The Hari Putar Dialogues - 43
(BBC News ; 3 February ; DELHI: A court in India has dismissed criminal proceedings against a married couple charged with obscenity for allegedly kissing in public in the capital. The Delhi high court judge wondered how an "expression of love by a young married couple" could attract an obscenity charge. Police arrested the couple - a 28-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman - for kissing near a station last September. Public displays of affection are still largely taboo in India. )
Putar: There is a report on the BBC website today about an Indian married couple who have been acquitted off charges of obscenity
Hari: Really, Putar:? What were they doing?
Putar: They were kissing. According to the report, the police in Delhi began criminal proceedings against the couple for "sitting in an objectionable position near a metro (railway station) pillar and kissing due to which passersby were feeling bad".
Hari: What is the punishment for an act of obscenity?
Putar: The maximum punishment for committing an "obscene act" is three months in prison.
Hari: Did the couple accept that they were kissing?
Putar: Reports say the couple denied in their petition to the court they were kissing. They said they were taking self portraits on their mobile phones.
Hari: That's an interesting reason to give for keeping your faces close to each other. Did the judge accept their claim?
Putar: The judge said it didn't matter either way. Judge S Muralidhar quashed the criminal proceedings ruling that even if police reports were accurate "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".
Hari: Sometimes this is a way for the police to collect money. Young lovers don't have any places to meet so they meet in parks and other public places where they exchange tender touches and kisses. The police show up and round up all these lovers and extract money.
Putar: Those couples don't have any choice in the matter. If the matter comes to the attention of the boy's parents or worse still the girl's parents, the situation can be terrible for them, especially for the girl.
Hari: That's true. We are a conservative society and these things are not yet accepted in many sections of society, especially among the lower middle class. And yet as the expression goes 'boys will be boys'.
Putar: And increasingly in modern times, 'girls will be girls'. India is changing and standards of public morality are also changing.
Hari: That's true. But the police generally trouble lovers who are not married. In this case the couple was married.
Putar: Exactly. Even the judge expressed surprise that the couple had been picked up and charged by police despite officers being told that they were married.
Hari: On the other hand I'm sure that even the unmarried couples try and say that they are married. Only when the question comes of their home addresses do they come clean. Perhaps the police didn't believe this couple initially, but later decided to charge them anyhow.
Putar: That's possible.
Hari: But does this mean that a married couple can do anything?
Putar: Certainly not. All that has happened is that the threshold for what constitutes obscenity has been raised. Kissing was not permitted in films earlier but now it is getting to be commonplace. Many people now think that simply kissing is harmless, but other intimate acts may outrage members of the general public. The lawyer who contested the case for the couple told a Delhi newspaper: "Obscenity charges are attracted when an act is so obscene that it encourages depravity or annoys the public. In this case both these contents are missing, because the charge sheet is silent on any passersby as originally claimed."
Hari: But does it matter to the public whether the couples who are being intimate are married or not?
Putar: I don't suppose it should really. I mean who is to know if someone is married.
Hari: Exactly. Did the judge say anything about intimate behavior on the part of an unmarried couple?
Putar: Not as reported in the newspaper. Perhaps in the not so far future there will be such court decisions, but as yet India is not ready. Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: Kissing is not allowed but on the other hand pissing in public is sometimes tolerated more easily.
Hari: Well, quite often there are just not enough public urinals that have been constructed, so there are no options for people.
Putar: Otherwise pissing in public could also be considered to be an act of obscenity.
Hari: That's true, but as I said, I don't think people intend to be obscene. There are bad habits compounded by a shortage of public toilets. No alternatives.
Putar: Even the young couples who are intimate in public places often don't have alternatives.
Hari: Well, that may be so, but it's not seen like that.
Putar: As India comes to make economic progress there will be more roads, more hospitals, more schools and also more urinals.
Putar: And then in time to come, it may become an offence to piss in public. And then kissing in public will no longer be an offence, but pissing in public will be considered to be an offence. Do you think that's possible?
Hari: I don't know Putar.