Single chance

Notwithstanding the hue and cry that actress Khushboo’s comments on the subject evoked, premarital intimacy and one-night stands are finding many takers in urban India, writes Shoma A. Chatterji

Photo: Nitin MittalARE you a virgin?" was the first question Preity Zinta asked Shah Rukh Khan in Dil Se, when the two met on arrangement by their respective families before finalising a marriage between them. Shah Rukh was too shocked to respond and Preity let it go, flashing her dimpled smile. This pithily sums up our attitude towards pre-marital sex. Khushboo, the south Indian actress, triggered a new debate on premarital sex. Her views about women indulging in premarital sex needing to seek protection to prevent the consequences of their choice led to a statewide agitation against her and a legal battle that lasted five years. Recently, the Supreme Court quashed the 22 criminal cases against her.

The moral policing of opposite-sex relationships among the young in India is traced back to age-old restrictions dictated by the implied insistence on virginity in both males and females prior to marriage. The approach to sexual relationships in India has remained conservative and is still restricted within the hypocritical straitjacket of ‘platonic’ relationships between young men and women. When moral policing is present in varied forms from different quarters, youngsters try to carry on clandestinely with their relationships and many suffer from feelings of guilt.

Dr Sanjay Chugh, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Delhi, says, "Sexual intimacy is an important part of the man-woman relationship. It has its own value in bringing people together, making them connect to each other emotionally and physically. It is a form of love and affection that people feel for each other. If two people feel mentally and emotionally ready for this, there is little reason to hold back. All that is important is the awareness of what one is getting into, the reasons for it and the consequences of it. If there is clarity in the mind regarding these aspects, premarital sex is just as healthy and fulfilling as sex post marriage. The intention with which a person consents for premarital sex is important. A frivolous, rash and casual attitude could appear promiscuous, but an informed and a well-thought out decision would reflect otherwise."

"We live in a society that is multicultural. It is not a monolith, nor is it perfect. It is dynamic like life itself, filled with contradictions. On the one hand, little girls are married off in parts of northern India and forced into sexual relationships while their bodies are not ready for it. On the other hand, if a girl becomes a widow in the prime of her youth, she is forced to abstain from sex, though her body is ready for it and she needs it. Good sex gives a boost to one's self- confidence. Sex is a very private and personal thing. It must remain a personal choice," says Ananya Chatterjee-Chakraborty, filmmaker, lecturer and activist based in Kolkata.

There is no fine line one can draw between ONS and dating. What is ONS? It is a pithy but transparent acronym for a one-night stand and is very much ‘in’. At one time, the term ‘one-night-stand’ referred to streetwalkers and call girls picked up by clients for a night instead of a few hours for the clich`E9d wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am roll in the hay. But now, few believe in dating. "Who wants to be tied down to one guy for ages in a world wide enough for you to surf wildly?" That comes from Khalida who studies in a Mumbai college. Does ‘dating’ then, refer to ‘going steady’? "Not really," says Mira Kulkarni, who adds that a young man ‘goes steady’ with a young lady only when they have mutually decided to tie the knot in the near future or, if they are trendy enough, move out of their parental families to live together under the same roof with no strings attached.

Dating in urban India is loaded word that suggests ONS mutually entered into by both partners for consensual sex. Rafiq, 21, and Shiney, 18, (names changed) met at a party through a common friend. They downed a few pegs of whisky and danced close till they decided to retire together. The "your-place-or-mine" syndrome is so common that youngsters are moving out of their small-town parental shelters to strike it free in an upmarket and trendy metropolis. Rinky Kapoor (name changed) says, "I wouldn't dream of seeing anyone except my regular boyfriend in the small town we lived in. It was almost taken for granted that one fine day, we would marry and settle down. It took the worry off our respective parents' minds and everything was alright. But I got a fellowship and went to the UK When I came back, I wished to move out to Delhi. He did not like it. We had outgrown each other and trying to pretend otherwise would have led to unhappiness. I made my family look at everything from my perspective and finally, it had to relent," says Rinky, who now is a regular one-night-stander.

"There has been a mass shift in the marriageable age for men and women in cities and metros. Earlier, most people would get married by their early or mid-20s. This age bracket has changed. We now see men and women in their 30s, happily single. Often, this is out of choice. These people have a fair idea of what they want from a relationship and a natural desire to physical and emotional gratification of their needs. In such a scenario, pre-marital sex sounds natural and understandable," says Chugh, adding, "Every person has his/her personal sense of morality and value system, based on family teachings and personal experiences. Pre-marital sex would be the individual's own prerogative guided by his own principles and attitude. What is more important is one's mental and emotional readiness for it, as you don't want someone to have an unresolved emotional baggage that complicates matters."

Says Rinki, "It depends solely on how one approaches an ONS relationship. You may call it quits or you may want to see the partner one more time. One thing might lead to another and you find yourself seeing your partner all too often, not necessarily for a backseat-of-the-car session. I would personally never want to marry my ONS partner. I do not think there would be any respect for each other for a lasting relationship based on sheer trust." Dating is democratic. So is an ONS. Your maid might be indulging in it brazenly. Sometimes, like it or not, your driver might be the partner. Did Prince Charles date Chester Bowles before they fell in love? Or did it begin with an ONS? Such questions are best left unsaid. But one is free to read between the lines.

Journalist Rajesh Ahuja opines that most teens feel that ONS is the most lucid and practical relationship one can have as there are no strings attached. Others feel that ONS broadens one's horizons, failing to comment on the well-accepted notion about AIDS being an almost mandatory spin-off of a promiscuous lifestyle. A good example of a 'casual' friendship that leads to a live-together relationship but stands threatened when the girl gets pregnant was in Salaam Namaste, said to be an Indian adaptation of the 1989 turning-point Hollywood flick When Harry Met Sally. At the same time, gone are the days shown in One Night Stand, a Hollywood film starring Nastassja Kinski and Wesley Snipes that leaves Snipes harbouring a gigantic sense of guilt after ONS. No one feels guilty any more. It is all about experimenting with ‘kicks’. If you were a safe-player, you'd choose dating over ONS at the risk of being labelled old-fashioned. If you are adventurous enough to risk HIV, well then, ONS is just fine. Malini Shah, a youth counsellor, says, "Premarital sex is on the rise across all stratas, especially in the metros. However, in the middle classes and upper middle classes, these issues are still considered`A0taboo and are done clandestinely. Among the upper middle classes, it is being accepted as a lifestyle trend." But Chugh sounds a warning. "If it’s a decision taken mindlessly, as an impulse without thinking of its emotional and social repercussions and without assessing the individual’s own preparedness for it, any unpleasantness during the course of the relationship can leave a bad taste in the mouth."

It is time we moved out of the cultural boundaries we have set for ourselves. If a couple like each other and love each other, physical control should not be a limitation for them.

First Rate

A study by the largest church in Mizoram reveals that the incidence of premarital sex is high among the Mizo youths, with 43.27 per cent admitting that they had sex before marriage. As many as 52.88 per cent of the respondents said that they did not have premarital sex, 43.27 per cent admitted to doing so and the rest refused to respond to a questionnaire sent by the Synod Social Front, a social organisation of the Mizoram Presbyterian Church. The SSF gave questionnaires to 31,202 persons across the state, of whom 30,001 responded.

Cosmetic chastity

Salaam Namaste brought premarital and live-in relationships out of the closet on to celluloid
Salaam Namaste brought premarital and live-in relationships out of the closet on to celluloid

Certain developments are bringing out the hard realities of Indian society.`A0In an ambience of new forms of media, and sweeping societal and lifestyle changes, the psychological distance between childhood and adulthood is shrinking in our country. Many youngsters are indulging in experiments playing out adult fantasies in grown-up ways. This is illustrated from a news report in one of India’s prosperous states, Gujarat. Many young girls are queuing up before clandestine medical clinics for hymenoplasty, the surgical procedure that restores their hymen for future husbands. The trend for the restoration of a woman's technical virginity started decades ago in Mumbai and is fast catching up in other parts of India. "Just like sex determination clinics that operate secretly, the clinics doing hymenoplasty are also secretly mushrooming in the big cities of the country. The doctors, instead of educating the society and spreading information about sex, are making a killing out of it. The conspiracy of silence provides patriarchy a more conducive environment to retain the old mindsets," says Syed Ali Mujtaba, a journalist based in Chennai. — SAC

present in the past

India’s original name, Bharat, is derived from the name of the son born of the union between Shakuntala (adopted daughter of Sage Kanva) and King Dushyanta, born out of wedlock. Shakuntala herself was born out of wedlock through the union of Sage Vishwamitra and the beautiful apsara Menaka. In the Mahabharata, Kunti, the mother of the Pandava brothers, begot a son before marriage, born out of her union with Surya, the Sun God. Even after her marriage to Pandu, three out of the five Pandavas were sired by gods who were not her husbands because Pandu had turned impotent. These two illustrations from the Mahabharata underscore that both premarital sex and sex after marriage with another man was a fact. "For ancient Hindus, sexuality was viewed not as an animal passion but as a refined mutual relationship. The sculptures on the temples of Khajuraho and Konark clearly show how the sex life was reflected in poetry and literature. The union of Shiva and his consort Parvati is the union of Purusha, Prakriti and the spiritual energy," says A. K. Ghosh, Reader, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata. — SAC