Is it OK to engage in public display of affection in India?

Are you visiting India from the States or Europe, you may be in for a culture shock as far as display of affection in public is concerned. Unlike the West, Indians do not show affection in public. In fact, they are not allowed to. There’s a law that prevents ‘obscenity’ in the open. Causing annoyance to others through an ‘obscene act’ in any public place is regarded as a transgression and can be punished with fine and even imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with both. However, these are rarely executed as the police may instead take undue advantage of the same by asking for bribes. Although there have been protests against the PDA law, but it has not led to its abolishment. In this article, we try to look at the issues around PDA in India. 

Public Display of Affection (PDA) 

Although the definition of Public Display of Affection (PDA) is highly subjective and will vary from case to case, generally the following can be considered PDA: a compassionate kiss, a sensual touch of genitals, making out or in extreme cases having sexual intercourse in public. 

However, holding hands, hugging, kissing to greet, verbal expression of love or putting arms around your partner does not fall under PDA and is therefore an ‘acceptable’ behaviour to display in public.

The law on PDA

In India, PDA can be considered as objectionable if it disturbs general public or creates nuisance.  As the law does not define the ‘obscene acts’, it is up to the police and courts to interpret it in individual cases. This also leads to misuse by the police. Furthermore, in a largely conservative society such as India, this allows leeway for moral policing. Couples can therefore get harassed by the police as well as the public. 

However, “over the past 10 years, India has been exposed to the western culture like never before. Everything from international movies to TV shows started influencing Indian minds and making them realise that intimacy is a pretty normal thing and you always don't have to be behind closed doors to show your affection. People have stopped raising fingers at couples who display their affection in public. But that doesn't mean that couples are okay to do whatever they want. India still has strict laws against PDA and if the cops decide to book you, you are in for some trouble.” (bingedaily.in – Has India become more open to PDA? -16 Jan. 2019)

So, are you allowed to kiss and hug in public?

The Constitution of India guarantees Freedom of Speech and Expression.  While holding hands is very common, kissing, and hugging are also unquestionably expressions of love. These expressions cannot be brought under the purview of the laws against obscenity. This argument has found further judicial strength as courts have declared the Right to Privacy - which also includes the Constitutional mandate of Personal Liberty - as an absolute Fundamental Right.

Since the meaning of what can be considered ‘obscene’ is not clear in the law and kissing/hugging as an expression of love doesn’t go against the legal restriction of causing public annoyance, no suit can be brought against the act of consensual kissing. 

Additionally, one should take into account the place they are at and certain moral code of conduct that is prevalent while determining whether their display of affection can fall within the sphere of indecent demonstration. The intensity of any public reaction to display of affection may vary from place to place as some communities may see it as a violation of their moral principles.  

In summary, it can be said that as India s rapidly modernising and progressing in all spheres, public display of affection in the urban areas is still regarded as an acceptable behaviour, whereas in rural areas/small towns, it can be seen as highly obscene. 

Do you have any questions about legalities about your moral conduct in public in India? Miss Legal India can help you with all your queries. You can contact us by clicking here

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