Tuesday, August 18, 2015

No country for unmarried couples

The recent news stories about the raid on hotels and young lovers near Mumbai had me remembering a sign that I saw recently in Hyderabad.

We were out to dinner with our Telugu family at a local restaurant, which also doubled as a hotel on top. It was a famous chain North Indian snack place called Bikanervala. My mum spotted the sign first, as we were waiting for the elevator and proceeded to be outraged enough to take a photo of it on her iPhone. As a woman who often travels alone for business - especially in India - she thought the sign was hilarious.


Of course, the first time I landed with husband-ji in India, I was also unmarried. We travelled around so much, most notably doing a huge road trip from the bottom of Kerala to the top - all as an unmarried couple. I don't know what I would have done if some place denied us accommodation. Luckily, I don't think they would have questioned me as a foreigner - but they may have questioned us if we were an Indian/Indian unmarried couple.

As many of my readers know, husband-ji and I were together for 6 years before we got married. During that time we lived together, paid bills together, and did all the same things that married couples do - enough for my own Canadian government to deem our relationship "common law" so that I could sponsor husband-ji's immigration, without even having to marry him. During our long unmarried courtship, we travelled back and forth to India, in which being JUST a "girlfriend" meant nothing to a lot of people. In a nutshell, it really sucked to see society underestimate our love and commitment for each other.

(Year 1/6 of our unmarried courtship)

Of course, I would have married husband-ji in a heartbeat, as we fully intended to do. But there were other reasons why we couldn't get married right away - for example, we wanted to graduate, have job security, help pay for our wedding, and make sure both our families had bonded together. We didn't want to just elope. We wanted to get married in a really special way. Not to mention, we had to wait for other cousin-brothers who couldn't find a bride who were in the marriage line first (and who were totally holding up the line...)!


Seeing the news stories in the media had me thinking:

1. Why are consensual unmarried couples so threatening?
2. Why are unmarried couples treated with less dignity than married couples?
3. Shouldn't the police being putting more energy in more important areas like eradicating poverty, corruption, crime, domestic violence, etc.?


Not only that, but it disrespects the couples who are in consensual relationships and have complete autonomy over their decisions. I mean, these are ADULTS here!!! And they are actually giving these hotels a lot of business! And if you can't kiss in public, then where exactly should you go???


Luckily, there has been a major public outrage about this culminating in an apology from the Mumbai police, so I'm glad that I'm not alone in my thoughts. But seriously, if this is the mindset in one of the more "modern" cities then what hope do smaller cities and rural areas have?


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Dear readers, what did you think when you saw the news' stories?
Do you think India has an intolerance to young unmarried couples?
What has been your experience travelling around India as an unmarried person?


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14 comments

  1. Hi Alexandra,

    This is rather unfortunate for unmarried couples who may have perfectly valid reasons for postponing marriage. I'm not sure if you experienced this, but I know that even after I married my Indian husband ( I am non-Indian), I felt that my MIL did not really think we would last or take our union seriously. She did not want him to do anything to upset me and felt I would run at the first sign of any difficult times even though she had no perfectly good reason to feel this way since I come from a good family with parents who have been married to each other for over 40 years. She felt he should have a child with me to cement our relationship long before we actually had our son. However, sometimes I feel like his parents take our marriage less seriously than they do with his younger brother's marriage who just married someone who is Indian. I'm not sure if you've experienced the same thing or do feel taken seriously in your own Indian family.

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  2. As an Indian woman myself, I can say that India definitely has intolerance towards married couples. While I was dating my Indian husband, we were short of places where we could hang out without being stared at or ridiculed.

    I was staying in the hostel of a very well-known college in Pune then, and the hostel rector had called me to threateningly let me know that she had seen me walk around with one particular guy way too much, I was terrified and actually said he was my brother (i hope she didn't see me whisper sweet nothings in my "brother's" ears :D). My point is, when you are an unmarried adult woman, your personal life becomes everybody's business.

    I might be generalizing here, but we Indians lack a sense of personal space. The younger generations are finding this increasingly unbearable. And it's not just unmarried women. Now that I am married, why I chose not to have kids is also everyone's business. I had a huge argument at work because a random colleague thought it was okay to advice a much younger colleague and set her on the "right" path by convincing her to bear children even if she didn't want it herself. I'm not even joking. This really happened to me. :(

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  3. Isnt it strange that one has to actually make excuses for why they werent married or arent getting married? Iam an indian women and my indian boyfriend and I were together for 7 years before we tied the knot. And may be we wouldnt have tied the knot at all if it were possible to pacify our parents. Guess that will take some more years too far ahead;P. Anyway never understand why even parents dont trust that they have passed on decision making skills to their kids and being married is more than sporting all the symbols of wedding. A lot of the times it is based on what people will say. Peer pressure in school in India is always met with the comment of "if everyone jumps into the well would you too??" but then that somehow suddenly shifts once we grow up. And these things like the symbols of marriage, to wear the traditional attire most of the time are not insisted upon by the direct family by themselves but due to pressure of the other relatives or friends. So nobody can keep their nose out of others business in India. I can understand why the hotel management does not provide accomodation to single men or women in certain locations where suicide rates are high but in other places its none of their business as long as they get the money for the room. Somehow morality is something that noone trusts a person can find for themselves even after they are 18 but something that needs to shoved down everyones throats atleast in India. As for the previous comment, I used to stay at a hostel during my UG at a well known university where even dads couldnt enter the hostel premises and you couldnt speak to even your own classmates who are guys on the street... if you did you could see your grades go down. Some of us still would talk but just make sure noones watching if we did see some professor walking down the snobby kind we would pretend we were just walking our way sounds so stupid to think of it. As for the choices we make, I think noone knows how we make decisions better than us so no point discussing. Sometimes i find a snappy response kind of like the case you say about people advicing others on having kids, I would just ask" well will you babysit and pay for the child care expenses n walk away". And sometimes its also that we dont ignore and keep our mouth shut. We try to justify our stand. If someone asks a question or advices it cant go on if one doesnt give much room for a discussion. If you dont say anything or say we will see about that. It cant go on can it. This is something I learnt over time too.And this is something that i noticed happens out of india too. I live in france and people here always wonder why my husband n I dont wear a wedding band or I a mangalsutra. And if one is not too much into PDA thats also a issue ,looks like something is wrong. And matter of choice of clothes, you dont wear too revealing clothes, you might be a religious non feminist. Here in swimming pool I wasnt allowed to enter as I had swimming trunks kind of like what men wear. Apparently its ok for guys to wear that but not for women. You had to have a bikini or a one piece suit or boyleg shorts in some places. Reason being hygiene that you would wear it outside.Its the material that counts not the size of the clothing and I have seen women wearing their bikini under their clothes n travelling on the train.And the pool lady yelled at me that burquini and other conservative religious wear was not allowed. Ah so anyone wearing long dresses should be a religious conservative???. ever heard of comfort?
    I had someone ask me, if iam short and thin because my dad didnt have enough money to feed me. Well he is a scientist with his own lab may be he was poor given the salaries :P. different places different stereotypes but similar meddling questions. And I have seen them gossip at work about others and their life choices. So irrespective of culture nosy people exist everywhere and in India it takes the name of morality.

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  4. Indians are so obsessed with who is having sex with whom.
    The only morality in India is sexual morality.
    Sigh.

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    1. Oh the whole world is nosy about who is sleeping with who. Some of the gossips going around in university labs shock me really. Professor A meets professor B at a meeting and before everyone arrives they hush hushed gossip about some student or labmate C who moved away recently but is not any more with the same guy as they all knew C was going around with.I was stuck in this discussion where i knew only A, B was a recent acquaintence and who the hell knows if C was a guy or a girl.

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  5. Last time we went to India, in a famous tourist place, we found a room very late at night in a hotel, and I couldn't understand why so much phone calls and waiting occurred. Then when we saw the room there was a banana peel in the dustbin and a few flowers on the floor. When I pointed this out to my husband he said he believed the previous customers had been there only for a few hours to have sex, and the manager wanted to make a little money on the side (we didn't sign the register)... I was shocked. They are definitely more liberal in the South lol (Padparadscha)

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  6. That sign is just ridiculous and unacceptable.

    It is just a way of controlling people using "traditions" and "culture". People feel so threatened if young people start choosing their own partners. Maybe it is lesser in other parts of Asia but this attitude extends all over in some form or the other - basically all traditional cultures.

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    1. lets bring out the "haay haay log kya kahenge" what will people say tag for everything works even if one doesnt know what the context is isnt it :P or the in famous "bahut jagah dee hai beti/bete ko".given lot of space to the daughter/son.

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  7. There are lots of hotels known to harbor prostitution rackets and the police were just doing their job in raiding the hotel, in this instance there were also consensual unmarried couple (wonder what they were doing in a single room together before marriage!) along with the couples of ill repute and were arrested, a man drinking milk under a toddy tree will be mistaken to be a drunkard, simple.

    Please note: the girl who wanted to commit suicide is a different 19 yr girl and the one who had a fiance was a 21 yr woman(and she's not contemplating suicide).

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    1. What is the legal status of prostitution in india?is it illegal if so why arent the red light areas cleared out first?secondly how do you decide if some is a prostitute or not given the individuals are above the legal age for consent and say it was consensual?what if two people decide to share a room for cost reasons and are just friends?since homosexuality is a crime in india are they going to arrest all guys and all girls sharing a room to as it could be a criminal act who knows whats going on inside?

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    2. They were having sex. Simple. It is not illegal to have premarital sex in India. Therefore it is none of your business or the police's business.

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  8. Hi Alexandra!
    My indian boyfriend and I, we have been travelled around India on vacation and after a long train ride we finally arrived in a hotel called Anuraag Villa, in Jaipur. After showing our documents to the manager a long back and forth conversation started, they were speaking Hindi and I couldn’t understand a word but I realized something was happening there. They would only allow us to get the room – which had been previously booked and paid by my boyfriend through Agoda.com – if I write a letter saying he will stay in my room for my own will and I was the only responsible for anything that could happen to me during my stay in this hotel. I was so embarassed, my boyfriend was furious, we left the hotel as soon as we wake up next morning and found a great place to stay.
    We visited other cities in Rajasthan, Delhi, Mumbai, around Goa and Kerala for 40 days. This was the only episode ever.
    We are in our 30’s, we work hard all the year to have a good vacation, we pay our bills... why on Earth we should explain our personal life to stranges?!

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  9. See what happened was unfortunate, and Mumbai Police apoligised too. But here is what I will think about the incident. In thy neighbouring country called United States, owning a gun is enshrined its consitution, and you know how many killings take place due unfortunate incident, but when compared to the people who are responsibly owning a gun, these nincompoops are a very small percentage. But such incidents makes headlines, and then anti-gun law gets heatedly debated in the senate. Law looks at people with its law book, and hence when a law gets enforced for stopping illegal incidents like drugs, rave parties etc, the law gets cracking. Because of this, many hotel owners put stringent conditions to avoid enforcers at their doorstep, which is so normal in any country. And sometimes such normal lovers meet is also mistaken for rave parties, and enforcers are called in. In war terminology, I term this as friendly fire. Thats is why when illegal incident takes place, a law gets placed, and many a times even normal common people get mistaken by law, which implies the law is vigilant. You might ask many a why, and I am just requesting you to put into the shoes of those police personnels, who are already overstretched to their ablities, and just want to perform their duties and are human. Also, owners who want to maintain a clean record track record in their hotel will enforce these laws so as to avoid police work. As the saying goes, "Better Prevent and Prepare, rather than Repent and Repair." This is my second post in your blog, and in my first post I had mentioned that you tend to see only one side of the coin based on books written by outside people who think have understood the Indian Culture. By the way, I like your work, so please dont mistake me, I am just expressing my opinion. I hope no offence is taken to this post and you view at as a constructive criticism and all the very best

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  10. Its a very supportive article. Actually there is no such law which restricts a couple to book a hotel room for themselves and enjoy a hassle free stay.

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Respectful comments only, please! (That means you, anonymous.)

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