Public Displays of Affection (PDA) is a big taboo in many Asian cultures. Although the standard has been relaxed in recent years with western influence, India remains one of the most conservative cultures when it comes to PDA. Hugging, kissing, and even holding hands between men and women are not publicly acceptable, and sometimes even punished by law.
So, what about these photos above? Are they progressive gay couples trying to make a statement?
Not even close. In fact, these are heterosexual men, hanging out with their best friends.
In Indian culture, holding hands between the same sex has no sexual implications at all. The gesture of holding hands is just an expression of friendship and companionship between men (or women.) An odd combination of sexual repression and disregard for personal space are two of the main reasons behind this unique culture paradox. The scene catches almost every western visitor’s eye, especially after being advised to refrain from physical intimacy with their significant other. In fact, the sight is so uncommon to the western eye that when George W. Bush and then future King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia held hands, it garnered national attention.
Indian culture is not the only culture that has a totally platonic social interpretation for the act of holding hands. I myself have fond memories of my high school years in China with my best friend, arms locked and hands tight. The practice is also common in the Middle East, East, and Southeast Asia. Ironically, these are also cultures where homosexuality is so taboo that it’s treated with the tried and true method of silence from family and society.
So next time you’re in India, go ahead. Be bold. Hold hands. Sing kumbaya. Just not with your spouse or significant other.