me to the following: can my boyfriend and I stay in a hotel together? And the answer is yes!! As per law. Now if the hotel owner is scared of being arrested for having a brothel, he can refuse to have us but there is no legal ground to that.
Besides, the rights of unmarried couples are increasing. Recently (2010), the Supreme Court “has endorsed the right of unmarried couples to live together in a case involving an actress accused of outraging public decency”: “When two adult people want to live together, what is the offence?" the judges said. "Living together is not an offence. Living together is a right to life." Source BBC
Now I would like to conclude between the difference with legality and morality. What the law might not condemn, the society could.
Hence the immediate assumption when seeing a white girl with an Indian boy or a white boy with an Indian girl that they are involved in an act of prostitution: deep inside (or not), most Indian people believe that foreigners have no morals when it comes to sex (not to say that they all lead a dissolute life). Of course, the Western approach is different and can be “mistaken” for debauchery but COME ON!! It may sound cheesy but most of us are on a quest for love, not sex…
Pfff I wish I could explain that to my colleague for 3 years, who almost became a friend, always asked about my boyfriend and then finally made a move on me. On ME!!
And as far as the public display of affection are concerned, I may have been contaminated by the local virus!! I do now find French kissing in the street out of place. Not disgusting or anything but it IS a very intimate thing isn’t it?