India’s Sexual Revolution

Edited by Kartikeya Kompella, ‘What’s Changed: 25 Years Of Liberalised India’ is a collection of essays by various writers dealing with the impact of liberalization and reforms in their respective sectors. From TV to cinema and from sex to sports; the book deals with the cross section through the eyes of some of India’s well known personalities and writers. Noted author Ira Trivedi talks about the impact of liberalization on the sexual revolution. An excerpt:

Edited by Kartikeya Kompella, ‘What’s Changed: 25 Years Of Liberalised India’ is a collection of essays by various writers dealing with the impact of liberalization and reforms in their respective sectors. From TV to cinema and from sex to sports

sfdfsdfewThe beginnings of India’s sexual revolution can be linked with India’s economic liberalization that began in the early 1990s. Opportunities increased as MNCs courted young Indian graduates, offering them an urban lifestyle and freedom that they had never imagined possible. Suddenly girls who had never been allowed out of their natal homes unsupervised were working midnight shifts in swanky call-centres. Economic change invited, and then encouraged, the twin forces of urbanization and globalization, and overnight, sepia-toned villages turned into glassy fluorescent cities, and women shed their salwar-kameez for skinny jeans. Brazilian waxes, condoms from China, dildos from Denmark, porn from Paris, and sex toys from Sweden all made their way into the Indian imagination, and into their bedrooms.

The past decade, with its combination of economic prosperity, globalization, and more liberal law and regulation, has been markedly different from the decades before. And while conservatism is still rampant, liberalism has spread, especially in India’s burgeoning and ever-growing metropolises. These forces have created an environment where India’s sexual revolution can take place, and the more liberal environment has led many, especially India’s youth, to challenge traditional societal norms of female chastity, that suddenly seem passé. Going Beyond the Bedroom

In the Indian context, it is impossible, even today, to separate sex from marriage, though the idea of marriage itself is undergoing a drastic change as young adults choose to marry on their own terms, not settling into weddings that their families have arranged for them. Notions of love are changing as young people date with their parents’ sanctions and have sex of their own volition.

have sex of their own volition. The age-old formula in India was this— marriage, arranged by the family based purely on caste and economics, followed by sex, usually for the first time, and then ‘love’ if, and only if, the couple was lucky. This mating game has radically been altered; today we look for love, sex (or vice-versa) first and then perhaps, marriage. Now many young Indians of the burgeoning middle class are beginning to believe that love is the central theme of all relationships, particularly marriage.

India is entering uncharted territory and there is no definitive guide to the new relationship landscape. Most notions of love and marriage, which were pertinent to our parents and their ancestors, are changing. The old values are irrevocably gone. The new values are feverishly in the making, and we live in a state of molten confusion: instability riding modernity and Indian culture caught in a complex cluster of contradictions. Arranged marriages are shattering, divorce rates soaring, and new paradigms of relationships— queer, open and live-in—are being tested and explored. Shaifali Sandhya in her book Love Will Follow: Why the Indian Marriage is Burning states that love matches have risen from just 5 per cent of Indian marriages to 30 per cent in the past decade. Divorce too is sky-rocketing, and while there is no national number, statewide results are astonishing. States with high divorce rates include Kerala, India’s most literate state, where the number of divorce cases has increased by 350 per cent in the past ten years; 200 per cent in Kolkata; 150 per cent in Punjab and Haryana—both traditionally agricultural states. It is a time of vacillating values and new personalities.

A new youth culture is on the rise, and India’s young are keenly interested in romance, love, self-discovery and exploration

In India the ideal has always been marriage, but this facade is slowly cracking. Indians are embracing new forms of coupledom and forging new kinds of romantic relationships— like dating, live-in relationships, hookups, and even open marriages. Love matches have risen from just 5 per cent of Indian marriages to 30 per cent in the past decade. Some polls suggest an even higher rate in the metro cities. There are potent, natural forces of upheaval in the institution of marriage.

India is now in the beginning of a major social revolution, and this change that will have major implications on the way marriage, romantic love and sexual relationships will unravel in the future. This change will affect millions in India and beyond.

The Rise of the Middle Class/ The Drivers of the Sexual Revolution Post Liberalization, much of India’s growth has been defined by the rise of the newly minted middle class, whose traditional religious and cultural values have proven versatile at reinventing themselves to fit into the globalized world. It is estimated that 90 per cent of the Indian population will be middleclass by 2039. In other words, in roughly a quarter of a century, or in the course of another generation, India will have added 1 billion people—almost doubling its current population—to the middle class.

Today in India, there is a larger force at play than the traditional twin forces of caste and religion. The similarities amongst the burgeoning middle class across the country are greater and perhaps more binding than these traditional forces. Within this fast growing middle class, it is the Indian woman who is at the centre of the change, trying to balance tradition ideals with modern aspirations. It is this middle class that I believe will finally break through the millennia old caste system of India.

India is a nation of the young, and the sexual revolution too is of the young. India’s current population includes around 600 million people who are under twenty-five and almost 70 per cent of its 1.2 billion population is below the age of forty. By 2020, India is slated to be the youngest nation in the world with an average age of twenty-nine, compared with thirty-seven in China and the United States, forty-five in parts of Europe and forty-eight in Japan. It is an unprecedented demographic condition in the history of modern India and in absolute numbers—it is unprecedented anywhere in the world. This demographic dividend is driving the sexual revolution, and will continue to drive it in the future. The Indian counterculture is being sown with the changing, more globalized taste and voice of the youth. Be it the demand for homosexual rights or the protests against sexual crimes, their demands are getting stronger and these are apparent from displays and protests described earlier and across popular culture in literature, television, film, and art.

As a result of technological, economic, political and legislative advances over the past decade, the choices, freedom, and experiences of the last two generations have been completely different.

Technology in particular has been a major game changer. Cable television, Facebook, YouTube, chat rooms, online porn, and the like have teased the imagination of the youth, expanding their horizons and aspirations with simply a click of a button. India already has the third largest Internet user base, a 100 million person strong just behind China and the US. In the next three years, the number of Internet users is expected to be in excess of 300 million. Then there are mobile phones.

In 1998, there were 1.4 million cell phone subscribers, in 2007, 42 million, in 2009, 71 million, and now in 2012,an astounding 929 million. Social media, including popular new dating websites, has allowed India’s young away from the prying eyes of their parents, and allowed relationships to foster online. Technology too had a big role to play in India’s sexual revolution. Cell phones have given the opposite sex access to each other. In a restrictive society, relationships are conducted over the phone without the prying eyes of elders, and often built at cyber speed.