Wrapped in each other’s arms, a woman ruffling her boyfriend’s air, a man drawing his partner closer with a hug – the candid shots of young couples being affectionate with one another in public in Gayatri Ganju’s photo series ‘Strictly Do Not Kiss Here’ is indeed a poignant commentary on the policing of intimacy in India.
What inspired her to focus on space and intimacy?
The series was curated by Ganju after she noticed couples making their way to a quiet gazebo at a park in Lucknow. She was reminded of conversations she’d had with friends about the difficulty of finding a place to spend some time with partners, without being judged or hassled.
Upon her return to Bangalore, Ganju was on the lookout for an opportunity to capture similar meetings. “I only go ahead and photograph them if they allow me to,” explains Ganju in an interview with Scroll. “I hang around them or with them till they become a bit comfortable with my presence. Sometimes it becomes like a little game for them of how they can best hide their faces while still expressing their love.”
Stuck between the traditional and the modern
Through this series, Ganju highlights how India, despite its modernity, still holds fast to traditional values and social structures from another century. “The past few years have seen some very ugly incidents of couples being harassed, beaten and publicly humiliated by the police and representatives of religious right wing groups in the country. There’s very little tolerance for public display of affection,” she writes.
Indeed, as most Indians can attest, it is rare to see a couple walking down a road holding hands, while kissing in public is out of the question. There have been many cases of moral policing of couples in public, but also, importantly, an increasing questioning of this, such as ‘The Kiss Of Love’ in Kerala. (Read our piece about the ‘Kiss Of Love’ movment and DJ Su Real’s ‘Soldiers’ music video).
At the end of the day, those narrow-eyed glances we’ve all received at some point while walking on the road with our partners, will subsist. However, as Ganju’s photo series shows, it’s nice to acknowledge the fact that no matter how many restrictions, love always almost does seem to find a way in the end.
Written by Shalini Srinivasan
Featured image source credit: India.com