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  • by Roberto Rocha
  • published from India
  • on 2010.12.11

On Indian men holding hands in public

Are Indian men physically close because they can or because they must?

Photo by anaranar

Side A

Nothing like seeing two Indian men holding hands to show how homophobic Westerners really are.

It’s a sight that every Western visitor to India must greet with wonder: in a country where homosexuality is a grand taboo, male friends go on a stroll with fingers interlaced or arms around one another. Best friends might be spotted gently caressing the other’s hands while sharing a laugh.

It’s jarring, but only because they are right. Unlike the West, India hasn’t made all effort to eliminate the possibility for casual male-to-male contact. If anything, it has normalized it. When a man sits beside another one the bus, instead of shifting to create a millimetric buffer between them, they squeeze in tighter to accommodate a third one.

A drowsy worker on break might catch a few minutes of rest by laying his head on his mate’s lap. There are no dividers between urinals (to be fair, there are hardly any urinals since walls and curbs seem to do the job).

No Indian man will experience gay fear if his leg brushes against another man on a train. Good friends don’t have to make excuses to touch each other, like chest bumps or American football.

Meanwhile, men in the West can only safely express friendly affection when senselessly drunk. Wrestling on the carpet can also fulfill man-cuddle urges, but only if tempered with painful jabs to the arm. Actually, there’s no greater proof of Western men’s latent homo-erotic desires than professional wrestling.

Indian men hold hands because they know there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Touch is a universal currency of closeness, and in India, it’s stronger than homo-paranoia.

“Now you sit on my lap.”

Side B

Nothing like seeing two Indian men holding hands to show how sexually repressed their society has become.

Though men are often seen being physically affectionate, you never see couples holding hands or lovers locked in a park bench embrace. In public buses, passengers shift seats so a man and a woman who don’t know each other don’t end up sitting together.

Public kisses have been known to spark riots, and every Indian film is censored to avoid any suggestion of normal sexuality.

In the country that wrote the Kama Sutra, heterosexual intimacy is strictly a private affair, and only accepted in the confines of an arranged marriage.

Indian men hold hands in public because they have no other choice.

This self-imposed sexual repression is released in thuggish ways. Organized rape gangs are common in large Indian cities. Indian women regularly suffer the indignities of harassment and assault, which goes by the sterile euphemism “eve teasing“.

Many Western women who visit India have a story of having her breasts and buttocks grabbed by a stranger, or of finding a peephole in their hotel room.

Indian trains have a women’s-only car out of sheer necessity. It just isn’t safe for them to be around men. And so men, until marriage, can only be physically intimate with their own friends.

It looks, to our eyes, strange and unnatural because it is.


2 people commented so far
  1. Men and boys being affectionate towards one another in public is something I adored about India. How wonderful it was to see men as free to express friendship in such gentle ways as holding hands or walking arm-over-shoulder? Loved it, and never found it odd or off-putting.

    By the way, I was never grabbed in India. Now i’m starting to think I should be insulted ;)


    by Michelle Sullivan on 2010.12.11
  2. [...] this interesting page oversimplifies the issue but makes some very good observations. Share this:TwitterFacebookGoogleLike this:Like Loading… ← Previous [...]

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