Wednesday, January 04, 2006

India's sex police

In a society where dating is frowned upon, public parks remain among the only places where couples can avail themselves of intimacy, from talking to necking and petting with abandon under the arms of a shady tree. Even if it is in broad daylight in a public park, romance before marriage remains taboo in small-town India, which is why the spectacle in Gandhi Park turned out to be such a big deal: to be outed in this way, on national television, is to bring terrible shame and recrimination on yourself and your family.

So alarming, in fact, was it for Amit Sharma and his girlfriend of two years that the pair ran away from home hours after the incident, only to return more than a day later after their parents went to fetch them from a nearby town where they were hiding and agreed, in principle, to let them marry.

A couple of days later, Mr. Sharma, 22 years old and unemployed, described the jarring episode. The police swooped down on the couples in the park "as though we were terrorists," grabbed them by their collars, hurled abuses and separated the men and women. He could hear his girlfriend, Anshu, crying and could hear the police yelling at her: "Your parents send you to college to study! What are you doing here?"

"I pleaded with the police, 'Please let us go,' " he recalled. Eventually, they were all let go. No one was charged with a crime.

That afternoon in Gandhi Park, even a young woman sitting alone was not spared. The woman, who gave her name only as Priyanka, said she was waiting on a park bench when the shouting of the police and their targets interrupted her thoughts. Getting up from her bench, Priyanka said she walked in the direction of the commotion when a police officer, Ms. Gautam, as it turned out, pounced on her and accused her of being a prostitute.

More at the NYTimes

Hopefully this won't give our homegrown religious nutjobs any ideas...