When in India ...

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The first reaction by Americans to the arrest warrant issued in India against actor Richard Gere might be one of condescending amusement toward what, in our view, is an overreaction to a mild display of public affection.

During an event to promote AIDS awareness, Gere embraced an Indian actress, Shilpa Shetty, and kissed her on the cheek several times.

Judge Dinesh Gupta issued warrants in the northwestern city of Jaipur against Gere and Shetty, saying the kisses at a public function "transgressed all limits of vulgarity."

Gere left India shortly after the kissing incident. Gere is a frequent visitor to India, promoting health issues and the cause of Tibetan exiles. Under Indian law, a person convicted of public obscenity faces up to three months in prison, a fine, or both.

Gupta had viewed television footage of the event, which he called "highly sexually erotic."

In our smug assumption of superior sophistication, we may laugh at Gupta's redundant terminology (perhaps the effect of translation) as well as a puritanical aversion to hugging and cheek kissing but the fact is a country has a right to dictate whatever limits on behavior are deemed appropriate within that culture.

Europeans and Americans have a right to be offended by demands that we adhere to foreign cultural restraints in our own countries, such as the demands that we avoid offending Islamic sensibilities in literature and art intended for American and European audiences.

However, when in Rome we must do as the Romans do, or in this case, when in India, we should observe the restraints of the Indian culture.

Gere's experience should serve as a cautionary example for all world travelers.