Life imitates art: "The Mikado" comes to India
In a public park in the small town of Meerut in northern India (named, ironically enough, after Gandhi, famous advocate of nonviolence) the police went on a rampage against--of all things--necking couples, for what in my youth used to call PDA's (public displays of affection).
And, as was hyperbolically said in my youth--in 1968, during a Chicago police action against a different sort of public display--"the whole world is watching," since the entire episode appears to have been purposely televised. Well, maybe not the whole world watching, in the present case (or, for that matter, in the earlier one). But a goodly portion of it: the population of India--and the readers of the New York Times, via this article:
Apparently intended to clamp down on what the police consider indecent public displays of affection among unmarried couples, the nationally televised tableau in Gandhi Park backfired terribly. It set off a firestorm of criticism against police brutality, prompted at least one young unmarried pair to run away from home for a couple of days, and revealed a yawning divide on notions of social mores and individual rights in a tradition-bound swath of India where the younger generation is nudging for change...
Meerut police officials conceded that some officers overreacted. But they also defended their actions. Couples sat in "objectionable poses," said a defiant Mamta Gautam, a police officer accused in the beatings, including some with their heads in their partners' laps. Yes, Ms. Gautam went on, she had slapped those who tried to run away when the police asked for names and addresses. "If they were not doing anything illegal, why they wanted to run away?" the policewoman demanded in an interview. "I do not consider that what we did was wrong."
By the end of the week, as public outrage piled on, Ms. Gautam and three other police officers, including the city police superintendent, were suspended pending an internal investigation.
In a society where dating is frowned upon, public parks remain among the only places where couples can avail themselves of intimacy, from talking to necking and petting with abandon under the arms of a shady tree. Even if it is in broad daylight in a public park, romance before marriage remains taboo in small-town India, which is why the spectacle in Gandhi Park turned out to be such a big deal: to be outed in this way, on national television, is to bring terrible shame and recrimination on yourself and your family.
It's hard to fathom just what the police were thinking. Perhaps they'd recently attended a particularly inspiring performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado, the operetta in which a mythical Japanese ruler fashions Draconian laws against flirting, making romance a capital offense:
Our great Mikado, virtuous man,
When he to rule our land began,
Resolved to try
A plan whereby
Young men might best be steadied.
So he decreed, in words succinct,
That all who flirted, leered or winked
(Unless connubially linked),
Should forthwith be beheaded.
And I expect you'll all agree
That he was right to so decree.
And I am right,
And you are right,
And all is right as right can be!
This stem decree, you'll understand,
Caused great dismay throughout the land!
For young and old
And shy and bold
Were equally affected.
The youth who winked a roving eye,
Or breathed a non-connubial sigh,
Was thereupon condemned to die--
He usually objected.
And you'll allow, as I expect,
That he was right to so object.
And I am right,
And you are right,
And everything is quite correct!
To paraphrase another playwright, the course of love--true or otherwise--never did run smooth. At least here, the Meerut police drew the line at beheading.
But actually, this is no joking matter, no comic operetta. From so-called "honor killings" and stonings for adultery (Gates of Vienna is a good blog for information about such things), to this milder clamping down on youthful fraternizing, it's stunning to think that what was parody way back in 1885, when Gilbert and Sullivan wrote "The Mikado," is close to being a grim reality in some parts of the world--in 2006.