The BBC recently reported on a criminal case in India against a couple who were arrested for kissing. This kind of story isn’t all that surprising anymore thanks to the modern media, which has reported on such stories before. Regardless of the lack of surprise, though, I remain in disbelief.
To my knowledge, common law countries have different approaches to the evolution of law. Courts in the United States, for example, tend to try to preserve the original intentions of the framers of the constitution, but their common law changes with the times. In Canada, our “living tree” approach to the constitution allows our interpretation of it to evolve, for better or worse, with society much like our common law principles.
Across most legal systems there is at least one constant: Change.
But everywhere there is law there is bound to be a dichotomy between written rules and cultural norms. Sometimes laws are made before society as a whole is willing to accept them (and the failure of culture to catch up is often referred to as “cultural lag”), while at other times laws are made late and after myriad different groups and individuals voice the need for change (let’s call it “legal lag”).
Being that the case was dismissed, it’s safe to assume that the courts, if not the law, are beginning to realize the madness in actually punishing people for public affection in a modern democracy (of which India is the largest, by the way). Personally, I think the dirty looks we often give to people who push the limits of good taste in this regard are punishment enough. But the fact that this case involves an arrest means that someone, namely the police officer(s), disagreed. This is cultural lag.
This isn’t a criticism of Indian culture, but of Indian law (as well as the similar laws of countless other countries). I think that Indian culture can continue to punish a faux pas such as public smooching with the same social stigma that everyone else does. But arrest and possible criminal charges seem a bit harsh.
And yes, I am aware of the fact that Canada has stupid laws too. There is as much room for change here as there is anywhere else. The only reason for this post is that the romantic in me dies a little every time a story like this arises. This isn’t as severe a slight to public morality as the “British Sex on the Dubai Beach” incident, or Richard Gere’s public assault on Shilpa Shetty. This was just a kiss between two consenting adults in a relationship.
Kissing isn’t an exclusively Western phenomenon. But I’m sure some would argue that shamelessness is. Perhaps that’s why public affection, within reasonable limits, isn’t as frowned upon here as elsewhere. I can see merit in the concerns about Western popular culture flooding, and in many cases drowning, the unique cultures that don’t enjoy worldwide cultural expression nearly as prominent. I’m also all for the preservation of such cultures both here and there. But I personally see nothing wrong with us all exporting what has become our most valued commodity. And maybe in our case, some of the shamelessness that might come with it.