I write this as a citizen, outraged by the actions of the Mumbai Police in picking up consenting adults from private hotel rooms. I write this as someone who feels strongly that last week forty couples became the victims of misplaced morality policing. I write this as someone who sympathises strongly with the young people who were just unlucky to be in those hotel rooms when the Mumbai Police went on their ridiculous raid.
I also write this as someone who was once a young woman sharing a hotel room with a man I wasn’t married to. I write this as a daughter and a mother. I write this as a teacher, who has heard many stories from young people who were and are shamed by receptionists at hotel desks for not being married.
Your daughter has been quoted in the media saying she is contemplating ending her life because you aren’t speaking to her any more. I hear your rage. I hear your disbelief. My hope, however, is that more than your rage, your disbelief and perhaps your shame, is the desire that your daughter be safe. Allow me then; to be rude enough to say, you are going about keeping her safe all wrong.
On Saturday, I wrote a short piece deploring the police actions in barging into private hotel rooms. I also argued that one way to undermine the power of these self styled moral police was to change our own attitude towards the sexual autonomy of our children. Many people agreed with me. Many didn’t. Some wrote saying that if we were so progressive why would our children need hotel rooms when they could use our homes. Certainly they might. And I know of some who do.
But not all young people want to play with their lovers under their parents’ roof. And though I am getting a little long in the tooth, this is not hard to understand. Having sex in your parents’ home is not half as fun or exciting as a hotel on the beach, or indeed a hotel anywhere. (Though of course its infinitely cheaper, in fact free and eventually you might want to end up in your own room, parents’ roof notwithstanding, assuming of course you have one (most don’t) because otherwise the question is moot isn’t it.). But I digress.
The other day, my five year old daughter told me that she feels “adventurous” when she doesn’t listen to Mamma. I laughed aloud when she said this foreseeing many loud battles with her in my future. But I also laughed because my little girl understands instinctively that there is pleasure to be found in rebellion. That doing things Mamma doesn’t like is exciting.
One day my daughter will be a consenting adult. She might even be a consenting not-quite-yet-adult. If she is not-quite-yet-adult, I probably won’t like it. No, scratch that, I certainly won’t like it. Hopefully I will have convinced her by then that mother knows best. Maybe she will tell me. Maybe she won’t. I don’t necessarily expect her to tell me, because like I said, I understand the pleasure of the clandestine. But I do hope by then she will know for certain that if anyone ever questions her right to her own body, she can come to me at any time of the day or night. If a group of policemen barge into a hotel room she is sharing with her lover, demanding they go to the police station, I do expect she will call us, her parents, to come and intercede on her behalf. And whatever I think of her choice of lover, I will intercede on her behalf.
I will intercede on her behalf because I espouse a politics that believes her body belongs to her and her alone. But I would intercede on her behalf even if I did not espouse this politics because it would be the surest way of keeping her safe.
Almost twenty years ago, when I left the country for the first time, my mother discussed contraception with me. We’d had the sex talk when I was an adolescent but this was the first time she brought up safe sex. She was clearly embarrassed. I was embarrassed. But she soldiered on through both our blushes. The gist was that of course I didn’t need to. And of course she preferred it if I didn’t, and she didn’t want to know if I did, but if I did, then I should be “safe”. This was coded pretty much as I’ve phrased it but the second part of the gist was clear too. Use a condom.
At this time, I did not think much about this conversation. Years later when I actually navigated the world of contraception, I heard the sub-text of my mothers words more clearly. My mother was recognising my right to make choices that she would rather I didn’t make, and she was providing me with the information she thought would keep me safe as I made them.
I urge you now to care about your daughter’s safety more than your embarrassment. Yes this might not be something you approve of. And yes you might be ashamed of finding her and yourselves, in this situation. But if you can rise above your discomfort, to support your daughter regardless of your disapproval, you will be creating an environment in which your 19-year-old daughter is better able to protect herself because she knows you have her back.
Not talking to her is the worst thing you can do. Already she says she is contemplating ending her life – if she acts on this, you will regret it forever. And even if she doesn’t the next time someone threatens her – a boyfriend blackmails her, or another police person shames her – she will not turn to you. And if she cannot turn to you, she is less safe than she would be if she could turn to you. If she could have told the policemen in the Malvani Police station that night a few days ago, “yes call my parents”, would they have dared abuse her?
Young people without the emotional support of their parents or guardians are targets for all kinds of abuse and blackmail. If your child is in trouble, you should be, indeed you should want to be her first line of defence.
Whatever you might think, your daughter has not done anything that a lot of young women, today and much before today have done before. Your daughter has also not done anything illegal. A marriage certificate is not a requirement for sharing a hotel room with your lover. The shame is not hers. The shame belongs to the Mumbai Police who violated the law in picking up consenting adults. And if you continue this oh-so-passé katti business, then, I hate to say this but the shame is yours too.
A not-so-young-woman who dreams of a better world for young people.
Pic Source: Firstpost