In a sequence of events earlier this month closely resembling the opening scenes of the movie Masaan, the Mumbai Police raided hotel rooms in the beachside neighbourhoods of Madh Island and Aksa  and picked up 40 couples, all of them young consenting adults, charging them with "indecent behaviour in public".

That was not all. The couples were detained at the police station, forced to call their parents, given lectures on morality, humiliated and made to feel as if they had committed some heinous crime, before being fined Rs 1,200 each and allowed to leave some five hours later.

While there is no law that prohibits consenting adults from booking a hotel room, a great many Indian hotels, with the exception of high-end four- and five-star establishments, are wary of providing rooms to adults who aren’t married. Many establishments insist on seeing either a marriage certificate or identity proof before checking couples in.

Moreover, cases of police intervention such as the one in Mumbai crop up every few weeks, making things worse for people who are just seeking some privacy away from prying eyes.

Bed and breakfast

While websites such as Cleartrip and MakeMyTrip allow customers to book rooms in almost all hotels at a click, their terms and conditions specify that people who are unmarried could be denied entry by the hotel.

"The hotel reserves the right of admission," states Cleartrip. "Accommodation can be denied to guests posing as a ‘couple’ if suitable proof of identification is not presented at check-in. Cleartrip will not be responsible for any check-in denied by the hotel due to the aforesaid reason."

To avoid being denied accommodation at the last minute or worse, police intervention, many couple are choosing to make use of websites such as Airbnb which has over 5,000 listings in India.  The terms of admission to these private rooms in residential properties are more flexible and can be negotiated on beforehand.

“We didn’t need to prove that we are married when we rented a room in Mumbai,” said a 23-year-old from Delhi who recently visited the city with her partner for an extended weekend. “We stayed there with a Marathi family of four and they were more welcoming and privacy conscious than any of the hotels we have been to. They just asked for our ID proofs for security purposes. We didn’t trouble them and they didn’t trouble us.”

Even though the website lists everything from tree-houses to havelis, it’s not like all the properties listed on the site have such liberal accommodation policies, since the terms of admission are determined by the owners. Regular users of the platform, however, insist that there’s no problem in finding a place if dates are known well in advance.

“We have a favourite accommodation in Delhi and we often stay there only,” said a professional from Bangalore. “The website even allows one to get refund if things are not as promised in the original listing so we always transact through the portal even if it means paying a little extra.”

Airbnb is not the only website that is both liberal and flexible. Stayzilla and Tripvilllas also list rooms that home owners who are willing to let out to travellers without posing many restrictions. TripVillas, for instance, clearly mentions if unmarried couples will not be allowed in the rooms listed.

Ditching conventional hotels

In addition, a new wave of standardised budget hotels  are cropping up around the country that offer inexpensive and safe accommodation for young people. On this list are Oyo Rooms, AwesomeStays and ZoRooms which often offer rooms to adults from outstation, even though those from the same city could face trouble.

Oyo Rooms, a budget hotel company with a presence in more than 50 cities, offers standard rooms with Wi-Fi and breakfast thrown in. A booking representative said that unmarried couples could be allowed rooms in some of the properties.

“We have selected hotels where unmarried local couples can also check-in,” she said. “Most of our properties, though, restrict entry for those from the same city. An outstation identity proof is a must.”

A representative of AwesomeStays, which boasts of more than 500 rooms across six cities, said that unmarried couples are allowed to stay together at the hotels as long as they are from a different city.

“They would need to provide a valid reason for staying out of the house if they are from the same city,” he said but added that in special circumstances, they do allot rooms to people from the same city in which the hotel is located.

A senior management member said on condition of anonymity that even those from the same city are allowed rooms provided they produce original identification.

“We don't do moral policing,” he said. "If two consenting adults reach us with valid IDs, we honour bookings. Unfortunately that's not the case most of the times and couples plead to get a room anyway. We have to have a standard policy in place to avoid case-by-case decisions.”

Zostel is also said to have a liberal admission policy, allowing young couples in their hostels in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur and Goa. However, the company representative didn’t respond to emails and calls sent by Scroll asking for confirmation.