If you are coming to India from the States or Europe, you are in for a shock. Unlike the West, we Indians are not allowed to show affection at least in public. In fact, there’s a law that prevents obscenity in the open. The “Indian Penal Code Section” 294 (a) states: Whoever, to the annoyance of others does any obscene act in any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.
Basically what’s happening is that touch is somehow perceived as interlinked with sex in India? For example, we Indians think that mouth-to-mouth kissing is a western concept and therefore not really something that we should be doing in public. But many of us do not know the origins of kissing were first mentioned in the Mahabharata. Historians have found the earliest references to the practice of lip kissing in the Mahabharata dated 1500 B.C. and the reference continued with the Kama Sutra with many descriptive verities of kissing and having sex. Another interesting point is that the conquering armies of Alexander and his army learnt the art of kissing from the Indians. This doesn’t mean Indians were the first to invent kissing; it simply means that it was first mentioned in texts where people appeared to be kissing.
Funny thing is that if you have been to India before, you probably have seen two men holding hands. This doesn’t mean they are gay, they just happen to be friends. But on the other hand if a boy and a girl hold hands in public – this is frowned upon. Boys do not shy away from showing this intimacy. However, show of affection and intimacy between men and women is frowned upon throughout India.
So what is allowed and not allowed
Kissing in public
Kissing may be the universal language of love but kissing on the lips is a definitely a no go area in India. This is dangerous territory. However, an innocent goodbye kiss at the International airport would probably be fine but not at the railway station while smooching at a restaurant is definitely not a good idea.
Holding hands in most areas of India would be acceptable. It may seem strange but even men do it (this might seem bizarre to the western eye but there is nothing sexual about it). If you wanted to hold hands or wanted to put your arms around your partner’s shoulders, feel free to do so as that would be fine and is not a public offence.
Hugging is quite a new concept in India different to the traditional Namaste where the hands are folded together and the head is bowed. I see more and more people hugging to show affection. There’s even a saint called, “Mata Amritanandamayi Devi” from Kerala popularly known as Amma, the hugging saint. Hugging is acceptable.
This is certainly one of the many paradoxes of India. In a country where rape is common, groping is considered almost acceptable, there are erotic and sensuous sculptures on temples expressing love in its unique forms, men peeing on the side of the road, street animals openly copulating – human intimacy is a curious contradiction. Here’s more on how to stay safe in India.
Hope this article was useful and if you have any questions relating to your travels to India, you can ask here or send me a message.