Sex and Sanctity

Just when the Catholic Church is dealing with a frisky priest and a young Indian godman has been caught on camera in a sleazy video with some female devotees, the Supreme Court of India makes a supposedly progressive pronouncement. All’s well? Not quite. It uses god.

The verdict would have incensed the rightwing political organisation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) anyway, but now they can add a religious flavour to their protest. The courts had cited the example of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha to corroborate its judgment on live-in relationships.

The protestors are angry: “The observation made by it (apex court) regarding Radha-Krishna has hurt the sentiments of billions of Hindus. We request the Supreme Court that it should withdraw this comment from the final verdict.”

Nobody quite knows the statistics about hurt sentiments, but these things work. The more worrying aspect is the Supreme Court decriminalising live-in relationships by stating, “If two people, man and woman, want to live together, who can oppose them? What is the offence they commit here? This happens because of the cultural exchange between people.”

I don’t think there is any obfuscation that living-in between man and woman is not for cultural exchange, but to share lives and a bed. By using the example of Radha-Krishna, it makes it legitimate for one community and pretty much leaves out atheists.

Besides, the idea of Krishna is based on several myths and his relationship with women constitutes merely one of them.

The cult of Krishna, although utterly charming in its joie de vivre – the ras leela is based on the concept of letting go of inhibitions, is not empowering for women. “If the gopikas could do their duty to their husbands, tend their families and above all be totally devoted to me all the time, you can do the same thing. Do your duty. I shall not leave you any time,” said he to Meera in one of her dreams.

Meera, who was married to Rana Bhojraj, was platonically committed to Lord Krishna, even sleeping with the idol. She argued with her spouse, “Krishna is the only Purusha and all of us are women. I am no more Queen than you are King. There is only one King and my life belongs to him.”

The process of a legal discussion on live-in relationships began when the South Indian actress, Khushboo, spoke about pre-marital sex. She was threatened and there were several cases filed against her.

But the controversy predates this.

In 2003, the Justice V. S. Malimath panel had recommended that women in live-in relationships must get wife status. It was covertly regressive. While seemingly taking into account “practical realities”, it in fact was legitimising bigamy and adultery. It may have sought to provide for benefits to the ‘other woman’, but would take away from the rights of the first wife as financial assets would have to be split, not to speak of the emotional conflict. It was merely giving license to men to flaunt their machismo.

Another point in the ‘progressive’ report mentioned that if the live-in arrangement was for a reasonably long period, without clearly providing a time-frame, then a man would be deemed to have married the woman according to the customary rites of either party. One would like to know which party’s rites would hold supreme — the man’s, for the onus of providing will be on him, or the woman’s?

On an altogether different note, live-on relationships are essentially an urban phenomenon and a choice two adults make to live outside of an institutional set-up. Has it struck the eminent members of the legal panel that such independent women might not want the stifling status of a wife?

And they might most certainly not desire a halo.

Contemporary sexuality is increasingly dependent on a holy version of daily living. There is currently a buzz about an online ‘halal’ sex shop that makes sure that the erotica available does not go against Islamic tenets. Its Dutch founder, Abdelaziz Aouragh, got 70,000 hits in the first week and one can be reasonably certain it is curiosity that is driving people rather than any real need. He claims it is the first erotic webshop for Muslims. This is assuming that Muslims have not used other means and every Muslim consults the Sharia before his or her hormones start working. Apparently our young entrepreneur, who believes he is catering to married couples (how is one to ensure that?), thinks it is an alternative to sites that focus on “pornography and the extravagant side of erotica”.

A report states that the home page of El Asira, which means society in Arabic, shows a grey street with a line drawn down the centre, inviting women to enter on the left and men on the right. If this is about couples, then should they not be together? And, does the site recognise gender remotely?

Inside, there is an array of products, including lubricants and tablets, that claim to act as aphrodisiacs. Needless to say, all ingredients are permitted by Islam. “Most of the other products out there have pictures of naked people or foul language—it was very difficult to find ones that I could use in my business,” said the site’s owner.

Clerics are happy because they do not sell sex toys. Suddenly, we are being told that Islam has been quite open about sexuality. This is not news. Islam does give rights to women over pleasure. This site does not have dildos.

The moot point, however, is that individuals who would and should choose their form of sexual discovery, and may well be within personal acceptable limits without causing any social nuisance, are now forced to look upon their satisfaction as canonised fables.

We live in interesting times where those who are marketing the sexual panacea through a seraphic prism are unable to see the rot in various houses of god. The devil certainly is not in the retail.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at


Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections