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Friday, April 27, 2018

The socio-political shaming of couples in South Asia

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"Police swept through the Mumbai hotels at about 3 pm, going room to room, arresting more than 40 unmarried couples. All were charged. The college students were forced to call their parents and admit what they had done.Their crime was "indecent behavior in public", the police said. For couples without marriage certificates in India - especially those of different faiths - spending time in a hotel room together can still be a struggle.

But where many Indians see immorality, others in the country's digital startup industry have seen opportunity."Thus begins Michael Safi's coverage of the controversial arrival of love motels in India for the Guardian titled, "Lust in translation: Arrival of the 'love hotel' divides India."

The concept is from Japan where couples could rent for some hours for their romantic encounters. I am not here to explore moral issues or ethics of the concept nor the industry in South Asia. My qualms are strictly positioned on the law enforcers and their attitude towards the couples.

The law enforcers have no right to police their own moral views onto consensual couples. Their complaint, terming it as "indecent behavior" is actually coupled with orthodox beliefs that have no foundation in a secular nation. It would be indecent if the couples were minors. However, there seemed to be an indication that the couples were not minors but young adults (college students) who were in consensual relationships.

Furthermore, they were forced to call their parents to make confessions of where they were and what they were doing. I fail to grasp something: I thought they were in a love motel not some confessional and I had no idea that law enforcers also moonlighted as priests who are there to absolve you of your 'sins.'  What had happened is not the separation of the Public and the Private; however, it was the forced superimposition of authoritarianism, with the excuse of somehow rescuing moral decency.

This sort of behavior is pretty common in South Asia, where public bystanders and law enforcers find that they have the right to exercise what they believe is to be correct and moral. Usually, this entails a lot of slut shaming. I can say with some certainty that the young women found on such raids are harassed more than their male counterparts are.

For a young woman in South Asia, these sorts of information can basically ruin her life. It eliminates future romantic/marriage partners and apparently she brings shame to the family. People around her community start to say inappropriate things to her and feel entitled to so. She becomes an outsider and is objectified; and society allows this as a form of punitive action. 

There is a great ostracizing tendency towards women who do not seem to conform to what their societies consider as 'righteous behavior.' for them. I feel terrible for the young couples caught in these raids. They have faced a nightmare of being discovered and humiliated by law enforcers and now they must go home for further humiliation. There may be domestic abuse on such individuals; their parents may strike them and verbally abuse them.

For women, their rights to education and professions or even adequate portions of financial aid may be stripped from them. They would be made vulnerable. Or worse things can happen, like being forcibly married off to someone, anyone, to 'spare' the family's reputation.

None of the law enforcers were thinking into this ominous future of these young individuals. They were being selfish and just wished to portray their personal beliefs. Though South Asia can seem community based young people are always under crises concerning familial bonds. College students are usually dependent on some relative for economic funds, lodgings or other provisions. Even if they are not, they require moral and metal support for their kin. This can be stripped away by the sort of 'actions' relatives see fit and fickle.  There can be a precarious line between safety and expulsion.

The article also indicated that there were interfaith couples. South Asia has many cultures and communities but they do not always coalesce in harmony. Though there are some progressive families where such an issue would not seem problematic, many others find this a form of betrayal to their entire structure of affiliation and association. These sorts of couples could have dangerous attacks done on them and the law enforcers, instead of keeping their anonymity for safety, decided to out them without their consent. The repercussions may be scary to imagine.

I do believe that adults have the rights to their own bodies and actions. This is not murder nor drug addiction, this is merely an expression of consensual human beings in love. Society can be very hypocritical and biased in South Asia. Sex workers are dehumanized and given no respect whereas their clients always walk around free and able to keep the families and professions they want.

Another angle of this is that sex workers are given no respect but when a young woman from a so-called respectable family is seen having sexual relations she is instantly shamed. Usually, male partners are given more leeway as we live within patriarchal institutions, who never judge fairly. 

Women are coerced to be "chaste" and "pure" but no such obligations rely on young men. Perhaps, in some cases men are judged sharply for their romantic actions, but chastity as a form of abstinence, is dictated to women as a majority. Specifically, the category of women we have excluded from sex workers, who are made less than human and not treated as women for their professions. They are treated more or less as objects.

If we are that conservative in our beliefs we would not allow dehumanization of sex workers and allow brothels to function. We would not have violent rape cases on minors: only recently in Bangladesh, a Madrasa teacher was caught for raping a nine year old child.

Law enforcers and legal systems should be more vigilant in stopping pedophiles, rapists and other kinds of sex offenders. They should not be amateur philosophers on the side to give their own personal views. There is a system of regulation and no one can easily be judge, jury and executioner on the spot. The law exists to protect people not harass them.  
 

The writer is working with The Asian Age

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