April 5, 2023
The distinction between the right and the wrong is not always crystal clear. As the sensual English poet John Keats once said, the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, so is one’s perception about what is ethical and unethical.
Having born and brought up in the countryside, I was new to the campus culture of city colleges. As soon as I graduated with the master’s degree in English Literature from Mangalore University, I got a job offer to teach in an elite college in Bangalore. It was a premier education institution run by the Religious and was renowned for discipline and thrust on moral values.
It was my first week in the campus. The security guards at the entrance of the college gate and around the campus were seen monitoring the security and decorum of the campus. In few instances, I saw them intervening when the students of the opposite gender were greeting each other in intimate posture. I did not find anything wrong with the action of the guards.
However, that fine day, my perception of what is right and what is wrong was challenged. When I asked a student as to why he had been absent for my classes, he replied very candidly ‘I was suspended for hugging and kissing girls!”. It was a cultural shock for me! I was startled to hear such a confession from a student who had just finished his school and started his college studies.
Having studied in a college set in rural ethos, let alone hugging and kissing girls in the open, even admitting the commission of such an act so confidently seemed something unusual. Although in my perception his act of kissing girls openly in the campus was unacceptable, the student displayed absolutely so sense of guilt or remorse. I was indeed puzzled. However, my bewilderment did not last long; as the days went by, I could routinely find boys and girls greeting each other with an intimate hug or kiss! The fact that the students were doing that so openly meant that it was only a cultural expression of greeting without any pervert connotation to it.
Although such expression of social greeting was perfectly acceptable to the student community, the management had strictly forbidden such behavior in the campus and the students felt that the management people indeed lived in the Stone Age to forbid an informal social greeting among students of a co-education institution.
As I introspected, I began to realize that one’s perception of what is right and wrong largely depends on one’s upbringing and socio-cultural exposure. I wanted to dig deeper into the perceptions of the students, teachers and parents on this issue and asked the student editorial team of the college newsletter that I oversaw, to come up with a survey-based news report on the issue. The team interviewed several students, parents, and teachers and alas! a whole generational gap was evident in their thinking!
While majority of the students felt that greeting friends of the opposite gender with a kiss or hug was acceptable, many teachers and all the parents found it strongly unacceptable. Surprisingly, the female colleague from the English dept found nothing wrong in the views of the students and as if to justify her point she greeted me with a hug!
About 15 years down the line, when I am teaching in Bahrain currently, the students of the opposite gender never even shake hands with each other because that is forbidden in their culture.
So, the moral of the story is often the truth is beyond what you see and deciding what is right and wrong is a daunting task!
So, do you think urban colleges in India should entertain students of the opposite gender greeting each other with a hug or kiss? Your views are welcome.