Indian men slut-shamed a woman for polyamoury because how dare she make sexual choices

For the uninitiated, it is the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with each partner consenting to the arrangement.

 |  8-minute read |   19-10-2017
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Sexual liberation in India has its fair share of challenges, the most prominent being orthodoxy, commonly known as “Indian culture”. It is a well-observed trend that the term is abused when it comes to LGBTQ rights, premarital sex and the very acknowledgement of human genitalia. In that vein, a gentleman called Supratim Roy declared women “modern era sluts” in the comments section of an Arré video about polyamoury, missing the point altogether. He is, sadly, not the only one. 

For the uninitiated, polyamoury is the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with each partner consenting to the arrangement. It must not be mistaken for adultery, where one partner has no knowledge of another’s dalliances. Like Anantika Mehra, a 23-year-old MA student, explains in the video: “[It’s] like a buffet; but with informed consent. So, when the food gets to decide whether it wants to be eaten or not.”

Of late, polyamoury has seen some popularity in India. Journalist Partho Chakrabartty, in a Mint feature, describes India’s growing polyamourous community as a group of people “challenging a foundational construct of society: that a monogamous marriage is the only way to have a fulfilling long-term relationship”.

The thing with heteronormative monogamy, however, is that it is entrenched in the Indian psyche. As is evident from the vitriolic comments and backlash that Mehra’s video received. Case in point: a response from one Prabhleen Khurana went something like, “Okay. Question: how’s poly peeps different a street dog...  A street dog has the licence to have sex with the bitch ‘A’ then again with bitch ‘B’ living in some other street and have pups again without bitch ‘A’ objecting to it; because it can’t think. You can. We are human beings with complex thinking and decision making abilities. Stop giving this bullshit a fancy name and call out for licence for having multiple affairs and cheating. Don’t ask for it to be legit to be able to sleep with multiple partners at the same time just for some more fun. Stick with one at a time. Don’t be dogs.”

Mehra has, since the video went up, been posting screenshots of the nasty comments she has been receiving:

All the comments that Mehra has flagged have a few things in common.

First, despite the phrase “informed consent” being repeated multiple times in the video, people don’t seem to understand the philosophy of polyamoury at all. In fact, they haven’t even tried. “It’s just sad that no one wants to take what I have said at face value. Everyone’s being reactionary. ‘This goes against what I thought or what my belief system is’… Also I realised much later that not a lot of people understand the meaning of consent.”

Consent simply means “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something”. And it is, if not understandable, easy to believe that Indians don’t understand the concept. A Feminism in India essay highlights a key problem that is very specific to our country: “In India, because of how female sexuality is demonised and tabooed, it isn’t such a simple task for women to be active seekers or givers of consent.” 

Second, the demonisation of Mehra’s sexuality because she is a woman. Colonial, puritanical values that have made their way into the “Indian culture” have — for the most part — led to the heteronormative sexualisation of Indians in general and of women in particular. That, when it comes to women, they must have sex only to bear children or to satisfy their husbands.

A woman expressing her sexual desires, despite the day and age we live in, is still considered “western”.

And, finally, slut-shaming is born out of this conservatism. Indian men, thanks to their patriarchal upbringing, have a hard time dealing with the sexual autonomy of women. It is not surprising then that may men in the comments section have called Mehra a slut, simply because she chooses to have more than one sexual partner.

The machismo-fuelled upbringing of Indian men also leads to them calling Mehra’s consenting polyamorous partners “cucks” short for "cuckold", which means "a man whose partner has sex with someone else”.

In the worldview of the hypermasculine Indian man, a man whose partner has other sexual partners, is definitely not man enough: he is unable to satisfy her sexual needs (that she should not be exhibiting to begin with).

“Somebody asked me, what is the difference between a pornstar and a poly person,” Mehra tells me, appalled at how uninformed and unintelligent Indians are when it comes to matters of sexuality.

It is, of course, unsurprising given that sex education in India is a combination of poor information, rudimentary biology, cold, clinical terms and the abject lack of awareness of consent, healthy sex — it also doesn’t teach the utter unimportance of the “sacred” hymen.

It is one thing to live in denial of female sexual agency, but it is entirely another to harass someone for being sexually “different”. A Twitter user, under the pretext of appreciating Mehra’s candour, started hitting on her. Despite the fact that she told him off, and publicly called out this behaviour, he continued to harass her. So much so that the man somehow got hold of her phone number and started badgering her with calls, texts, WhatsApp messages etc. Ultimately, after someone tagged the police’s official handle in her tweets, cops intervened.

This is a classic example of how Indians, men in particular, misunderstand polyamoury. They lead with the idea that “if she’s into this, she must be an ‘easy lay’” and her boundaries deserve no respect.

In fact, Mehra’s video could have been a great opportunity to learn more, ask questions and come to terms with the notion of sexual autonomy and how polyamoury works — and that it works for Indians. Yet, most saw this as just another opportunity to shame a woman for her sexual choices.

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Writer

Pathikrit Sanyal Pathikrit Sanyal @bucketheadcase

The author is a culture writer who likes talking about the internet, memes, privacy and all things pop culture.

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