Newspaper article International New York Times

When Thugs Target Hugs and Kisses

Newspaper article International New York Times

When Thugs Target Hugs and Kisses

Article excerpt

India's young who display their affections in public infuriate "guardians of culture."

To be in love and to let it show in India is like walking around in a drought drinking a milkshake. It is offensive to the parched.

As things are, India's young do not have to display their affections in public to infuriate all sorts of people, especially underemployed political thugs. Across the nation, lovers are hounded in homes, resorts, pubs and cafes, and are accused of indulging in youth.

There is now a clear pattern to this: A gang of unhappy men receive information about boys and girls making out in a recreational space that the unhappy men do not usually frequent. They go to the site with cameramen and photographers from news agencies, which are happy to be complicit in what follows. The thugs break objects and assault the couples. In the past, on Valentine's Day, thugs have forced couples in parks to perform squats as punishment. Couples have also been forcibly married on the streets.

The thugs do this, they say, to guard something widely known in India as Indian culture. It often appears that culture is something only Indians possess, and that the rest of the world is one big orgy.

A few days ago, in the southern state of Kerala, a group of men attacked a popular cafe where, they claimed, the young went to kiss and "to hug," as one of the guardians of culture put it. They accused young people at the cafe of being obscene. It is illegal to be obscene in India, though no one is clear what obscenity is. There is no ambiguity, however, about what constitutes vandalism.

Three years ago, when a mass movement against political corruption swept the nation's middle classes, Kerala was relatively unmoved. This is because its people, including the young, have long been politically engaged, so street revolution had no novelty for them.

But the attack on the cafe by thugs roused Kerala's young, who erupted in a joyous street protest during which many of them kissed in public -- sometimes on the lips, but mostly less provocative places on the face. …

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