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If a Hug Isn't a Sin, Prudes Shouldn't Be Teachers

VVP Sharma @vvemuri

Updated: December 19, 2017, 3:30 PM IST
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If a Hug Isn't a Sin, Prudes Shouldn't Be Teachers
Image for representation. (Reuters)
A boy and a girl, Class 12 students of St Thomas Central School in Thiruvananthapuram, were suspended because the boy hugged the girl to show his appreciation at a cultural event in the school. The principal and teachers saw the hug as a portentous act that would malign the school’s reputation.

When the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Human Rights asked the school to allow the boy to attend school, they moved the Kerala High Court. The court said that the principal’s right as a guardian of the students, the school was more powerful than the Commission’s. About the hug itself, the court had nothing specific to say in favour or against.

The boy and the girl had nothing to hide. They admitted to the hug. The boy said it was an act of showing his appreciation, that’s all. The girl’s parents had no complaints. The teacher and the principal were the only ones to object to the hug.

The hug aggravated the learned educators enough to cast a wide net for more such evidence. They found that the boy had posted some photos with the girl on Instagram. The photos were from a birthday event and not the school. Apparently, the educators got screen shots of the photos from the social media site. Was that legal and not a breach of privacy? The court did not comment on this.

The teacher, according to the judgment, “Was shocked to see the incident as she has not experienced any such public display of affection.” The judgment goes on to add: “It is also evident that other students also witnessed the incident.” So?

What the court actually said about the photographs is this: “However, I do not intend to make the photographs part of this proceedings, since it will tarnish the reputation of the 2nd respondent as well as the girl student. However, I find that various photographs were posted on Instagram in various compromising positions and if it had the effect of publicity, the issue definitely hampers the reputation of the school.”

Notwithstanding the fact that the image of the boy and the girl already stands tarnished in public, it is not clear what the main grouse of the school is. Was it the hug in front of the shocked teacher or was it the posting of photographs unrelated to the school on social media? Did the court try to get clarity on this? Please read the judgment yourselves.

In the process, four things happened: One, the reputation of the boy and the girl stand tarnished. Two, their studies stand jeopardised. Three, prudish mindset of the elders involved in this case stand exposed. Four, the gentle hug stands reviled as the tool of a sex fiend. How (h)ugly!

What is a hug? The Cambridge dictionary says it is “to hold someone close to your body with your arms, usually to show that you like, love, or value them”. Other dictionaries more or less say the same.

A hug is an intimate act. But it is not just about intimacy. It is about closeness and unconditional affection – the sensation I feel when I hug my daughter.

A hug is also a social more. Have you noticed how most westerners greet each other? They hug, they blow kisses. The kids do that. The youth do that. The elders do that. The school principals, the teachers, the judges, everybody does that. Why is the hug a universal mode of greeting in the west? Because it has no sexual innuendo. It is about personalising.

The same hug is now becoming the accepted symbol of communication all across the world. The Chinese do it. The Japanese do it. The North Koreans do it. The Thais do it. The Argentinians do it. The Ghanaians do it. The Indians do it. The Delhites do it. The Mumbaikars do it. The Assamese do it. The Keralites do it.

A hug is so Indian, don’t you see? “Gale Milna” is part of our cultural tradition. One of my earliest memories is our landlady in Hyderabad, a Muslim, hugging my mother on Eid.

The hug is also a diplomatic tool – the most effective way for two leaders or heads of state to greet each other. They use it to send a message that they acknowledge, tolerate and work with each other, while they are no longer rivals. Look at photographs or videos of heads of state meeting. Handshakes are nearly passé. The hug is in.

Remember the iconic photograph of Fidel Castro enveloping Indira Gandhi in a bear hug at the NAM meeting in New Delhi in 1983? The bearded giant and the petit lady. It raked up an emotion of admiration at that time. It does, even today. There is nothing sexual about it. Look at Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has, since he came to power, turned the humble hug into a paparazzi paean the world over.

Now, the point. What, then, is the mentality of a school or a court that looks down on a hug as a sin? It is a mentality of prudery. It is a mentality of social regression. It is a mentality of coercive religion. It is a mentality of sham. It is out of place in today’s India.

The Kerala high court, as well as the school, should come together and revoke the suspension of the boy and the girl right away. Tell them it is okay to hug but stupid to put up intimate pictures on social media. They are not yet adults.

Schools need urgent counselling in modern symbols of affection and about legal peeping methods for evidence collection.
First Published: December 19, 2017, 1:30 PM IST

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