How can the country that gave the world the Kama Sutra be so prudish? It’s a longstanding cliche to note that India has produced both the world’s most famous guide to love and erotic pleasure and some of the most conservative social rules this side of Saudi Arabia on such questions as kissing in public. That paradox was on display once again this week in the firestorm that swept India following a seemingly innocuous — and obviously staged — celebrity kiss on the cheek at an AIDS-awareness event.
The nationwide furor began when Hollywood actor Richard Gere and Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty appeared together at an AIDS-awareness function in New Delhi last Sunday. The event was supposed to highlight the risky sexual behavior of truck drivers, who have some of the highest rates of HIV infection in India. At one point in the proceedings, Gere embraced Shetty, bent her back in an exaggerated kind of dance hold and kissed her on the cheek. If it looked slightly awkward, Shetty said later, that’s because it was unexpected. “Richard does not understand Hindi,” she told a press conference. “All he knows is that Bollywood is all about song and dance. So, he decided to give a dance pose with me to entertain the crowd.”
But it may be more than than the Hindi language that Gere did not understand: His dance move and smooch on the cheek went way beyond what is acceptable, at least according to India’s Hindu nationalists who claim that Shetty has dishonored her culture. Protestors burned Gere and Shetty in effigy, and now plan to lodge a complaint against Shetty with the police. “How much can you degrade yourself because you are being paid money to make an appearance?” asked Sumit Mishra, of the youth wing of the Hindu nationalist BJP party in the state of Bhopal. As a foreigner, said Mishra, Gere could be excused. “We are not bothered about how many times he kisses how many women in Hollywood. We are troubled with Shilpa’s behavior. When the man was being outrageously indecent before a large gathering, why did she keep giggling?” Mishra railed to the Times of India newspaper. “That encouraged him more. Why didn’t she protest?”
But were the protests generated by real indignation or were they just a ploy by the BJP and other nationalist parties to bolster their support. Sudhir Kakar, who has written a novel based on the Karma Sutra and one of dozens of new translations of the ancient text, says the answer is both. “The people who protest want the masses to be offended by [the kiss],” says Kakar, a psychoanalyst and a former senior fellow at the Center for Study of World Religions at Harvard. “They want people not to go down the road towards erotic freedom. There’s a struggle going on for their votes actually.”
This Indian version of America’s “culture wars” is at a much earlier stage than its U.S. equivalent. The upper middle class that Kakar says is finally becoming “free from the sexual conservatism of the past” is still quite small, especially in comparison with the hundreds of millions who remain culturally conservative, if markedly less strident than the Hindu hardliners Indian newspapers dub “the moral brigade.”
It’s this silent majority, says Kakar, whose anger the extremists are trying to arouse. “The main thing is family, so they see any kind of sexuality as a threat to the family,” he says.
Shetty believes those protesting the incident are missing the point. “It is such a small issue,” she told reporters after the Gere brouhaha exploded. “Actually, I think it is not even an issue. There are bigger issues like AIDS in our country, which no one seems to be interested in talking about.” As politicians around the world know, though, it’s always easier to exploit controversy than tackle the difficult stuff.
Saw this on BBC today. Good to know the Indian government is recognizing spouse abandonment as a problem.
“The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs says women who are divorced or deserted within two years of marriage will be entitled to legal and financial aid.”
Click here for more
A friend sent this article to me and I thought it was pretty interesting. I don’t think the rushing into marriage without thinking is specific to just Muslim communities.
Excerpt from the article:
“Divorce is on the rise in the Muslim community, especially in the West. According to a study conducted by Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus, a sociology professor at State University of New York, the overall divorce rate among Muslims in North America is at an astounding 31%. The state of California ranks highest with a 37% rate of divorce and New York, Ontario, and Texas follow closely with a 30% rate. Compared to the overall rate of divorce in the U.S. (49%) and Canada (45%), the increasing rate of divorce among Muslims is cause for alarm”
What do you all think?
Networking sites aren’t just an American trend. We came across this tidbit on BBC today.
Arranged marriages are adapting to the hi-tech era.
Love-seeking Indians head online
By Sanjoy Majumder
Sandeep and Sowmya are very happy with their arranged marriage
India’s rapidly growing economy has led to a transformation in the lives of its middle-class – but how well have the country’s long-standing traditions stood the pace of change?
The city of Bangalore is India’s Silicon Valley, home of the country’s booming IT industry and employing hundreds of thousands of young Indian graduates from across the country.
It is one reason why it is also India’s most cosmopolitan city, a buzzing metropolis dotted with bars, cafes, trendy restaurants and glitzy shopping malls. But scratch under the surface and you still find traditional India.
Sowmya and Sandeep Kulkarni represent the face of modern India. They are both software professionals, IT graduates in their 20s who, nevertheless, found it natural to get married the traditional way – and have it arranged.
“I don’t see any flaw in arranged marriage – it was good enough for my parents and so it is good enough for me,” says Sowmya….[more]
On my way to work today the cover of AM New York caught my eye.
On jackson heights: “”We’ve put 74th Street on the map,” said Dass, a former president of the Jackson Heights Merchant Association. “This area was not known before. But now, it is known all around the world. Last year, Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg visited here three times.”
The Big Brother/Shilpa Shetty controversy is making more headlines than Ashwariya and Abishek’s wedding announcement.
India has stopped manufacturing Jade Goody’s perfume.
Here are some quotes:
You can watch the episodes on youtube
What do you think? Ignorance or racism? According to ITN News, it’s a debate that has sparker a bigger reaction than Saddam Hussein’s hanging. Apparently 70X more complaints have been about the shilpa shetty treatment than the hanging.
For those of you pay $10 for each desi and arab channels you subscribe to on the satellite dish, someone (a non-desi) just forwarded me this site because I just came back from Pakistan.
Once you register you can watch MTV Pakistan, Zee TV, Al-Jazeera International and much much more!
Check it out:
Um…some interesting scientific data on condoms being too big for Indian men? Also, Ash is busted for an onscreen kiss!
1) “A survey of more than 1,000 men in India has concluded that condoms made according to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men.” What do our guys have to say about that? Read more on bbc.
2) Who knew there is a law against kissing in public in India? Apparently it’s considered to be an obscenity.
“Bollywood megastar Aishwarya Rai, described by Julia Roberts as ‘the world’s most beautiful woman,’ committed the egregious sin of kissing her leading man, Hrithik Roshan, in her latest Bollywood movie, ‘Dhoom 2.'”
An Indian tribe has given its consent to a lesbian ‘marriage’ in the eastern Indian state of Orissa.
A priest belonging to the Kandha tribe led the ceremony between Wetka Polang, 30, and Melka Nilsa, 22, in Koraput district recently.
Both the women are day labourers and now live together in Dandabadi village.
Same-sex relationships are outlawed in India. The 145-year-old colonial Indian Penal Code clearly describes a same sex relationship as an “unnatural offence”