The Hindustan Times’ ambitious youth annual survey brought some interesting statistics to my attention. Typically, I tend to disregard surveys (especially sex surveys) published by large publications, but many of the findings of this year’s HT-MaRS Youth Survey seemed to be spot on. These often contradicting statistics — for example, 61% of India’s young feel that premarital sex is longer a taboo in India, yet an equal number (63%) expect their husband/wife to be a virgin — accurately reflect the confused state of mind of a young society in flux.
Over the past four years, I have spent most of my waking hours speaking to India’s young about love, marriage and sexuality for my book India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st century. From the beginning, it was obvious that there were a lot of changes taking place but over the years as I studied, wrote and lived these stories, the magnitude and scale of the changes made it clear that India was going through a sexual revolution, much like the American sexual revolution of the 1970s. As a result of technological, economic, political and legislative changes over the past decade, the choices, freedom and experiences of the present generation are radically different from everything that has preceded them. Technology, in particular, has been a major game changer. Cable television, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, chat rooms, online porn and the like have teased the imagination of a young India, expanding its horizons and aspirations with the click of a button. Economic development too has aided the sexual revolution, with consumerism being an integral part of it. I found that there were more changes in India’s sexual culture in the past 10 years than there have been in the past 300, and most of these changes were being led by India’s young, urban, middle class, which also happens to be the country’s largest-growing demographic.
The dramatic shift in traditional values related to sex and sexuality is visible everywhere you look. Sex is finally out of the closet and on to the streets. On a short drive through urban India, one is bombarded with titillating sexual images. The same overt sexuality is present in Bollywood movies. Sex scenes are common on the same screen that even a decade ago censored French kisses. As the HT-MaRS Youth Survey indicates, premarital sex in urban areas is skyrocketing while views on homosexuality are surprisingly liberal.
Yet while India’s sexual revolution has led to decidedly liberal views and a healthier attitude towards sex and sexuality, no revolution comes without its challenges. In India’s case, it is a whole lot of confusion, hypocrisy, and more than anything, a mammoth generation divide that will be challenging, if not impossible to bridge.
At times the generation divide in mindset and culture can be threatening and violent across this country. According to United Nations statistics, one in every five cases of honour killing internationally every year comes from India. In fact, the threat to young lovers is so dire that the government has to offer police protection to young lovers, mostly against their own families. It has been estimated that annually around 984 Dalits who have married non-Dalits get protection in runaway marriages. As Indian society changes, there is a repressive backlash to the aforementioned sexual revolution — be it with the recent ban on homosexuality by the Supreme Court, honour killings dictated by khap panchayats, right-wing political parties throwing women out of bars, or most commonly by families and communities of young lovers. As a nation, we need to be cognisant of the tectonic social and cultural changes taking place in our society, and provide the youth with the right infrastructure — the most important of which are education, safety and healthcare — to bridge this gap.
(Ira Trivedi is the best-selling author of India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st century. The views expressed by the author are personal.)