On Valentine’s Day a young couple were sitting quietly by a beach when they found themselves accosted by five men who taunted, heckled and filmed them. They can be heard asking the woman if she lifts her clothes for all. The couple approached the police. The attempt to defend themselves is in itself sad. They were “doing no wrong, …not hugging or kissing”. She also added they were soon to be married.
Tragic last words. The video of the couple went viral and the young man from Palakkad, in Kerala, found himself unable to bear the humiliation. None of us are surprised by the fact that it is the lover who feels the shame and not those who violated a private moment and sexually harassed the couple. When did the terms switch around us so imperceptibly that loving became shameful and hating righteous?
There is an obvious counter response to this question. It is not new to have this response to Valentine’s Day. It is ‘shameless’ to publicly exhibit love. The lovers need not actually be ‘doing’ anything, it is provocation enough that their proximity signifies a loverly gesture. Ironically it is this very gesture that is celebrated when Raj Kapoor and Nargis share an umbrella or Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan dance in the rain. However the common man is punished severely for less. The underlying syntax of the assault seems to be “how dare you?” Dare what? The loverly feeling, the expression of it or the public space? Or is it the ordinariness of the couple? Someone like you and me.
Logically it seems to be the last which is the red rag. How can they have what we may never have? When we see it in cinema we have projected ourselves into those scenes innumerable times and desired those for ourselves. And for those moments felt as beautiful and special as the film stars. But also reconciled ourselves later to that being a world of fantasies while such things do not happen in real life. An artificial division of life versus reality protects us by consoling us.
But when we see the signifiers of mutual desire in the vicinity it seems to stir something quite deep. It being Valentine’s Day only adds to the fury; as though a western import were giving legitimacy to the act of loving. It is too facile to say if you don’t want it, why does another having it matter so much? Obviously it stirs what has been carefully sequestered by the internal police.
In this equation loving is equated with having sex, and thus stripped of the feeling, the signifiers and gestures of love are translated as pornographic and hence the register of shame. This response of virulent hatred then seems to be the only way of dealing with dissident noises that are locked deep within the basements of our consciousness. Through stalking, jeering, beating and shaming exhibitions of such desires, we often seek to train our own circus of beasts; and they must be truly obdurate.
Nilofer Kaul is a teacher and a psychoanalyst
The views expressed are personal