By Sultan Shahin
NEW DELHI - Indian civilization is
on the move, and it may be coming into its own after a
millennium and a half of decline.
At the height
of its civilization, India was the land of the Kama
Sutra, Koke Shastra, Ananga Ranga - the sacred
literature teaching ways and means of heightening sexual
pleasure, not only with one's own spouse, but also with
It was the land of
Mahabharat, the greatest epic known to mankind,
where Lord Krishna, whose divine exhortations are
contained in the Bhagwad Gita, could be
worshipped with his beloved Radha, who was someone
else's spouse, perhaps that of his maternal uncle. It
was the land of Khajuraho temples depicting copulating
couples and multiples on its inner walls that prudes
consider pornographic. It was the land of Kalidasa, one
of the greatest Sanskrit poets who celebrated sex with
an openness unparalleled in world literature.
With its decline, for some obscure reason
ascribed to a natural cycle of the rise and fall of
civilizations, India turned prudish and guilt-ridden
about free sex. The introduction of Islamic and
Judeo-Christian morality did not help. India ceased to
be proud of Khajuraho and Kalidas. Krishna and Radha
were still worshipped together, but children would not
be told about their open illicit love affair. Both
kama (sensual pleasure) and artha (wealth
creation), the two essential aspects of the Indian way
of life (dharma) suffered. India ceased being
But as artha was revitalized with
the introduction of new economic policies of
liberalization and globalization and new technologies
such as computers and the Internet in the early 1990s,
it seems now that kama too has made a comeback.
Perhaps the two go together.
Several sex surveys
carried out recently point to a definite resurgence of
guilt-free extramarital sex, as much on the initiative
of women now as it was on the bidding of men before.
Commenting on the findings of the KamaSutra Cross Tab
Sex Survey 2003, conducted in association with
Indiatimes, published on Thursday, sex expert Prakash
Kothari said, "One can easily kiss that crummy era
goodbye. A nation of 1 billion is getting sexy and
kicking the guilt." Psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh, MD, is
jubilant: Finally, "it" is happening in India.
Permissiveness is at an all-time high.
Respondents across India (Bangalore 27 percent; Chennai
28 percent; Delhi 22 percent; Hyderabad 20 percent;
Kolkata 32 percent; Mumbai 24 percent) feel that both
partners should be free to have extramarital sex with
the spouse's consent. Delhiites are most likely to have
done it at a younger age than their counterparts in
other cities. Hyderabadis and Mumbaikars show the
maximum inclination to infidelity, summarized Anubha
Sawhney, breaking the news of the survey in Thursday's
The Times of India.
While the survey reveals
that breasts are the No 1 sexual-arousal point for
Indian males, followed by overall looks and butts, the
Indian woman prefers good looks, eyes, and a muscular
physique in her man. Nationwide, experimentation is the
name of the game.
Although the missionary
position continues to be the preferred one of couples
engaging in sex, respondents to the survey reveal that
they are open to other options. As for the average age
at which Indians have their first experience of sex,
figures indicate that virgins are a dying breed.
There is no bar on age, time or place. Indians
want sex again and again. The Hyderabadis have sex 17.1
times a month. This is a national record. Comparing the
results of this survey with the figures furnished by the
Durex Global Survey, which accords top position to the
French for having sex 167 times a year, Sawhney
concludes that this could even be a world record.
This month the second-largest-circulated
newsmagazine Outlook carried out a survey in several
Indian metros to come up with similar results. Its
correspondents interviewed sex specialists and
psychologists in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and
Ahmedabad, among other cities, to discover that in the
business of sex now, women are indeed on top, literally.
Titled "Woman on top: Eves do it too", the Outlook cover
story on May 5 said: "It's not just Adam for Madam. The
Indian woman storms another male bastion as she seeks
sex - and solace - outside her marriage."
authors of the story, Madhu Jain and Soutik Biswas,
concluded: "Adultery 2003 is really about women taking
the lead. It's also about adultery going middle-class,
to small-town India, going commonplace, even going
boring. Dangerous liaisons used to be for the aristos
and the plebs. Those in between, the middle classes,
were tethered by moral chastity belts - only their
fantasies could roam freely. Or it was all within the
family, the extramarital dalliances, that is. The
scarlet letter is now fading fast: stigma is getting
passe and guilt for an increasing number is no more than
"We are probably more adulterous now
than ever before, with women catching up with the men on
the adultery stakes. Says D Narayana Reddy, a sexologist
and marital therapist in Chennai, 'I have been
practicing since 1982. In those days, my women clients
would say a strict No to anything outside marriage. By
1992, the attitude was What's wrong if I did it? By
2002, they were daring to explore.'"
source of the massive urge for sexual exploration that
Indians, particularly women, have developed suddenly is
as mysterious as the reasons for the rise and all of
civilizations. But one thing has come out clearly in the
survey. New technology is an important factor
encouraging the phenomenon. Internet and mushrooming
cyber cafes have helped, as have mobile phones and SMS
(short message service) facilities. Women and men have
suddenly heard from old flames, childhood friends,
former classmates, whom they may have fancied once,
dates have been fixed, and one thing has led to another.
In most cases straight, unembarrassed initiatives have
come from women, as men twiddled their fingers thinking
of creative ways of broaching the subject.
swapping, relatively unknown in India until recently,
has made an appearance. Adventurous couples are
advertising in newspapers their desire to meet
like-minded people for wife and husband swapping.
Indian cinema was known for its kid-glove
treatment of female sexuality. Indian woman being shown
having sex outside marriage would be considered
unpatriotic. And if at all the heroine committed that
misdemeanor, premarital sex, she would have to try
committing suicide, only to be rescued by the hero and
his parents agreeing to marriage.
Now in the age
of cable television's soaps, nearly all the characters
in family dramas are shown as having pre- or
extramarital sexual relations; most marriages are shown
to be illegal, in the sense that the couple had been
married before and not divorced. This creates more room
for the scriptwriters to push in intrigue and blackmail,
keeping families, including kids, glued to their
television sets throughout the evenings.
Nagaswami, a Chennai-based psychiatrist and author of
Courtship & Marriage: A Guide for Indian
Couples, was quoted by Outlook as saying that
couples expect a healthy sex life and are less inhibited
about discussing their sexual experiences now. "Sex is
no longer a taboo word and more people, particularly
women, are more willing to talk sex with their
India's sex guru Prakash Kothari, who
heads the department of sexual medicine at the Kem
Hospital and the GS Medical College in Mumbai, added:
"Thirty years ago, I said most Indian men use their
women as sleeping pills. Today Indian women feel their
sexual desires are basic human rights, and they need to
Hyderabad-based andrologist and
impotence expert Sudhakara Krishnamurti told Outlook
that a decade ago couples would come to him after
failing to consummate their marriages for 10-15 years.
Today wives often drag their husbands into the clinic
within the first week of their marriage. "With women
being more demanding in the bedroom, it puts a lot of
pressure on normal guys," he said.
from the liberated West are flummoxed. They have seen
nothing like this before. Carin Fisher, a
German-American lawyer who moved to New Delhi about a
year ago, has been quoted as saying: "The acceptance of
adultery here was, and sometimes still is, quite
shocking to me. So many married men here tell me that
even Krishna cheated and that I am stuck in some sort of
Judeo-Christian cultural context. The god had a good
time and he was not condemned for it, they say. And some
women I have met, mostly the educated middle-class ones
- if you can believe it - tell me, 'Look at our
heritage. It is natural. Look at Krishna.'"
Well-known socialite Bina Ramani talks of her
conversion to the fast-growing creed of adultery: "I was
shocked when I first came back to India some years ago.
Everybody seemed to be having extramarital affairs. You
don't do that in the West. You have serial monogamy. But
I have changed my mind. If there is a Krishna in men,
there is a Radha in women. Why can't I be both: a wife
and Radha? We are born with it. Men are doing their
Krishna thing, aren't they?"
is having a whale of a time, obviously. But it must also
beware. Not everybody is happy. Some spouses are hurt.
Detective agencies, particularly the new breed of cyber
detectives, are being flooded with requests for snooping
on the activities and e-mail accounts of married men and
women. They are busy documenting illicit affairs,
hacking computers of married people engaged in such
affairs. Some agencies report having to deal with 10-15
new cases every day. All for the convenience of divorce
lawyers who may need them.
divorce is rampant. About 5,000 divorces a year are
being reported from Haryana, with a population of 17
million. In some cities, Kolkata for instance, the
number of divorce cases has doubled. A total of 13,037
divorce cases were filed in the city between January and
August last year, nearly double the number filed in all
Divorce lawyers' earnings have doubled.
But many are not happy with the provisions of Section
497 of the Indian Penal Code, which says: "Whoever has
sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he
knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another
man ... such sexual intercourse not amounting to rape,
is guilty of the offense of adultery, and shall be
punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend
to five years, or with [a] fine, or both."
Commented Soma Wadhwa: "The Indian law on
adultery, formulated circa 1860, sounds antediluvian in
the 21st century. It's mostly about men settling scores
with those who dared sleep with their wives. Women can't
litigate against their errant husbands or their
husbands' lovers, under the law. And, in turn, women
can't be sued for being adulterous."
497 is based on Old Testament values," said Mumbai-based
feminist lawyer Flavia Agnes. "It doesn't protect the
rights of women, only protects the proprietorial rights
of men over their wives' bodies." Considering that men
and women can both cite their spouses' infidelity as
reason for seeking divorce, there is no legal rationale,
feel many such as Agnes, for a criminal law on adultery
that "spares" wives for being adulterous and then
"disallows" them from suing their husbands/husbands'
paramour for adultery.
Geeta Ramaseshan had, in fact, challenged these gender
inequalities in the procedure to file complaints of
adultery. Counsel for the Revathy vs Union of India case
in 1988, Ramaseshan had argued that Revathy be given the
right to lodge a complaint of adultery against her
husband. The apex court dismissed the case: "Spouses
ought not to be filing complaints against each other
..." This convinced Ramaseshan that "the law on adultery
should be scrapped ... It is outdated, mostly misused to
harass women, not based on substantive equality, and
treats women like male possessions," said she.
Even in ancient India, though, at the height of
its glory, there were laws with similar contradictions.
In fact the British jurists who made our present laws
based Hindu law on Manu-smriti, also known as
Manav-dharm-shastra (Laws of Manu), which ranks in its
scriptural sanctity with Ramayana and
The laws of Manu provide a
fascinating glimpse of the life and times of ancient
India and how people (other than Brahmins) tried to beat
the law even then to engage in adultery: "[Verse 352] If
men persist in seeking intimate contact with other men's
wives, the king should brand them with punishments that
inspire terror and banish them.  For that gives
rise among people to the confusion of the castes, by
means of which irreligion, that cuts away the roots,
works for the destruction of everything.
If a man speaks to another man's wife at a bathing
place, in a wilderness or a forest, or at the confluence
or rivers, he incurs [the guilt of] sexual misconduct.
 Acting with special courtesy to her, playing
around with her, touching her ornaments or clothes,
sitting on a couch with her, are all traditionally
regarded as sexual misconduct.  If a man touches a
woman in a non-place [a place other than the hand], or
allows himself to be touched by her, with mutual
consent, it is all traditionally regarded as sexual
" A man who is not a Brahmin
deserves to be punished by the loss of his life's breath
for sexual misconduct, for the wives of all four castes
should always be protected to the utmost.  Beggars,
panegyrists, men who have been consecrated for a Vedic
sacrifice, and workmen may carry on a conversation with
other men's wives if they are not prohibited [from doing
so by the scriptures].  But a man who has been
prohibited should not carry on a conversation with other
men's wives; if a man who has been prohibited converses
[with them], he should pay a fine of one gold piece.
" This rule does not apply to the wives of
strolling actors or of men who live off their own
[wives]; for these men have their women embrace [other
men], concealing themselves while they have them do the
act.  But just a very small fine should be paid by
a man who carries on a conversation secretly with these
women, or with menial servant girls who are used by only
one man, or with wandering women ascetics."
us end this piece reminding ourselves of how sexy
ancient Indians were at the height of their glorious
civilization. Adultery was even then in the air. Women
would initiate many an affair, even then. But there were
faithful, long-suffering wives, ready to forgive their
adulterous husbands, if for nothing but to beat the
chill of the cold winter. Alas, in the world of hot-air
blowers, ready to beat the cold, such poetry may not be
The great Sanskrit poet
Kalidasa, India's answer to William Shakespeare, reports
on sex in a typical Indian winter and blesses the
couples trying to beat the chill:
husbands continue unfaithful
though bitterly chided
again and again,
note them flustered, visibly shaken
yet, yearning to be loved (in the chill of
they overlook these wrongs.
long through the long night in love-play
their lusty young husbands
in an excess of passion,
unrelenting, women just stepped into youth
move at the close of night slowly
wrung-out with aching thighs.
With breasts held
tight by pretty bodices,
Thighs alluringly veiled by
richly dyed silks,
and flowers nestling in their
hair, women serve
as adornments for this wintry
Lovers enjoying the warmth of budding
pressed hard against breasts glowing golden,
saffron-rubbed, of lively women gleaning sensuous,
sleep, having put to flight the cold.
women in gay abandon drink at night
with their fond
husbands, the choices wine,
heightening passion to its
the lilies floating in the wine deliciously
tremble under their fragrant breath.
dawn, when the rush of passion is spent,
woman whose tips of breasts are tight
husband's embrace, carefully views;
her body fully
enjoyed by him
and laughing gaily, she goes from the
to the living-apartments of the house.
Another loving wife leaves her bed at dawn:
elegant and graceful, slender-waisted,
navel and ample hips;
the splendid mane of hair with
flowing loose, the wreath of flowers
With faces radiant as golden lotuses
and long, liquid eyes; with lustrous lips
hair playing enamored round their shoulders,
shine in their homes these frosty mornings,
the semblance of the goddess of beauty.
women burdened by their ample loins,
and drooping a
little at the waist,
wearied bearing their own
garments worn at night
for love's sweet rites,
they put on others suited to the day.
Staring at the curves of their breasts covered
by nail marks,
touching gingerly the tender sprout of
the lower lip bruised by love-bites,
rejoice to see these coveted signs of love's
and decorate their faces as the sun
The wintry season that abounds with sweet
and mounds of dark
when Love waxes proud
love's sport is fever-pitch;
when the anguish is
intense of parted lovers:
May this season be to you
(Translated from the
original Sanskrit by Chandra Rajan)
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