A celebrated actress from southern India was celebrating last night after the country’s supreme court cleared her of a series of criminal charges relating to an interview she gave in which she said it was all right for women to have pre-marital sex.
In a legal saga that dates back to 2005, the court dismissed 22 separate charges against Tamil actress Kushboo Khan-Sundar, who had spoken out while campaigning on behalf of Aids awareness. At the time she told several magazines that pre-marital sex was fine “provided safety measures are followed to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases”. She later went on to say: “No educated man would expect his wife to be a virgin.”
In her conservative home state of Tamil Nadu, the comments of the actress triggered a storm. In particular, two Tamil political parties launched campaigns against her and filed lawsuits that accused her of undermining public decency. One of the parties, the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), claimed at the time: “Kushboo made the remarks on pre-marital sex to justify her own life’s experience. She had no right to talk of the chastity of Tamil women. It is not correct to advocate free sex. Marriages are based purely on trust. Both partners have to be faithful to each other if the marriage is to work. It is important to protect the institution of marriage.”
As with so much in India, the issue of morality and public morals is in something of a state of change. While in bigger cities, some mainly couples may choose to live together before marriage, the overwhelming number do not. Yet the Supreme Court, in quashing the accusations levelled at the 39-year-old actress who has starred in dozens of movies, found there was nothing fundamentally wrong with what she had suggested.
Earlier a three-member bench had ruled that adults living together had committed no offence and even cited the example of Lord Krishna and his lover, Radha, from Hindu mythology. “Living together is not an offence. It cannot be an offence,” said the bench.
Last night, the actress who only uses one name and who was born Muslim and converted to Hinduism after marrying her film-director husband, said she was relieved after hearing the verdict. She told the NDTV news channel: “When you look around, every celebrity is pinned down for no rhyme or reason and that is quite an harassment. I knew what I had spoken – it’s not an easy task for a woman to stand alone and say ‘I believe in what I have spoken’.”