Let’s be real: for most young women and queer people, dating in India is like an extreme sport. Dodging surveillance and judgement, tackling generations of learned emotional stoicism (thanks, parents), and jumping hurdle after hurdle of constraints on finding literal physical space to just….hang out.
Valentine’s Day is a day that I’ve felt mostly nothing about, till I realised that — nation-wide — a huge amount of effort is devoted to keeping romance, dating and desire a secret. Because there is a history of shame, punishment, and embarrassment around love and free choice. Don’t let red and pink decor in malls and couple-discounts fool you - India really doesn’t love love. The dangers of publicly being in intercaste and interreligious relationships have been well documented, and of course, the moral police make their appearance annually.
And yet — we see couples. Celebrating love, or just revelling in it. Off the top of my head, the risks it takes to being in love in India can be,
The possibility of being seen with your partner by your family. The quick scan of a restaurant, the never-ending roster of extended family who could also be at the local mall, and the chance of a relative also thinking “it’s a nice day to go to the park”...yikes.
Speaking of parks - can you think of places where you don’t have to spend money to hang out with your partner? Parks and promenades are an option - but are few. Like Paromita Vohra said - you can always tell how good things are in a city, if there are lovers in the gardens.
Taking your partner to your home, where you live with family, is next-level daredevilry! You only have to think about your excuses, alibis, location tracking and careful explanations (and lies) of where you are and where you’re going!
Okay, forget meeting IRL. What about cute, flirty texts? And the exciting world of dating apps? Well…on average, the cellphone that a woman uses in India is usually shared by their family, and owned by their father or brother. So.. a simple ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ text could have serious repercussions on your life.
Work, or college, is where women and queer folks start to explore love and find out who they are, outside of the way their family defines them. But surveillance makes an appearance here too. Women and queer people are often slut-shamed, and seen as ‘immoral’ or ‘distracted’.
And finally, PDA. Hugs, touch, and gazing are universal love languages — but quite dangerous in public in India. Also, if you’re in a ‘visibly’ queer relationship, these actions could out you, and lead to unwanted attention, homophobia and transphobia.
This isn’t even counting the risks of just...finding love. Getting your heart broken, catfishing on dating apps, unrequited love, and so on. In a society where you can barely talk about who you’re dating, what being in love is like, or just ask for some relationship advice — romance can get…lonely.
Keeping the difficulties of falling, and being in love in India, why not use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate love? The rebellion of it, the fumbling of it, and the freedom of it. On Valentine’s Day I’m always relieved to see couples outside. Because those couples, to me, signify the freedom in choosing a partner, and emotional self-discovery.
Love, for young strees and queer people, is something worth celebrating — especially when it’s often self-taught, and comes with so much risk. So, a happy Valentine’s Day to all!