Atanu Dey On India's Development

Obscenity in India

This is obscene. The way we get our priorities mixed up is seriously obscene and disturbing. A bunch of people — clueless retards, more descriptively — get offended by some Hollywood actor kissing some silly young woman on the cheek in public and publicly protest what they call an attack on their cultural ethos. Worse yet, a case if filed in some court and the judge orders the woman to appear in court and orders that the actor be arrested if he sets foot in India.

That case should have been thown out and the litigant(s) assessed punitive damages for wasting the court’s time with a nuisance suit. With all due respect, I think the judge who admitted the case is acting like an idiot and steps should be taken to review whether he is entirely sane.

I feel embarrassed by all this because this gives India and Indians very bad press. A friend in the US, Myke, wrote to me informing me that a radio station in LA carried a news report which said:

Gere Faces Arrest in India

Ricardo Vazquez Reporting
LOS ANGELES, CA (KNX) — Last week protestors took to the street and burned effigies of Richard Gere and Shilipa Shetty, an Indian pop star that won “Celebrity Big Brother” in Britain. The protests erupted after Gere repeatedly kissed Shetty on the cheek at an event aimed at increasing HIV awareness.

Protestors said that Gere’s actions were “an attack on our cultural ethos”, according to a report in the Times of India. The matter has now landed in the courts.

An Indian judge watched a video of the incident and ruled that Gere violated India’s laws against public obscenity. The court ordered Shetty to appear on May 5th and that Gere be arrested.

Gere is not currently in India, but if he returns he can be detained and would face up to three months in jail, fines, or both.

Myke added that the government was protecting me and that I should be grateful. My response was to play down the damage. I wrote back:

“Yes, I am grateful that the people care so much about morality. Seriously though, it is making a mountain of a molehill. Sure a bunch of jobless idiots are protesting something — but the report gives the mistaken impression as if hundreds of millions of people are invovled. True, there are idiots in India but in pretty much the same relative numbers as are found in any other population. Because of India’s size, even vanishingly small percentage numbers translate into very large absolute numbers. That makes news, while the big story that the large majority could not care less would not be interesting at all.”

I think the true obscenity is when our courts have a backlog of 300 years of cases; I think it is obscene the way the people at large and the courts don’t take cognizance of the corruption that pervades the body politic; I think it is obscene that some people protest public kissing but have little to say about public molestation of women.

At some level I don’t really care if the rest of the world sees Indians as a bunch of puritanical repressed retards. What I care about is that we appear to have lost our sense of balance and forgotten what our priorities ought to be.

  • Guru Gulab Khatri

    This kind of cultural norm and strict segregation of the sexes in india causes me to lump it into a muslim-esque culture.

    But how s kissing in public a chargable offense ?
    You guessed it the wonderful constitution of india? No demarcation of personal liberties is there.

    There was a Fat Kutiya cop in meruth who slapped some couples in park

    And i find it amusing that indians always link it to morality.

    The number of indians who in US claim that us is debauched is surprisingly high, and these are the same folks who often claim
    that indian schools are better at educating kids in “Maths”.
    Seriously their Mati- is mari gayi.
    How many fields medalists come from india?

    Any culture which represses individuals cant produce any thing

  • sarat

    I was shocked when I read the magistrate’s statement. Quoting from the telegraph:

    An arrest warrant was issued against Richard Gere for a peck on Shilpa Shetty’s cheek that the judge found “highly sexually erotic” after watching the video footage.
    Shetty’s attitude was “co-operative” and she did not restrain herself but kept inviting Gere for the “kissing episode”, which stretched for a good while, judge Dinesh Gupta said.
    Their actions had “transgressed all limits of vulgarity and have the tendency to corrupt the society”, the Jaipur additional chief judicial magistrate said.

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070427/asp/nation/story_7704722.asp

  • http://sharansharma.blogspot.com/ Sharan Sharma

    I am bothered about three things in this Gere-Shetty episode, Atanu.

    The first is exactly what you write about – misplaced priorities.

    The second is the other side of the episode – how many(most?) westerners totally lack a sense of cultural sensitiveness (Israeli tourists also come to mind). Sure Gere did it “spontaneously” but that’s exactly what some cultural awareness – local dos and donts – should prevent. The ignorance is displayed in their media reports as well.

    The third is Indians constantly wanting to look good in the eyes of the West. So Gere is beyond even mild reproach (“hmmm…you know, Richard, this isn’t done here”) and Laine can do junk research and get away with it.

    Personally, i’d love to see a day when couples can hold hands/kiss in India (without getting arrested!) but right now am just hoping one of those truck drivers, who Gere performed before, doesn’t take inspiration to hoist himself on some poor lady. The question is whether, as a country ,we are ready for permissiveness.

  • http://acorn.nationalinterest.in Nitin

    Sharan,

    Sure Gere did it “spontaneously” but that’s exactly what some cultural awareness – local dos and donts – should prevent.

    What are you talking about? Gere didn’t kiss an ordinary person from the audience. He kissed a celebrity. There are entire magazines and TV channels in India devoted to the business of showing celebrities kissing.

    The merits of this “respecting sensitivities” apart, it was not at all an issue in this case. One silly idiot and one silly idiot have made the country a laughingstock at best.

  • http://sharansharma.blogspot.com/ Sharan Sharma

    Nitin,

    >Gere didn’t kiss an ordinary person from the audience.

    How does that matter? We’re talking about the act and it’s appropriateness for the concerned audience (given their lack of exposure to such things – not from some moral standpoint).

    2) I do find the issue of cultural sensitivity important. When many of us visit other countries, we take time finding about local sensitivities and act accordingly. If anything else, for a celebrity acting in front of a mass audience (and this was really mass) that responsibility is greater.

    3) In case you’ve misunderstood my earlier comment, i repeat my assertion: i’d love to see some public permissiveness in current Indian society. But cultural change takes time.

    Actually, let me put that in a slightly different way – getting back to a time when sex was freely discussed (Sanskrit literature offers many examples) and out of the Victorian mode of thinking will take time.

    >There are entire magazines and TV channels in India devoted to the business of showing celebrities kissing.

    Exactly. And they have their *targeted* audiences. But the same guy who reads a daily covering some celebrity kissing feels uncomfortable with a public display of affection. And it gets worse at lower pop. strata levels (personal experience). That’s Indian society for you. Changing it will take time.

    And Gere-Shetty-type episodes are not helping. They’re just leading to a hardening of moral stance and varied signs of lunacy.

    > made the country a laughing stock at best.

    Like i said earlier – it’s high time we stop looking for external behavioral approvals. If this was an idiotic thing, it is so because Indians recognize, feel and say so – not because ‘the world’ feels so.

    At the end of it all, it feels crazy that one guy pecking a woman should occupy so much of our time. But then, that’s India again :)

  • http://indianslate.blogspot.com Manoj

    I can understand if shilpa shetty files a case for getting kissed in public but when she doesn’t give a damn, I don’t get whats all the fuss about?

    The Bush administration’s ever increasing number of fcuk ups has made the US public sick of the real news and I guess they want something stupid to lighten them up. The media will make every use of this episode

  • http://www.paahijen.com Abhijit

    I think they are plain jealous.. I mean, given sufficient powers, I’d not refrain from issuing an arrest warrant against Gere, if he gets to kiss Shilpa Shetty and I cannot.. Afterall they are humans!!

  • Keith

    I visited India, including Jaipur, for the first time in December 2006. While I was there with my wife, we visited quite a few cultural sites, parks and shopping areas. We saw young Indians kissing in many of these places. In fact, I kissed my wife in a few of the more romantic locations. In all of these instances, the kissing was done without any arrests being made.

    So even if you agree with the Judge in the case of Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty, you have to wonder why this law is selectively enforced.

    P.S. To Soniya Gadgil-Sharma who posted a comment earlier–Get over yourself. Indian women love to kiss white guys too.

  • http://indiagrowthanddevelopment.blogspot.com/ Sanjay

    I was ignoring this story until I saw several Indians in the blogging community predictably use this opportunity to take cheap shots at Indian culture. In the context of Rajiv Malhotra’s latest essay on Whiteness, it occurred to me whether this breed of Indian bloggers were displaying the classic symptoms of whiteness – adopting the white gaze to interpret everything Indian. After all, Fair and Lovely is only skin deep.

    I decided to watch the Gere-Shetty “kissing” video on Youtube.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pt23lqF-nM8

    I notice Gere’s appearance – unkempt and shirt sleeves hanging out, flapping a bit. By contrast, Shilpa is more suitably attired and it was she who practically pulls him on the stage in an attempt to get the job done.

    In terms of the kissing sequence of actions, Gere starts by grabbing and kissing the back of her hand. Even this lingers for a while and clearly interrupts Shilpa’s speech at the mike. Gere follows this manouevre by turning his back squarely on the audience, grabbing her upper arms and kissing both cheeks. At this point, Shilpa appears to me a bit taken aback; I thought she rolls her eyes a bit, steels herself but allows him to continue, hoping perhaps it will be over soon.

    Little did she know that Gere was determined to do a practical demo of safe sex knowing his responsibility as an AIDS awareness campaigner. How better to demonstrate the risks of contracting HIV than to allow someone to deposit significant quantities of strange saliva on your neck and cheek? that too at an AIDS awareness event? Perhaps realizing that he had not yet made enough of a deposit, Gere essentially gets Shilpa in a bearhug and plants several more kisses in any exposed area his puckered lips could reach. Shilpa tries to escape without making a big deal out of it. At one point she is even bent 90 degrees at the waist but to no avail.

    The video catches a couple of guests, one of whom was probably Emraan Hashmi, the noted serial kisser of Bollywood – who appear to be watching indulgently initially but that soon starts to fade into sick smiles. The mad moment finally passes.

    More than the actual kissing, this appears to be a case of sexual assault.

  • Keith

    Sanjay, if Shilpa Shetty really was assaulted she would have pressed charges.

  • http://indiaunwired.blogspot.com Aravind

    If Indians cannot kiss in public, even Gere and Shilpa cannot kiss in public. Everyone who has seen this video knows that Gere was not advertising safe sex by the way he was kissing her. It was not classy and the same video raised laughs on the Daily Show on Comedy Central. That is how this kiss would be perceived in US or elsewhere. The reaction by protesters is extreme but Judge is doing precisely what average Indians go through for doing the same. The kiss was unnecessary in the context of where they were and what they were there for (advocating safe sex).

    We need to be careful in not getting carried away with other priorities. Sure, there are other priorities for courts but unless there are clear rules on public kissing, obscene kissing etc., there will be more of the same, including kissing in the movies etc. There is already a controversy over Aishwarya Hrithik kiss in a movie. This issue cannot be brushed inside the carpet. Otherwise, morality and norms will be dictated by thugs, corrupt administrators and self appointed moral brigade.

  • http://valluvar.blogspot.com shiv

    All this crap in the land of Vatsayana. It would be funny if it were not so close to home. I assume that this is pent up sexual frustration on a national scale. Bad boy Gere gets to screw shetty while the paying public (presumably includes the idiot judge) have to wank off :) Some of the most erotic art i have seen are on the ‘Gopurams’ of hindu temples. So who are these ‘hindu’ guys who protest ? Can one use the RTI act to get info on when the Judge and the plaintiff in this case got laid last ?

  • Anuj

    Protesting over such non-issues in India is mostly carried out by illiterate unemployed youth who truly have nothing better to do.
    Instead of condemning those young men, we should be blaming the Government of India, which has failed them miserably.

    p.s. i wouldn’t be too worried about “what the west thinks of us” because of kiss gate.
    they have much, much , much worse things to be ashamned of in their own backyards.

  • http://ankurindia.blogspot.com Ankur

    dont know wat to say ,but we should leave double standards

  • Urvashi

    Some perspective, please, Guru Gulab.
    India is home to more than a billion souls, and out of those, maybe a hundred protested and ONE filed a PIL, which was accepted by ONE Judge.
    Labeling an entire nation as hypocrites is a tad unfair.
    Especially, If you live outside India.

  • Urvashi

    Keith – Kansas replacing the teaching of Evolution with “Intelligent [sic] design”; Alabama high court posting the ten commandments; Bush reelection; Utah; Pat Robertson blaming 9/11 on New Yorkers morals; Instituionalized Racism; Natives/Indians [the only “real americans” rotting in reservations; insatiable greed; wrmongering….is more cringe worthy than a a few dozen poor illiterate Indians burning a Gerbil Abusing bad actor in effigy….don’t you think?

  • Urvashi

    I don’t know what sort of School you attended , Guru Gulab.
    But, I doubt it was an approved institution.
    Because last I remember evolution as very much taught in Indian schools.
    As for Insitutionalized Racism in America….I should have clarified it as …Racism against Blacks..you know the race they kidnapped from Africa and used as Slave labour for more than a century; the same race the American establishment refuses to grant reparations to..
    And, the reason I pointed out American shortcomings was because so many Indians here were lamenting how embarrassed they were to face their gora friend/s, due to those gawar effigy burning desis.
    If only those Indians would invade a couple of countries instead.

  • Guru Gulab Khatri

    Delhi public School in Bhilai(as approved as it got…They teach you

    As far as Racism against blacks i dont deny its a problem but a good deal of it is self inflicted by blacks themselves.
    Even with affirmative action US blacks dont graduate from college and immigrants blacks take advantage of that.
    one good eg of that is Barack Obama

    Any one who is embarrassed by action of some one else is a dumbass.

    And dont even try the pusillanimous attempt to link Geres puckering to iraqi invasion here dear.

  • http://chrestomathic.blogspot.com Jyoti Iyer

    How about all those crappy Bollywood movies and videos with all the pelvic thrusts and boob shows and tasteless lyrics? Where are the upholders of Indian morality when these are being churned out by the Bollywood factory? I find it bloody ridiculous that people put up with stupid crap like that,but find the time to pick on a harmless foreigner.

    I think Indians have bigger problems and they will continue to have these problems forever because they have no real perspective. It’s a mobocracy – sheer bullying by numbers.

    I’m glad I left. And I know I don’t miss any of those double standards.

  • Urvashi

    Guru Gulab – I would ask you to prove your claim about the evolution teachings in DPS Bhilai, but that would mean taking this asrgument too far. Suffice to say that my husband who attended your sister school in RK Puram, Delhi disagrees with your claims..vehemently.
    Blaming African Americans for their lot is the favorite tactic of the American [far] Right; a claim utterly devoid of any proof. Next you will tell me that the Indian lower castes and Muslims are responsible for their condition?

    By alluding to the Iraq imbroglio I was highlighting the issues Americans have to be embarrassed about. Nothing more.

  • Urvashi

    Jyoti – I will assume that you moved to America because the people there don’t know the meaning of hypocrisy.
    And if they do, by mistake of course, practice double standards, which obviously give you so much grief…they at least dull the discomfort by applying the mighty Dollar balm. Right?
    If only those darky Indians would be more like the goras…only if?

  • http://chrestomathic.blogspot.com Jyoti Iyer

    Urvashi,

    I moved to America because I got married.

    I am not saying that Americans do not practice double standards or racism which here works a little differently from casteism. But the level to which issues filter down here are far different from those in India. It is so easy to rub the culture and the moral police in India and disrupt everything. This is how progress gets derailed and Indians are economically impoverished because they don’t spend time on activism for real causes such as education, but waste their time on silly stuff like this. There is no critical mass in India to sustain reform.As someone who would like to see India to be as economically progressed as America, a lot of things disturb me. Corruption,lack of education, poverty, bad unelightened leadership, the low status of women (despite models such as Saraswati and Durga) filters down to the very common man (and woman)and makes life an unnecessary struggle. That is my issue with Indian double standards. They impede progress. Indians do not rule with their heads; they are ruffled too easily.

    As far as double standards in America go, I am critical of it too, except that I am more sheltered from much of its effects. So yes, the dollar balm does help a little bit.

  • Urvashi

    Jyoti – Once again, have some perspective for durga and saraswati’s sake.
    In a nation of more than a billion people, a hundred or so unemployed youth protested against Gere; one guy with too much time on his hands filed a public interest litigation and one judge granted the warrant based on that complaint.

    You cannot blame an entire nation for that.
    After all India did manage to produce you – an evolved and progressive [whiny] person.

  • shehla

    Some mechanism should be decided.

    The Mikka-Rakhi kiss brawl finally had a happy ending. Rakhi threw some tantrums but finally the defining moment did come. Rakhi’s mom kissed Mikka and Rakhi on the forehead as mikka sang for someone whom he had forcefully kissed at his birthday bash. It was all so well staged on a TV Show Jeena isis kaa naam hai in which Mikka makes a surprise entry. I just couldn’t help applauding the two for their brilliant performance for almost one year.

    One just could not forget those endless fights broadcast live by almost all Hindi News Channels. Only NDTV India was the exception. Perhaps credibility comes way behind instant eye balls for most of the 24 hours news channels. One just couldn’t help remembering that ‘honest’ attempt by India TV in which the anchor tried to broker peace live on the channel.

    The question as to should the media be covering the kiss brawl, the way it was done was hotly debated after the incident. And this was precisely what the editors took to defend themselves. “We are talking about it, it means it has caught the public imagination” was the argument thrown. Also there were many saying it was a question of a women’s dignity, how could Mikka force himself on poor Rakhi?
    So what was this all about?

    Mikka needed publicity, Rakhi needed something to boost her career, the media needed the TRPs and all three combined together to fool the person who stopped to listen to them. You can’t blame Mikka and Rakhi, they are entertainers. Rakhi playing stunts like this one is ok but what about the media?

    The media plays a very important role in shaping the nation’s destiny. It’s not that good work in not being done but a collective madness towards TRPs is something very scary. The discerning viewer will see through such attempts. The Shilpa-Gere lock has also shown that protest organized to get your face on television will not be sustained for more than 10 minutes. The protests organized in Bhopal started exactly when the TV cameras came and within five minutes it was all over.

    Media should act as a public vigilance; it cannot be reckless or offensive. Hostile reporting, Invasion and judgments should be avoided, media has to inform and educate, and sometimes we see them overstepping the boundaries.

    Some mechanism should be decided as it sustains democracy.

    By playing into the hands of publicity hunters like Mikka, Rakhi, Shilpa and Jhanvi the media will do no good for itself and the society. Don’t treat the viewer as a fool. He will stop believing in you. Finally Jhanvi would not have gone to Pratiksha the day after Abhishek married Aishvarya had the TV cameras desisted from accompanying her.
    letzchangedrulz-miracles.blogspot.com

  • Polly

    I have been reading the correspondence from some months back about Ravi Shankar. Readers might like some facts with which I hope to enlighten them. I have these facts because I have to listen to, and put up with, the inanities of my Partner’s gibberings about him, this Partner being a Teacher of his courses.

    Here are a few choice ones for you:

    “The Guru says he has more units of energy than Jesus” (this is secret so don’t tell anybody).

    I have personally witnessed the Guru telling an audience at his Ashram during satsang that “he has no ego” and then dancing and flirting outrageously on stage to the cymbals in front of his adoring fans.

    The man is a classy con man. I should know: I watch thousand of dollars of my hard earned cash flooding out of my business every year. He is clever because he does actually make sure he does do some good things. I have no doubt that the Kriya helps people. It helps my Partner cope with stress. But then so does a good walk or a swim.

    I visited the Bangalore Ashram curious to discover what sort of man could fool so many intelligent and educated women with university educations who supposedly are able to employ rational analysis. Whilst I was there I saw the little shanty village at the bottom of the hill and no sign, apart from the waiting taxis, that they had benefited from his bounty. One myth that you heard there was that the great man slept on a floor in his little cottage. I later discovered a rather less publicised fact: that he owns a delightful villa not too far away with a waterfall. Naturally, that is a place only those closer to him come to.

    As he sucks in my Partner and I watch on helplessly as the business accounts start to be plundered, I wonder if anyone can help me. It’s all getting a bit desperate.

    Thanks for reading this.

    Polly.