A friend jokes about how much easier it is for him to be gay in India than in the U.S. In India, it is not uncommon to see two men demonstrating their affections for each other openly in public. Holding hands, hugging, entwining fingers, engaging in kitten play or riding pillion on a motorcycle wedged together like bread and butter. Are all these men gay? Who knows? Yet the same is not permissible for heterosexual couples.

Last year, walking down Camac Street, in an upscale neighborhood of Calcutta, I witnessed a disturbing incident. A man and a woman, probably in their early twenties, were walking ahead of me, laughing and joking, when the woman playfully reached out and grabbed her friend’s hand. They walked along, still talking and swinging their locked hands in a carefree manner, when a group of men, vendors who run little snack stalls that line the pavements, came charging. The men stopped short a few paces of the couple, and began to shout at them. “Bitch!” “Whore!” And a string of such epithets. The young couple released their hands and ran like their lives depended on it.

The couple had clearly violated an unspoken public code of moral decency. While it is perfectly acceptable for men to unzip and urinate just about everywhere and anywhere in India, in full public view, with no concern for anybody else’s sensibilities, it is lewd and offensive for a man and a woman to hold hands in public. Were this couple lovers or just friends? No one really knew. And it didn’t matter. All that mattered to the men who were standing there by the road, straining their necks and howling like dingoes about to attack a prey, was they were guarding public moral territory.

For me, the most unsettling aspect of this incident was how the rage was directed towards the woman. Why only the woman? What was it about this woman that was so threatening to the men? Was it in that she was the one who reached for the man’s hand and in doing so, exercised choice and free will which to the men was daunting? Or would the woman still be the “bitch” if the man had reached for her hand? Is there a potential “bitch” in every woman regardless of what she does or doesn’t do?

Take action! This post was submitted in response to My Story: Holding Hands.

Comment on this Post


That is how things are especially in India, loaded against the women. A lot needs to be done for things to change.

With best wishes, 

Nusrat Ara

WorldPulse Community Champion 

Environment Group 

Dear Rita,

Thank you for opening my eyes to this issue in India and shedding light on this notion of "holding hands." When one person's sign of affection causes such unnecessary aggression - how can we live in peace? Not only did I learn something from you, I fell in love with your writing style. I hope to read more from you here on PulseWire.

Warm regards, Jade

Loved your piece, Rita. Written with so much passion. Even though Indians have become more open minded than say 20 years ago, we still have a long way to go before women will be treated equally.

Rita this the double standard society have imposed on women. It is ok for a man to misbehave but never a woman In Nigeria when a woman dresses inappropriately according to societal standards, she is called names and abuses and curses are incessantly hurdled at her. But when a man behaves inappropriately, he is just being a MAN!