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No country for couples

Is our culture really threatened when a boy and girl hold hands? Photo: V Sreenivasa Murthy  

Ours is a country where Valentine’s Day is frowned upon and celebrated with equal ferocity. Where falling in love is seen as a slight on family honour. Where culture is threatened when a boy and a girl hold hands.

Apparently, it’s all right to kiss under an umbrella in a public park — as long as the moral police are on a break — but move the same scenario into a hotel room, and suddenly, you’re charged with “public indecency” and run the risk of being thrown in jail.

Till now. Hotel room booking platform StayUncle has bravely moved into uncharted territory with an announcement last week: affordable rooms on rent for 10-hour slots, for couples looking for a safe space. Predictably enough, this has set off a storm of self righteous commentary.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not such offers that promote promiscuity. Nor do they encourage premarital or extramarital relationships. This may come as a shocker to some, but people — both men and women — engage in such “immoral behaviour” for one simple reason: because they want to.

No matter what you do or say or think, in this regard, people will do as they please. As long as it doesn’t harm anyone, and isn’t prohibited by law, why must it bother someone who has no stake in the relationship?

Yes, you may grumble that there is no sanctity left in marriage and frown on those Western sitcoms that propagate such “foreign ideas”. But let’s face it: such occurrences are not alien to India. It’s only now that they are being spoken about openly, thanks to the fact that more people are unapologetic about the way they choose to live their life.

It might not agree with your moral or religious sensibilities, but there’s no law that says an unmarried couple can’t get a room together. This misconception is promoted by regional movies and soap operas, either due to lack of knowledge of the laws or as a not-so-subtle public service announcement. A recent episode on a popular Tamil serial depicted a scenario where the protagonists are arrested for not being able to prove that they are married.

Hotels don’t want to get drawn into such controversies, and hence shy away from renting out rooms without proof of marriage. Add judgemental staff to the mix, and the situation gets worse. Even married couples travelling with kids are harangued. A colleague recalls a trip taken with her husband, where the receptionist refused to believe that they were married, as she had not changed her surname after marriage. Another colleague and her husband were questioned while boarding a flight to their honeymoon, and asked to produce a marriage certificate before they boarded.

It’s not just rooms: a popular resort in Chennai refused to let my fiancé and I spend a couple of hours at a picnic on the beach. Reservations had been made earlier, permission to bring in food was sought, and as it was the middle of summer; we anticipated family crowds and assumed that two of us chowing down sandwiches on the seashore wouldn’t be a problem. The manager’s face fell when he saw that it was that dreaded specimen — ‘The Couple’, and instantly, the beach was closed for the day.

‘Log kya kahenge?’ is a fast dying out concept, at least in urban areas across all income groups. A survey done last year revealed that 61 per cent of Indian youth are all right with premarital sex. The dynamics of relationships are changing, and couples need space to figure out what works for them and what doesn’t. Getting a room doesn’t necessarily equate sex. It could also be just an opportunity to spend time together away from inquisitive, prying eyes in public. (Don’t roll your eyes; it is a possibility!) It all depends on the individuals involved.

There’s not much we can do to change radical mindsets. While the concept of tolerating individual freedom is not very hot right now, initiatives like the one by StayUncle are a welcome change. It’s understandable why the hospitality industry is apprehensive, as they have to deal with harassment from the authorities and self-appointed guardians of Indian culture. But it’s also their responsibility to provide service to paying customers, and guard their interests. Couples will feel safer knowing that at least someone has their back.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 7:13:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/why-are-unmarried-couples-seeking-a-room-in-hotels-seen-as-immoral/article8508769.ece

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