SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Moments of privacy

V. GANGADHAR

Moments of privacy

IF you quote "All the world loves a lover" to the policemen in our metros, all you will get is a blank stare. "Love" clearly does not mean much to the guardians of our law. At frequent intervals, members of the "moral police" swoop down on lovers relaxing at public parks and gardens.

Such scenes are quite common in Mumbai and Ahmedabad. But recently this fervour descended on Chennai where courting and married couples seeking moments of privacy in public gardens were taken away to police stations and fined. Girls above 18 years had their escorts charged of accompanying them to public places without "parental consent". But these girls had willingly accompanied their boy friends for a quiet evening.

Should this be construed as a crime? Our overworked, underpaid police have enough on their plates — morchas, bandobast, routine crime, VIP security and so on. Should they waste their time and energy in the pursuit of young couples?

Why blame the police? Even sections of our enlightened society, it appears, cannot stand the sight of couples holding hands or sitting close to each other. Hundreds of couples land at Bandstand; particularly during weekends in search of some much needed privacy. In many ways, Mumbai is a heartless city. The accommodation problem was so acute that even married couples living in joint families had no privacy. Courting couples faced the same problem.

The price they pay for a few hours of privacy! Places like Bandstand or Chowpatty beach were full of Peeping Toms, beggars, hawkers and the traditional menace of aggressive eunuchs who did not hesitate to demand money to leave the couples in peace. Policemen with excessive zeal, who treated the young people as criminals, followed them. Blackmailers, pretending to be policemen and demanding money to leave them alone, also harassed the couples.

When the Mumbai police swooped down on couples in the fashionable Bandstand area, their excuse was that local residents had complained about the "indecent goings-on" on the huge stones on the seashore. Some of them would scan the beach with powerful binoculars and night glasses, focussing on the couples. Bandstand was regarded a `posh' area. Who would have believed that the residents were sophisticated Peeping Toms who derived perverse pleasure by snooping on innocent courting couples?

There are worse types of killjoys. At a public garden in Matunga, where the young couples held hands, the local corporator decided to put an end to such "immoral" activities. He ordered the two-seater benches to be destroyed and replaced them with bigger, four-seaters, so that the couples could no longer enjoy their moments of privacy. "My action saved the morals of the young boys and girls who visited the park regularly," he crowed.

At the Ahmedabad "Law College Garden", popularly known as "Love Garden", there are enough nooks and corners for courting couples. Now, don't jump to conclusions. Most couples were married; some even had children. But their homes were full of people with no scope for for privacy. A recent survey conducted by a local organisation found that 40 per cent of the married couples in Ahmedabad did not have a room of their own at home. Gujarat stood a lowly 16th among the states where married couples had their own room.

The joint family system, widely prevalent in the State, has certain advantages like the care of children especially when the mother is working. But it denied couples the much-needed privacy. Leading psychiatrists in Ahmedabad feel that such deprivation of privacy reduced normal bonding between couples and often led to feelings of depression and frustration.

What price privacy? The Indian life did not offer much scope for privacy. We tend to extol family values and refused to take into consideration the importance of man-woman relationship, which covered more than just sex. As for the self-appointed custodians of public morality who cribbed at everything, someone should inform them that "age cannot wither love nor custom stale its infinite variety".

But to realise this, one needs moments of privacy!

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