Do Not Touch! [Updated]

While shop window designers are offending our readers by sexualizing Indian religious icons, Indian authorities are busy putting the “hi” back into “hijra” – their new hospitality guide makes it very clear to all those dirty over-sexed foreign visitors that they must behave themselves in a supremely chaste fashion when in-country.

A 20 page booklet has been prepared to instruct visitors to Ajmer, Rajasthan, in the “proper” way to respect Indian sensibilities. Here are some of the rules:

  • Men should never touch women in public, even to help a woman out of a car, unless the lady is very elderly or infirm
  • In Indian culture… men socialise with men, and women with women
  • Married couples in Asia do not hug, hold hands or kiss in public. Even embracing at airports and train stations is considered out of the question
  • Generally it is improper for women to speak with strangers on the street and especially to strike up a casual conversation [Link]

Hotels and restaurants have been instructed to give this booklet out to new arrivals, as if to discourage tourists from staying a moment longer than originally planned. Hotel owners have been asked to post these rules prominently, in large font, on their walls even though it’s self-touching not other-touching that leads to poor vision. A shorter version is being prepared for the back of hotel receipts, perhaps to remind post-coital couples that cuddle time is now officially over. Luckily, these rules do not yet have the force of law, and are “merely” suggestions.

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“It is improper for women to speak with strangers on the street,” the rules inform tourists While versions of these rules are being prepared in English, German, Hebrew and French, there is no indication if they will also be distributed in Hindi or other Indian languages.

Speaking personally, these rules don’t describe the behavior of my extended family within India, let alone how my married relatives behave. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Punjabi, but the idea of not being hugged at an airport or being told that I shouldn’t socialize with female members of my family in public seems quite absurd. This is far more sweeping that regulation of behavior between couples, it’s the Talibanization of all relations between the sexes, within the same family or not. I look forward to active civil-disobedience being staged starting soon Road trip to Rajasthan, anyone?

UPDATE:

Here’s additional information on the origins of these guidelines:

A priest at Puskhar said that such behaviour was a form of “cultural pollution” and had led to local people petitioning Rajasthan state’s chief minister to put a ban on all Israelis entering the town.

The minister rejected the calls, but sanctioned the 20-page booklet of “do’s and don’ts”, which has been published in English, French and German, in order to “educate foreign tourists about local culture and sensibilities” [Link]

This is just like Middle-Eastern politics! You can either blame the Israelis or blame the Israeli blamers, but either way there’s a lot less fun in the world than there was before.

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Related posts: Delhi sex clip portends sexual revolution? Everyone’s having sex except you the youths! they are having the SEX! No sex please, we’re Indian

49 thoughts on “Do Not Touch! [Updated]

  1. most of the ‘rules’ seem to still be operative in bangladesh when i visited in 2004 (though not perfectly, and varies as a function of SES, religious attitude, etc.). of course, aside from aborting female fetuses, bangladesh is likely more backward on every social index than punjab.

  2. One possibility is that these rules are muslim rules, and therefore that Rajasthan has a very different culture than Punjab.

  3. Soon there will be a “no kissing” warning sign put up for tourists in front of the Khajuraho temples…

  4. The ‘Talibanisation of India’ has been a hot topic as of late. Obviously this story that you mention Ennis – since it was announced a week ago or so I’ve seen it crop up everywhere. What with BLR issuing a blanket ban on dancing, Mumbai putting 70,000 dancers out of jobs by banning dance bars (legal and illegal), Tamil Nadu forcing actresses to recant advice on safe sex, Orissa imposing dress codes for college students – all this year – India has been depressing me.

    I was shocked to read how my family home of Kolkata has become a decidedly liberal place, with gay marriages, a nightlife explosion, PDAs (not the handheld type. Well maybe…) and lots of sex, all while BLR is tucked up in bed.

    Just did a google search – TGP is thinking along the same lines.

  5. Wondering: is this the brainchild of some particular poltical party or movement? is it a strictly local idea?

  6. The ‘Talibanisation of India’ has been a hot topic as of late.

    Ain’t gonna happen. Look at the movies and cable. Chame-chame. The rest is just political theater.

  7. Good question, arj.

    Maybe we can look upon this manual as protective of the poor foreigners…if they behave as it prescribes they are less likely to have “dirty Western” stereotypes projected upon them. ;)

  8. Ah Manish yeah I meant to mention fillum and moosick video. I was just talking to the girlfriend about it – we were confused as to how India simultaneously occupies both ends of the spectrum without being able to find a mildly-horny-but-not-too-much-of-a-flesh-fest middle ground.

  9. What with 1] BLR issuing a blanket ban on dancing, 2] Mumbai putting 70,000 dancers out of jobs by banning dance bars (legal and illegal), 3] Tamil Nadu forcing actresses to recant advice on safe sex, 4] Orissa imposing dress codes for college students

    1,2 and 3 are certainly Talibanic in nature, since the government is using its muscle power to enforce morality on consenting adults on private property.

    However, #4 is not Talibanic in nature. A college is well within its rights to impose a dress code (and a speech code, punctuality code etc etc) on students(who are minors) on college property as it deems fit. Indeed, these codes have the full backing of the parents as well, but that’s besides the point. If you don’t like the college (for whatever reason), go to another one.

    Most of you work for companies who impose their own set of codes for employees on company property. Perfectly legal and proper.

    M. Nam

  10. MoorNam, it wasn’t the college that imposed the dresscode, it was the state. THAT’S why I object. Sure it’s within an educational establishment’s right to impose a dresscode, which is why I was vehemently opposed to the verdict in the UK Shabina Begum case and why I’m in favour of Imperial College’s new rules.

    Mark IV, I do have a link! I’m sure there’s more, but this is where I read about it.

  11. Mark IV, I do have a link! I’m sure there’s more, but this is where I read about it.

    Joy Bangla! Glad about the gay marriages. I believe that the current spate of moral policing is a rearguard action by conservatives trying to stifle the inexorable consequences of prosperity–good and bad.

    What will a quarter century of 7% growth do? Just wait and see. Look at Malaysia, China and others: From pig sheds to skyscrapers. From arranged marriages to divorces on demand. From bidis to high quality amphetamines.

    Its coming, and coming hard.

  12. My first reaction to the story was similar to yours. “Just another ploy by the district administration to enforce a morality code.” The context provided in the BBC article and the non-derisive tone of it however made me ponder whether it is really as reprehensible as the blogopshere is portraying it to be.

    Our reactions to such stories are no less stereotypical and predictable than reaction of a Shiv Sainik to skimpy dresses. We tune out and look at all of them as an attempt to enforce antiquated views, missing the nuances and the context of the particular case. The context provided by BBC was revealing. The case of the Israeli couple kissing after a Hindu wedding in a temple had happened in Pushkar, which is 14 km away from Ajmer city and part of Ajmer district administration. There was a hue and cry after this incident happened. It was a spontaneous reaction of the locals, since they found kissing inside a temple unacceptable. Therefore, I think, it is fair to assume that kissing in public might affect local sensitivities. In fact the couple was charged Rs. 500 by the court. The other example provided about the Finnish lady walking naked on the streets was bizarre and I am sure is a one-off incident.

    Given our socio-cultural background and the India that we have lived in, the guidelines seem 18th century norms. But what is wrong with posting guidelines? Nobody is getting fined. There is no possibility of a jail term. The tourist is free to flaunt them if he/she deems fit without any hassles, apart from those he/she might face from the local population. One might argue that this may dissuade the tourists from coming to Ajmer and lead to loss of revenue. Since the tourist is the customer we ought to be catering to his/her needs not ours. But a tourist is not your regular customer. He/she is visiting the tourist location to experience the art/architecture/customs/culture of that place. In fact, wont packaging the experience smartly by allowing them to live the way locals do for 4-5 days might be a better marketing strategy. The egalitarian cosmopolitan ‘untalibanised’ India they can experience in the Bombays and the Banglores, but a tourist comes to Rajasthan precisely for the exotic. The guidelines might actually help improve tourism as locals may not balk and react adversely by trying to protect their culture by banning tourism altogether or for that matter look at the tourists condescendingly for their ‘lack of moral values.’ Besides tourism isn’t about fostering a melting pot culture. It is about getting a flavour of the place. And I don’t see any reason why the place should change its social norms to accommodate the tourists.

    The next thing I say may be very touchy. I am not saying that this is true, but just as a matter of conjecture. We need to reflect whether part of this stems from our inferiority complex vis-a-vis western culture. I know I am going out on a limb here. But if this were the other way round, and tomorrow a lot of tourists from India started visiting the United States and while walking around in public gardens begin plucking flowers or shouting out to each other in public places or go to a national park split in groups and start playing antakshari singing songs at the top of their lungs or do something that goes against the accepted normal behaviour in the U.S., then do you think the Americans wont post any guidelines? I am willing to bet the district administration may consider imposing a fine. That no Indian will do such a thing is because we immediately consider the social norms of a western country as innately superior and therefore try to be as discrete about our own wants and sensibilities. That is not to say that we should go ahead and start playing screaming songs under moonlit sky when visiting Yellowstone or Shenandoah, (those Grizzlies and the Deer might file a lawsuit!) but just as we automatically respect othersÂ’ customs and social norms what is wrong in expecting Western tourists to respect ours? And while we are deriding the guidelines the affected people find it perfectly reasonable. The tourist couple quoted in the article think they make sense.

    “It is quite important to know things beforehand about local sensibilities, like covering your arms and not getting too close to your partner in public.” Her partner, Wayne, says: “We do not kiss or embrace each other in public because I know it is not liked here. When you open up a bottle of beer you can make out from the looks around you, it is not liked,” he says.

    He is saying it that he can sense the resentment about drinking in public. The guideline about public drinking is more for protection of the tourists themselves, to avoid somebody hitting on them just because they are drunk. Loathsome though it is the reality is Indian men immediately assume that a woman who drinks is ‘available.’ This happens in the hippest of pubs in cosmopolitan cities let alone Ajmer. Why then is it so condemnable to state the obvious that Ajmerians interpret drinking in public as morally lax? Its better I think to warn the tourists rather than have a case like the couple kissing which gets so much publicity that it ultimately affects tourism more than any guidelines can.

    Read this well-written post about the Indian reality of women and men fraternising separately on college tours. Many of us may have experienced how on college trips boys and girls inevitably go out in separate groups. Even today in cities women sit separately in classes than men. The article refers to the state of Kerala that has the highest literacy. Yet when the guideline states that men socialise with men, we are aghast at the ‘talibanic’ implication. We need to face the reality. Sad though the state of affairs is, it nonetheless exists. Denying it because it is embarrassing and suggesting that the Ajmer administration is out of sync with the true social reality is simply being in denial. They may be out of sync with the urban India’s social reality, but they are providing these guidelines for the rest of India, are they?

    Yes, Rajasthan’s customs may be antiquated. As educated, well-read people we might find them unacceptable in today’s egalitarian world and would like them to change. I would love to see that happen too. But I think we should let the change stem from within. When the young men and women in Rajasthan are more educated I am sure they will come to the same conclusion that we do regarding acceptance of display of public affection. These should be debated and discussed in the community rather than being forced down their throats by asking them to be ‘tolerant.’ Why can’t we be a bit more tolerant of their intolerance? Let the Rajasthani people make the choice rather than us telling them that by they are shaming us by not being accommodating of western culture. Condescending to them about their culture will only provoke an even adverse reaction.

    A beautifully written and well-sourced article about Pushkar is carried by Outlook in this weeks issue. It is an amazing tribute to the city of Pushkar and its people who have absorbed many of the tourist influences.

    But Pushkar is a unique anthropological case study on how a few thousand visitors from abroad can sustain a sleepy temple town and its economy and make an impact on its lifestyle and culture. It shows in the Ganesha T-shirts, in those single, white females riding pillion on the mobikes of the local dudes, the precocious, multi-lingual kids who can sell just about anything to anyone, and restaurants that go by names like Pink Floyd Cafe. ThereÂ’s a strange bazaar mix of the ancient and the modern, the sacred and the profane. Besides the mantras, the most oft-heard chants are of trance music. Internet cafes still run on dial-up rather than on broadband. Nutella and Marmite flood the local stores. Rickety camel carts move around with AIDS awareness banners.

    This is the same town, which lashed out at the Israeli couple kissing, and yet is accommodative of so many outside influences. This is the same town whoÂ’s Brahmins called for those guidelines and yet are vocal in saying that they do not want to ban on tourists. The tourists themselves find the guidelines helpful. And here we are reveling in our own interpretation that India is getting talibanised with a not so subtle reference to the Muslim population of Ajmer. I find it unfortunate that we choose examples that we can condescend to while ignoring the local populationÂ’s capacity to change, albeit, at their own terms.

  13. Well, you guys are not the only ones trying to protect the dignity of our culture by writing letters to shop owners about offensive displays, our friends back in the country are doing their bit too :)

  14. Chetan said:

    We need to reflect whether part of this stems from our inferiority complex vis-a-vis western culture.

    The problem is that they’re going far further than simply discouraging PDA. As I wrote:

    Speaking personally, these rules donÂ’t describe the behavior of my extended family within India, let alone how my married relatives behave. Maybe itÂ’s just because IÂ’m a Punjabi, but the idea of not being hugged at an airport or being told that I shouldnÂ’t socialize with female members of my family in public seems quite absurd. This is far more sweeping that regulation of behavior between couples, itÂ’s the Talibanization of all relations between the sexes, within the same family or not.

    These rules are quite extensive. It’s one thing to say “We find it offensive if you smooch in public” and another to say “No males and females should embrace or converse in a public space.” Again, I’m speaking as a Punjabi here, but I would get lynched if I refused to hug my relatives (male and female) upon arrival in country. And I can’t imagine trying to segregate my Indian female cousins by telling them that we can’t interact in public – I’d end up which a big fat thapar/thapad on my face.

    This is not about Indian vs. Foreign norms, it’s about imposing a fairly restrictive Indian norm on top of all other Indian norms. There already was a law that was invoked against the kissing couple, and another that was invoked against the naked lady. Why are any new guidelines necessary?

  15. These rules are quite extensive. It’s one thing to say “We find it offensive if you smooch in public” and another to say “No males and females should embrace or converse in a public space.” Again, I’m speaking as a Punjabi here, but I would get lynched if I refused to hug my relatives (male and female) upon arrival in country. And I can’t imagine trying to segregate my Indian female cousins by telling them that we can’t interact in public – I’d end up which a big fat thapar/thapad on my face. This is not about Indian vs. Foreign norms, it’s about imposing a fairly restrictive Indian norm on top of all other Indian norms. There already was a law that was invoked against the kissing couple, and another that was invoked against the naked lady. Why are any new guidelines necessary?

    I couldn’t have said it better. When I lived in the far east I appreciated a rough guideline about cultural norms there. It helps. But this is going a bit too far.

    I come from a conservative Marathi family and we are all a huggy kissy bunch. I’ve visited India with white friends and they are always respectful, far more than necessary. Is it really that important to take the “donts” so far when foreigners usually enter the country knowing it’s different, conservative and are yet open and curious to it?

  16. Only guys who never get any come up with these rules. Seriously, they look at couples having fun together and they look at themselves having a boring time with themselves and they say “screw it, if I cant have fun with a woman then no one can.”

  17. Ennis:

    This is not about Indian vs. Foreign norms, it’s about imposing a fairly restrictive Indian norm on top of all other Indian norms. There already was a law that was invoked against the kissing couple, and another that was invoked against the naked lady. Why are any new guidelines necessary?

    Guidelines are necessary precisely to avoid the invocation of those laws. If the tourists are more aware, faux pas like that may be averted and it is in the best interests of everyone that they are. What is more damaging to tourism? Negative publicity for invoking those laws or publishing guidelines to avoid such incidents? Besides as I mentioned the concern about interpretaion by the locals about moral laxity of women drinking in public is real. And the guidelines may actually prevent untoward incidents.

    And it is you, not the Ajmer district administration who is extending the guidelines to the rest of India. They are not distributing it to every tourist who comes to India it is only for Ajmer district.

    Again, I’m speaking as a Punjabi here, but I would get lynched if I refused to hug my relatives (male and female) upon arrival in country. And I can’t imagine trying to segregate my Indian female cousins by telling them that we can’t interact in public – I’d end up which a big fat thapar/thapad on my face.

    Why should you get lynched? And where does lynching come here? Do the guidelines say that locals will lynch you if you dont follow them? Nobody lynched the naked lady and the kissing couple. Then on what basis are you assuming they would lynch you? About segragating your cousins… the guidelines say

    In Indian culture… men socialise with men, and women with women

    They aren’t asking you or the foreigners to do the same. Remember they are not rules mere guidelines. You can flaunt them as much as you like. Why should you feel the need to segregate male and female members of your family? Its absurd to come to that conclusion. They are just stating the reality that may be prevalent in Ajmer regarding the local men and women not socialising together. It’s us who try to project our own fears about talibanisation onto those statements. Read the Outlook article. It clearly says how the Israeli couples interact freely with the locals.

    Mere guidelines hurt no one. They are specific to the region of Ajmer and do not extend even to the whole of Rajasthan so I dont see how your arrival at the airport is affected. As far as I know Ajmer does not have an international airport.

    Besides I am not arguing that this is a welcome step. I still find the guidelines incredibly stupid and antiquated. My socialisation, values and beliefs are complete antithesis of what they are and neither am I am Hindu fanatic. I am an atheist. I was merely questioning my own personal reaction, which was strong. I felt the same way as you did. This is why I wrote that comment so that we question our own biases on that issue. It wasn’t my intention to defend those guidelines in any way. Instead I just wondered whether we are over reacting to this issue and projecting our own fears instead of evaluating the issue objectively.

  18. I agree with Chetan.

    Indians respect the mores of Western countries when we visit there. I don’t think it’s too much to expect for Westerners to do the same.

  19. Luckily, these rules do not yet have the force of law, and are “merely” suggestions.

    Ahh ok… because making them into law would be flagrantly unconstitutional in India.

    White it’s good to respect cultural traditions, both Indians and tourists need to know their rights and that they don’t have to follow cultural norms if they don’t want to.

  20. Why should you get lynched? And where does lynching come here? Do the guidelines say that locals will lynch you if you dont follow them?

    My relatives would lynch me if I didn’t hug them, males and females both.

  21. Those guidelines are offending. And if we go abroad and do not litter and shout and molest women, it is about time we started doing it in our own country too.

  22. Here’s some excerpts from Footprint India, 13th Edition, by Roma and Robert Bradnock, -

    “Respect for the foreign visitor should be reciprocated by a sensitivity towards local customs and culture. … Clean, modest clothes and a smile go a long way. Scanty, tight clothing draws unwanted attention. Nudity is not permitted on beaches in India and … there are some places where this ban is ignored, it causes much offence. Displays of intimacy are not considered suitable in public.” – page 37.
    Certainly to the westerner, indian women may seem to remain in the background and appear shy when approached, often hiding their face and avoiding eye contact. yet you will see them working inpublic, often in jobs traditionally associated with men in the west, in the fields, in construction sites, or in the market place. Even from a distance, men should not photograph women without their consent. Women do not, in general, shake hands with men since physical contact is not traditionally acceptable between acquaintances of the opposite sex. – page 38
    Use your right hand for giving, receiving, eating or shaking hands as the left is considered to be unclean since it is associated with washing after using the toilet. – page 38

    My point is that there is little that is essentially different above, from the Ajmer pamphlet. The difference might be that the language is harsh – but expecting a babu to take a nuanced approach to formal matters would be a bit much.
    I added the last bit – just for the heck of it.

  23. sorry for the re-post – i realized my link to footprint books didnt work – highly recommend the guide – invaluable in my trip to india last year – and yes into rajasthan – not that bad – but my last ride back from bikaner to delhi – my fiancee was freaked out by some guy who kept leering at her from his berth in the train when she turned in – and yea, son of the soil like me was traveling desi style, 2nd class – it didnt help i had seen this guy downing a bottle of gin – neat – next to the water fountain at the end of the carriage – my ploy was to engage him in conversation – i believe that most people wouldnt harm anyone else – but if they cease to regard the other as a peer, all rules are off – it’s worked well for me mostly – so i engaged the guy – learnt he was a dropout – worked for the railways and was very proud of getting his daughter through ‘metric’ – and was traveling to his new posting in delhi – things smoothed out. are you still reading – well get back to work slacker. it’s 2 am .

  24. Ennis,

    One possibility is that these rules are muslim rules, and therefore that Rajasthan has a very different culture than Punjab.

    They are Muslim rules — it’s a legacy of the massive political, social and military interaction the region now called Rajasthan had with the Mughals during the integration of the various Rajput kingdoms into the Mughal Empire, especially the ruling classes.

    Punjab possibly has a stronger Sufi influence, but I suspect the cultural differences are much more to do with the impact of Sikh norms over the past 500 years (rejection of gender segregation and Shariah concepts, etc etc).

    In any case, the fact that these customs in Rajasthan (and other parts of northern India) are actually a result of historical “external influences” makes a mockery of that Pushkar priest’s statement about “cultural pollution”.

    Maybe they should just implement Shariah Law and get it over with. sarcasm off

  25. Ennis, how would you stage a protest? Make like when you were little and arguing with a sibling on a road trip– I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you…?

  26. What else can you expect from a conservative Indian society. With Hindutva fundamentalists gaining ground, Hindu-Talibanization is not far away.

  27. Dhavak – again, if they had simply stuck to the time worn stereotypical rules in all the guidebooks, that would have been one thing (and yes, they do have the rule about using your left in there). The problem is that they’ve gone far further.

  28. Indians respect the mores of Western countries when we visit there. I don’t think it’s too much to expect for Westerners to do the same.

    But Indians sometimes are not aware of the mores of Western countries. If they were aware, they would never challenge them though unlike some of the Western tourists in India.

  29. “All we want to do is to sensitise [tourists] to local cultural values”

    Prithvi Raj Sankhla, magistrate

    Talibanization of India?! Dont you people think you are overreacting. The city of Ajmer should be commended if anything on being pro-active and attempting to make the tourists stay out of trouble.

  30. Ennis, how would you stage a protest? Make like when you were little and arguing with a sibling on a road trip– I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you…?

    DD – let’s book our tickets and I’ll show you when we get there ;)

  31. With Hindutva fundamentalists gaining ground, Hindu-Talibanization is not far away.

    That’s the most ironic thing. The behavioural constraints and “customs” they’re trying to promote — indeed, enforce — aren’t actually Hindu in origin; they’re from the more conservative interpretations of Islam.

  32. fyi…

    It was the Congress govt in Maharashtra which banned dance bars. It was the Congress govt. in Karnataka which banned dancing. It was the AIDMK government in TamilNadu which came down on actresses with liberal views on sex.

    None of these were done by the BJP. So the Hindutva allegation is just meaningless drivel devoid of facts.

    M. Nam

  33. Am I the only one who is concerned about the way people unproblematically and uncritically accept and use the term “talibanization?” Talibanization has become a process by which a society become conservative, repressively so. Why is this being attributed to something that is indicative of Islam? As we all know, the BJP is frighteningly conservative, and does not want to be associated with Islam at all. The Christian right in the US is also conservative.

  34. “Dhavak – again, if they had simply stuck to the time worn stereotypical rules in all the guidebooks, that would have been one thing (and yes, they do have the rule about using your left in there). The problem is that they’ve gone far further.”

    How exactly have they gone further? Again, these are just guidelines. The tourists in the article do not seem to mind them, why should we? The local community wants this and tourists should respect the community they have the privilege of visiting.

  35. I’m not sure if I want to tell the world that India is a country where you can’t hug your mother at the airport ….

  36. Again, these are just guidelines.

    Strongly worded “suggestions”. When people complain that their “Suggesions” arent being followed, the next step is to try to turn the “Suggestions” into laws…

  37. Chetan has it right — Pushkar is a unique place in India. A beautiful sacred town (where no alcohol is allowed) but a tourist attraction especially during the camel fair. You have to remember too that the camel fair is also a pilgrimage, with special pujas and bathing in the ghat, etc. on the Ekadasi and the Purnima at the end of Kartika. Simultaneously a bunch of Westerners show up to relax with the special lassis and enjoy the carnival atmosphere. The least they could do is show some respect for local tradition and culture.

    So it’s phrased a little crudely and seems a bit prudish to our tastes, whatever. Don’t go there then.

  38. Charu (http://indsight.org/blog) left this comment on my post on the same topic:

    “In Indian culture… men socialise with men, and women with women Â…” – in other cultures, such couples are frowned upon and have to constantly keep fighting for their rights as minority groups :) but this whole code is too funny! wonder how one innocently smokes or drinks alcohol!

    I thought I would spread the word around :)

  39. Oh, and about the Israelis… they can be particularly obnoxious as, enough to be a stereotype, many are ex-soldiers blowing off steam, getting loaded, riding Enfields through India. Many are lovely, and seem to be much better one on one then when in groups (like most male mammals?). Many too assume India is a free for all — because it can be when you have $ — but don’t realize how much offense they’re causing. It’s just a fact that you can’t treat a hotel in Pushkar like you’re at the Miami Hilton.

  40. To those who keep insisting on reading the guidelines “as is”, and drawing a straight line from them to not hugging their relatives etc. – Ever heard of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”????

    I can’t imagine you don’t understand how the guidelines are intended. I’d be the first to agree that the language is ‘latth-maar’, but at the same time I’m all for crappy language without nuances in comparison to a firang couple breaking out into a kiss during a Hindu wedding ceremony, like the one reported. I’m pretty sure the priests would be just as perturbed if that was done by a desi couple. Likewise, call them my cultural conservatism, but I am sort of disgusted and annoyed to see scantily clad foreigners trying to sun-bathe themselves amongst a beach full of fully-clad families in India. And CERTAINLY it wouldn’t be bad to ban pretty much all those who come to the kumb-melas to oogle at the humanity. Either you participate with your heart or you get out of there. The same goes for touring non-metros.

    The whole point is – if you’re gonna visit someplace, FIGURE IT OUT!!! For that kissing couple, they needed to have seen a couple of weddings before hand. I mean, I don’t cook with my jacket anywhere near the tadka, since I know my non-desi co-workers don’t appreciate pungent spicy aromas emnating from it at work. Tourists in India haven’t been Fa-hein and Hun Tsang for a long time and cultural information is widely available.

    Also, Pushkar, where the incident occurred which brought about the ‘controversial’ text, is a holy city to the Hindus. I rather strongly that people behave, than to make it off-limits to non-believers as in Mecca. I mean c’mon, is it so alarming to ask for some decency, Indian small-town style?

    I don’t see any talibanization over there. All I see is some inept writing and some roughshod implementation.

    And Chetan, very well written! I do disagree on the reasons you write of why Indians behave on foreign soil. Its not at all to do with finding “innate superiority” as you say. I believe its to do with the stock Indians put into social compliance. That’s how the system works in India – you’re taught (largely) to conform to your social environment. Hence when Indians come abroad they’re acutely aware of the differences in cultural norms (that would be true of any visitor anywhere) and they automatically try to fit into them (that obviously is not so universal). The other end of the spectrum surely belongs to the stereotype of the “Ugly American”. This stereotype is nothing if not about the almost-natural disregard of local social norms.

    (I think I got a bit too excited. Time to move on to the next topic)

  41. Seeker, you insist that these rules are simply poorly worded. Yet I have to wonder why they are warning men from touching women even to assist them, unless they are old or infirm:

    Men should never touch women in public, even to help a woman out of a car, unless the lady is very elderly or infirm

    Why not simply remind people that there are laws on the books that forbit kissing in temples — why say “even to help a woman out of a car” unless you want to impose the same sort of rules that would prohibit me from hugging my mom or my sister in public?

  42. Ennis, First they are not rules, they are guidelines. Second, I was not aware there’s a rule on the books prohibing kissing in a temple. Can you point me to it? Third, most people wouldn’t know of the rule, never mind foreigners. It wasn’t so much an issue of a broken rule, it was an issue of cultural ignorance.

    You say :why say “even to help a woman out of a car” unless you want to impose the same sort of rules that would prohibit me from hugging my mom or my sister in public?

    Exactly! The fact is that it would not be invoked if you hugged your mom or sister in public. Try it. It’ll just prove that the guidelines are poorly worded.

    The kissing incident was the catalyst to the guidelines. And it is not the only culturally inappropriate gesture I’ve seen in Puskar either. The locals are not asking foreigners to behave differently than they do. They’re asking them to behave LIKE they do. You’re after the “Men should never touch women” line – I can guarantee you if the woman had luggage or kids and was helped, no one would notice, even though it would be against guidelines. You can argue about it all you want, the guidelines won’t be invoked unless cultural impropriety is observed.

    Note I’m not suggesting its wrong to help a woman as you please. Only that’s not what the locals do, and they don’t appreciate you doing it in their territory, so don’t do it there.

  43. Seeker – the Israeli couple were punished under existing laws:

    An Israeli couple being married in India have found that you may not kiss the bride – the pair were fined $22 for indecency for their wedding embrace. A court in Rajasthan imposed the fine after Alon Orpaz and Tehila Salev had decided to get married in a traditional Hindu ceremony in Pushkar. Priests were offended when the couple kissed and hugged during the chanting of religious verses. The apologetic couple said they were unaware public kissing was banned. The couple, who had met in India while travelling separately, paid the 1,000-rupee fine for “committing an act of indecency” to avoid a 10-day jail sentence. [Link]

    As for the “rules” I find your attitude very confusing. You keep insisting that they can’t possibly mean what they say, because that would be absurd, but you disagree with me that the rules are absurd. Unless you have some special inside knowledge about the situation, why do you think that your interpretation of the rules trumps their obvious literal meaning? Why are you reading a hidden meaning “between the lines” rather than what is written in the lines themselves? And if the rules are so easy to misunderstand, don’t you think that tourist families will feel like parents and children of opposite sexes shouldn’t hold hands in India? Is that a good impression to leave?

  44. Ennis, We are going in circles. These are my final comments on the matter. My comments aren’t on whether the rules as you insist on calling them, are absurd. Only that they are poorly worded, given the behavior they seek to curb.

    “Unless you have some special inside knowledge about the situation, why do you think that your interpretation of the rules trumps their obvious literal meaning?” – Because I can think of multiple instances of locals’ commonplace actions that would discount the guidelines and no one, including foreginers, would be reprimanded for that.

    I think if tourist families will be so confused about what should be a matter of simple observation, they don’t belong there in the first place, and if guidelines are their primary source of information and not the law, I got no sympathy for that. As for impressions, I think a lot of foreigners aren’t leaving “good” impressions on the locals, so who cares what the tourists think of the locals? They don’t like it they don’t have to visit it.

  45. Seeker:

    I agree with what you said about Indian being socialised to conform to their immediate environment. Thanks for pointing that out. I gleefully retract that comment about the innate superiority argument that I made. Thanks for pointing that out.