Obscene Behaviour.

Should the government or the society be given the power to control what a couple or a group of people are doing, when nobody is being exploited or abused? Fem shared this link where 31 young people were detained and fined for indecent behavior.


The police justified their action on ‘moral grounds’. “Ten of the 31 offenders were females. They were dancing vulgarly in the converted discotheque, which is considered a public place,” said zonal deputy commissioner of police Mahesh Patil, who led the raiding party.

Shrikant Bhat, a crime counsel, said the “police had no business punishing youngsters who were within the confines of four walls. What the police did in fact amounted to violation of their privacy“. [Link]


In another case a few years ago one of our Moral Senas’ activists entered a rented accommodation and beat up the adults, including women, who were celebrating Valentine’s Day inside the premises. There was no follow up news, but the fear of being labelled sluts could have prevented the victims from complaining.


In Managalore, on 25th Jan 2009, Muthalik’s men behaved obscenely to protest against young women having a good time. What do you think prevented the girls from taking action? Fear of being labelled what?


In 2007, similar groups had alleged that Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty was obscene behavior.  A court in Rajasthan also wanted the actress to appear in court over charges that she did not resist Gere’s advances. (And what do we call a woman like that?)

A two-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India,Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan said that such complaints were filed for “cheap publicity” and “have brought a bad name to the country”. [Link]


In Sept 2008, a newly married couple was picked up by ASI Vidhyadhar Singh of Dwarka police station, he claimed to have found them “sitting in an objectionable position near a Metro pillar and kissing each other due to which passersby were feeling bad.” [Link]

In this case, the court stayed further proceedings against them on primarily two grounds:

(a) They were married

(b) There were no witnesses to testify that they were feeling bad. [[Link]

But what if they were not married? How would it make any difference to the passersby who were supposed to be feeling bad?

What makes our otherwise rather disappointing police swing into action when it comes to ‘obscene behavior’?


On April 21, 2005, the victim and her friend were seated near a parapet wall on Marine Drive. The victim was taken to the police chowky, where Constable Sunil More threatened to book them for indecent acts and demanded Rs 5,000. While the boy was sent off to arrange the money, Sunil More allegedly raped the girl. (Read more)

Do some people really feel bad when they see other people having a good time?

‘Have you ever wondered why policemen hardly ever catch older couples holding hands, or ones who look ostensibly married? The truth is that these youngsters are nabbed because they are soft targets, since they don’t want to risk a trip to the police station at any cost. The worst punishment to a young adult, far worse than facing jail, is having their parents know what they were up to.’ [Link.]

What makes it easier for the police is that the legal definition of ‘obscene behavior’ is not well defined.

What do you think should be seen, legally, as obscene behavior?

1.) Actions that make other people feel bad (or hurt their sentiments)?

Do keep in mind, there are many who would see young couples holding hands, women wearing tight jeans, women being alone with men they are not married to, women dancing anywhere except religious functions and weddings, women drinking, couples kissing, and women not objecting to being kissed etc as ‘obscene’ or vulgar.

And how would we know if their sentiments were really hurt or if they had some other motives?

2.) Any behavior that clearly harms other people, for example, children and minors, by exposing them to something that is considered age inappropriate.


31 thoughts on “Obscene Behaviour.

  1. I think the police swoops down on couples – not just young unmarried ones – because it is easier to do this than say pursue an actual criminal or solve a crime. Easy way to get a bribe and a power trip, since even the married couples tend to be embarassed. There was a case in Bandra Bandstand where the police arrested a huge lot of couples… many of whom were married. Given the size of houses in Bombay, many couples don’t have the privacy at home to canoodle. And if you’re unmarried, then of course, even less chance.

    The question of what should be considered obscene is a tricky one. It really is socially defined as is what is thought to be appropriate/harmful behaviour for children. For example, some might consider it to be harmfull for children to see couples kissing. Bhagwad had a post on his blog once about whether people should consider a couple having sex in public obscene. It’s just a question of what the majority of society finds offensive… and in India, maybe the majority finds people kissing offensive. Hard to draw that line actually.


  2. HI IHM,

    I think , possibly legally obscene behaviour would fall under the second category, and even then it would be subject to the implementer’s sense of “decency” which would bring us back to square one. I do feel that beyond a certain point, public displays of affection are inappropriate, but what that point is depends on where one is, and the only thing that I can do when faced with something like this that makes me uncomfortable is to look away, and be happy on my moral high ground 😀


      • No they shouldn’t. It may be better to discourage such behaviour by imposing a monetary fine, only if there exists
        – a clear definition of what constitutes “legally obscene” behaviour,
        – evidence , preferably photographic,that such behaviour actually took place.

        This makes me think, what about situations where a women has been subjected to lewd behaviour, such as flashing of private parts while she’s` walking along minding her own business/standing on her balcony/travelling in a public place etc.? What do we do to discourage the flasher?


  3. Trying to define what is appropriate for everyone is only going to end in a downward spiral. Being a mother of a child myself, honestly I do not want to yet deal with my kid seeing 2 people indulging in heavy sexual activity, but at the same time I know that they are not “harming” anyone per se. Very hard to make the call because once we go down that path, like @The Bride said, people will start finding everything female sexual and inappropriate for children and feminism will be set back a couple of hundred years.

    And another alternative would be to use those public scenes as an opportunity for sex education. I know a lot of my colleagues are worried about their 10 year old having sex ed classes, but I think getting information from a source like a teacher or parent any day beats fairy tales that other 10 year olds cook up


  4. I find Indian parents taking children to movies with sexual and violent content all the time. I’ve seen parents sitting unconcernedly while explicit dances play on TV. I’ve also seen parents push their children to participate in reality shows where they sing suggestive songs and dance moves that are purely sexual in nature. But the same parents would probably be uncomfortable if their child saw a couple kiss in public in India. Would their reaction be the same if they went abroad and saw this happen there? I wonder. I think what makes us uncomfortable is what we’re not used to. Like on the beaches of Goa, hundreds of white women wear bikinis and sun themselves without the local Indian shack boys bothering them but I don’t see Indian women doing the same. And if they did, I’m pretty sure they would attract lurid stares.

    In India, couples decidedly look shady when they indulge in these acts because they too believe they are being obscene. They don’t kiss with the openness of being in the right…so it’s very easy for cops to catch them because the victims are half-convinced they are guilty too.


    • Indians have no qualms about taking their children to any and every movie or letting them watch age -inappropriate soaps on TV. But they object to a lot of other quite natural things like hugging and kissing between couple. In every movie you find the father figure trying to hug or kiss his wife and she very virtuously pushing him aside with a ‘bache dekhenge’ or some such rubbish. Utter nonsense.
      You watch the reality shows and the jhatak matak the kids do and wonder what’s wrong if they see a bit of healthy hugging and kissing among parents or any normal couple..
      Just now I saw this tweet: “We often reject what we lack the capacity to grasp, classifying it as wrong or immoral” In the same way, we often reject as unacceptable what we have not been used to. If that could be understood….!


    • GB, agree with your point about what makes us uncomfortable is what we’re not used to. It still doesn’t answer the question of where the line should be drawn though. Because every society draws it somewhere – I’m not sure nudity is permitted on all public beaches in the West, not sure that public sex is permitted either. So it seems to me a question of where you draw the line and how does that get decided.

      A digression on Goa – it is a very different place in the Indian family tourist season (April – June) and the foreigner tourist season (November – March). In the latter, particularly December-Jan, the city yuppie Indian crowd also descends on FGoa and it’s hard to distinguish them from the firangs in terms of dress. They don’t really attract a second glance either. The beach shack guys are more likely to – and do – make approaches to the Western women, and some of them are receptive to those approaches. It raises an interested question about class plays into whether we are offended by comments from strangers or not. As also how the perception of danger. Western women do not share our class consciousness, and unlike us, who percieve the danger of being stalked or assaulted if we encourage these comments, they just take them as face value, as compliments. Some of course dislike them.

      Regarding couples looking guilty, I don’t agree this is why they are vulnerable. The rocky seafaces in Bombay have become the bastion of canoodling couples, and most of them go about their business quite boldly, oblivious to being in a public place. A new hotspot for couples is a stretch of the Bandra reclamation where there is some sort of seaside promenade next to the highway. Rows of bikes with couples making out on them are a common sight here. Nobody looks particularly guilty.

      But yes, they are vulnerable to cops and other harassers. This is because of the understanding on the part of the cops (the couples seem to have forgotten this in their moments of passion) that society in general and probably their parents would condemn their behaviour. And this certainty is what prompts cops to harrass them.

      By the way, I am fine with bikini-clad Indian girls and couples being passionate in public. I’m just interested in how the line goes about being drawn legally.


  5. I have an incident to share-

    My friend(in her early 20s) parked her car someplace and was spending time with her boyfriend. They were neither obstructing traffic nor in a crowded place. They were not even doing something ‘obscene’. A cop came there demanding them to come to the police station. He also started threatening them of dire consequences if they didn’t, like informing parents, calling names, beating the guy, etc. The boyfriend tried to bribe the cop but the cop demanded more. My friend called her father and told him everything. 

    Now her father did not even know that she had boyfriend, only her mother did. But he asked her to pass the phone to the cop and asked him to leave them alone. I don’t know what he told him, but the cop apologised over the phone and went away.

    When my friend went back home there was an awkward silence between her and her father for a few days. But even in that silence he did manage to mumble that if she were in any trouble, she could always come to him.


  6. I guess each one of us will draw the line somewhere.

    I am okay with couples holding hands any where, any time and even affectionately hugging each other.

    I am also okay with kissing in public but will wish it is a quick peck on the cheek or at best a quick smack on the lips but will feel acutely embarrassed if it is a long and passionate lip lock!

    Anything beyond this is best reserved for the bedroom, (with the door closed and bolted from inside and the curtains drawn) not a public place.

    However, I am totally against the police rounding up defaulting couples and harassing them.
    PDA (public display of affection) should be allowed.
    But a warning to go easy on PDP (Public display of Passion) should be given to over passionate couples.

    I once saw a young girl riding pillion on a mobike.
    She was hugging her boyfriend tightly and had rested her cheeks on his shoulder.

    I found that cute. I was not offended at all.
    But suddenly ,at a traffic light they pulled up close to my car window.
    What I saw made me feel acutely embarrassed.
    The boy was not wearing a shirt, but just a sleeveless vest, and his shoulders were bare.
    The girl started biting his shoulder in public and the boy seemed to be enjoying it.

    I can’t report more than this as my wife who was sitting next to me, firmly held my cheek with both her hands and rotated it so that I looked the other way.


    However, no policeman noticed, fortunately for them. I wonder what they would have done, if they had noticed.


  7. If children can be taken to bollywood movies, if they can dance to ‘sheila ki jawani’, if they can mouth adult song lyrics (wearing adultified clothes) with ‘feeling’, if tobacco/drugs/alcohol can be sold to children….shall I go on? Using this ‘my children will feel uncomfortable’ argument is not on. I have seen kissing in public all the time in the US and kids walking around. It’s a problem when we make it one. So what if there’s passionate liplock? Are we feeling bad that it’s not happening to us?! What’s this feeling bad all about?

    It’s this ‘freedom with limits’ argument that is at the bottom of a lot of other issues from MF Hussain’s work to ‘offence’ being taken for arbit things by arbit people. So what if a couple is in their car and kissing? I seem to remember in UP that couples could not even sit together on park benches. So I will peer into someone’s car, see what they are doing and then decide to ‘feel bad’ and my feelings are that couple’s responsibility?! Let’s get real and a bit less intrusive as people, shall we?


  8. If boys and girls were allowed to date , if they were allowed
    bring home their dates, allowed to hang out with their parents and family with
    their bf’s or gf’s, allowed to hold hands/hug affectionately
    without being stoned/cursed/humiliated/admonished…

    If sexuality wasn’t such a shameful issue to discuss or talk about…

    If bollywood and MTV channels didn’t sell cheap vulgarity in the name of sexual freedom …

    If sex was’nt that inaccessible candy that one had to wait for….until you get educated, then get financially independent, then get married, then wait until night, until everyone went to sleep so that the creaking of your bed didn’t imply you were doing it (even after getting married…sometimes even after having a child, having sex is so looked down upon!!)

    If this nation wasn’t THIS sexually deprived and starved…OR perverted.
    If boys/girls in our country weren’t married off in their teens to people they didn’t know,
    or wanted to know but forced to live with…if they were allowed to choose their partners
    and fulfill their wishes, and live their dreams (not made to live someone else’s dreams)

    If children watched their own parents kissing and showing affection to each other without inhibitions at home, they wouldn’t find it any different if they watched someone else kissing, they would rather feel love is the greatest thing on earth..!!

    If people in general were generally satisfied/happy in/about their lives, NO ONE would care to give a second look at any body else…OR wonder what they might be doing behind that tight embrace!
    NO ONE would consider “couples showing affection” as the 9th wonder of the world!
    Loving a partner would be seen as a natural, genuine, loving gesture…nothing less nothing more.

    Make love accessible…by being open to love. People condemn acts of love ‘cuz they either haven’t experienced it in any real form or have pre-conceived notion of how love should be.

    For parents in India, love means sacrifice. And sacrifice is somehow considered the greatest way you can project your love.
    For couples in India, love naturally translates to sex. And sex is somehow considered impure, so impure that you could only have it in the deepest, darkest sectors of your mind.
    If sex is this dark secret which everyone tries to hide and protect with all their might, everything and anything related to it naturally looks obscene.

    Its ALL in the mind.


  9. More than quarter century back, when I was seeing of my husband off at the railway station soon after marriage, he shocked quite a few onlookers, family, extended family and friends when he kissed me, by which I mean a peck on my cheek. But of course this is India and you don’t kiss your wife or hug her in public, right?? That too in full view of family and friends 😛 But who cared?! Not me. 🙂 I still laugh remembering the shocked and rather reddened faces of many of those around that day. 😉


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  11. This is such a hypocrisy, look at what people watch in desi countries … literally naked actressess dancing seductively for hours on, channel after channel is showing the same crap. Nobody seems to care about that, the ‘elders’ who will sit on their old bottoms and watch this all day will immediately condemn their own daughters for wearing the same clothes.

    Most often than not the parents really are only concerned about themselves, how wearing these clothes will project on them, they usually don’t give two hoots about the clothes. What is the big deal about sex and revealing clothing? I love both, enough said.


  12. Obscenity is classically defined as acts not conforming to accepted social/cultural norms. Since the social norms vary drastically even between neighborhoods, that definition fails to give directive. And it is hard to define because every act varies in intensity depending on the relation. For example,
    Holding hands – Fine as long as its the way hero holds heroine’s hand and not the way villian holds heroine’s or hero’s mother’s. The latter is not okay regardless of public or private premises.

    Everyone gets affected by seeing what they see, kids are no exception.As a kid I have seen my parents fighting as well as romancing. Did it affect me? Yes. I learned how to fight gracefully and make up. I understood its okay to have differences, argue and fight. Would it have been difficult had I seen only the fights between my parents? Definitely yes. I probably would have been convinced that fighting is bad and would have gone extra miles to avoid it and would have been drastically wrong.
    Everyone gets to see all these acts on videos.Whats the problem in practising the good stuff?

    There are many other forms of obscene behaviour like patting others in public transit, spitting and peeing on the road side/ footpath…

    To specifically answer your question – Any behavior that clearly harms other people – its should be criminalized, not categorized as obscene.
    Actions that make other people feel bad – Well I feel bad ( rather jealous) when I see people eating meals made by their mom…I feel bad everytime I miss my cousin’s wedding 😦 .. Let people feel bad about whatever they choose to feel bad about, why bother?


  13. Wouldn’t children be more scarred by watching people be rude to each other in public, rather than affectionate. There are no laws against publicly demeaning someone you are with or shouting at them or using the choicest abuse- when those things become “obscene” maybe we can discuss PDA.


  14. I feel that a society is defined by what it forbids and not by what it allows….our society being no different, have its set of rights and wrongs, the foundation of which has been laid down centuries back….can’t help being a victim


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  16. Pingback: “Only those sex-related materials which have a tendency of exciting lustful thoughts can be held to be obscene…” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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