Love and marriage

Married couples only: Conservative India’s moral policing extends to Airbnb

Some hosts whose properties are listed on the popular app refuse two people of the opposite sex unless they are married or related.

A number of Airbnb listings in India use a version of this caveat: married couples only.

In essence, the hosts do not accommodate couples of the opposite sex unless they are married or are siblings or close relatives (often requiring documentary evidence). The refusal is usually based on cultural sensitivities or stems from the fear of harassment by the cops or the moral police, a peculiar south Asian vigilantism against anything deemed immoral.

For instance, businessman S Nisar, who rents out a property in Chennai, fears getting unwittingly involved in illicit activities. “Actually, if we allow unmarried couples, there is a risk that we, at our place, are allowing prostitution,” Nisar told Quartz over Airbnb’s messaging portal. A manager at Mumbai’s Hotel Flora Fountain cited “harassment by local authorities and police” as the reason for not taking bookings from unmarried couples on Airbnb. Earlier this month, Buzzfeed found a “married only” policy on dozens of listings.

The Hotel Association of India, an umbrella organisation overseeing nearly 300 hotels across the country, says that no law bars unmarried couples from sharing a room. In fact, the Supreme Court of India made it explicit that heterosexual relations among consenting adults was not an offence if it was not adulterous. But there’s no stopping the cops who regularly raid hotels, bars, and nightclubs – often based on mere rumours and baseless complaints – to harass unmarried couples.

A Quora user from Hyderabad wrote that she and her boyfriend were dragged out of their hotel room and tormented by the police; they ended up paying Rs 5,000 as bribe to be let off the hook. Two years ago, the Mumbai police raided a series of suburban hotels and accused over 40 couples of “public indecency” and subjected them to a fine of Rs 1,200 each.

So, hotels and hosts remain cautious. Even online aggregators like Cleartrip and MakeMyTrip specify that hotels reserve the right to deny entry to unmarried couples.

Airbnb has a non-discrimination policy as per which hosts can’t refuse guests based on their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or other reasons. However, these guidelines are strictly followed only in the US and the European Union, Airbnb notes. The San Francisco-based room-booking portal recognises that “some countries or communities may allow or even require people to make accommodation distinctions based on, for example, marital status, national origin, gender or sexual orientation.”

While the portal accommodates the hosts’ concerns, it makes sure they are reasonable. “In some very rare cases, hosts may have reasonable concerns, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, the host removes this restriction or we remove the host from our community,” an Airbnb spokesperson told Quartz. If hosting an unmarried couple could subject the host or guest to the risk of arrest or physical harm, they may not be allowed, the San Francisco-headquartered firm said.

To play safe, some hosts seek government-issued IDs from guests. But not everyone wants to work his or her way around. Blame cultural conservatism for that.

Closed minds

At Thelma Kariappa’s estate in Kodagu in southern India’s Karnataka, house rules regarding unmarried couples are not up for debate. They help “avoid local ‘unmarried’ couples misusing our accommodation or mistaking it for ‘love hotels’ that can be found in some parts of the world,” Kariappa said. “This is a small town of India,” she told Quartz, referring to Kodagu’s Madikeri hill station where her estate is located.

Badrinath S, another Puducherry host listed on Airbnb, said, “Our traditions do not encourage unmarried couples.” He even asked if it was “ethical” to do so.

Vigilantes often roam the streets of Indian cities and towns, targeting even young boys and girls found together in public places. For instance, Valentine’s Day is a guaranteed red rag for such thuggery – actions range from stern warnings to spot weddings to ruthless thrashings.

Given such circumstances, finding rooms is a far cry. Yet, some doors have been opening in recent times.

A few startups have begun offering guaranteed privacy and safety for the unmarried.

For instance StayUncle, headquartered in New Delhi, helps such couples rent hotel rooms for between eight and 10 hours. (The company’s first angel investment of a “couple of lakhs” came from Ajay Naqvi, AirBnB’s country marketing manager till August 2016.) Gurgaon-based hotel aggregator OYO Rooms has also launched a “relationship mode” that only lists hotels that welcome unmarried couples.

This article first appeared on Quartz.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

Play

During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.