Kink may not be king, but Indians are experimenting with BDSM

Kink may not be king, but Indians are experimenting with BDSM

By ANUBHAV PARSHEERA & PRADHUMAN SODHA | NEW DELHI | 19 September, 2015
The success of E.L. James’Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy globally has pushed the topic into mainstream pop culture, and many Indians have taken notice.

Kink may never become king, but India is certainly witnessing a rise in the number of practitioners of bondage, dominance, sadism, masochism, together known as BDSM. While some sellers of BDSM accessories say that sales are burgeoning, like-minded people in the metros are "bonding" into groups such as Kinky Collective, which focuses on educating practitioners on BDSM. Their first rule is, BDSM cannot be abused to exploit one's partner physically and that the act has to be always consensual. The group started holding meetings more than four years ago in Kolkata, New Delhi and Mumbai, and eventually spread out to other metropolitan cities.

The success of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy globally has pushed the topic into mainstream pop culture, and many Indians have taken notice, even though women's groups have complained that both the book and the film overstepped limits and encouraged violence against women.

Ujala (name changed), a Mumbai based professional, tried it out of curiosity. "I had read about it in books much before Fifty Shades of Grey. I researched about it online and found out about the community in Mumbai. BDSM is flourishing here. Private parties are held here at regular intervals and I have been able to indulge in my desires of being a submissive," she says.

Women do not take on the role of submissive as a rule; often it is the man. Anirudh (name changed) a male submissive, who feels liberated when he surrenders to his dominator, says, "There is a spiritual joy in giving up control. To an unaware person it might seem like physical abuse but what it really means is that a submissive gives up control and the dominant has to look after him/her while keeping in mind the notion of the partner's consent."

Consent is the focal point of the Kinky Collective. Sanjay (name changed), a Kolkata based lawyer has been a BDSM practitioner for over 12 years and has been a member of the Kinky Collective since its formation. "Consent is the cornerstone and the fountainhead of any BDSM relationship. In India, culturally and otherwise, consent is not something which is consciously taught. In the most sacrosanct relationship, marriage, physical relationships are taken for granted", says Sanjay. According to the group, BDSM, at a basic level, is a power exchange as long as both the parties are in consent and deriving pleasure from it. "If I am trying to get my car out of a parking lot but a truck driver has cornered me with his truck, that is also a power dynamic situation, but that is not BDSM, it is abuse," he explained.

The gradual spread of this practice is reflected in the rising sales of BDSM-related sex toys in the country. Co-founder of imbesharam.com, Raj Armani claims that there has been a rise of 150% in the sales of BDSM accessories year by year. "Although we had a predominantly male consumer base initially, we now have an increasing number of female consumers as well," he says. He attributes this phenomenon to a growing acceptance and discussions surrounding BDSM in the nation.

Sameer Saraiya, CEO of thatspersonal.com, an online retailer of sex toys, too talks of rising sales. Saraiya, an e-commerce retailer has the exclusive rights to sell Fifty Shades of Grey merchandise in India. This particular range consists of toys such as handcuffs, restraints, blindfolds, floggers etc. He says, "There has been a sharp increase in sales after the launch of this collection in January 2015. Had the movie released in India, we were expecting a ten-fold spike in sales. BDSM may be growing, but is still in its nascent stages in India, although it has entered mainstream consciousness globally."

This is simultaneous with the rise of BDSM and other similar service providers in the National Capital Region. An online search shows how many service providers have adapted and grown to meet the demand of such sexually recreational practices. Through an undercover phone call this reporter found that the prices for such services range from Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000 and the male/female escort comes with the BDSM paraphernalia and a sufficient knowledge of the practice.

Jalabala Vaidya, a leading theatre personality, and the owner of the Akshara Theatre in New Delhi, who held a dramatic reading of Fifty Shades of Grey, says she is mildly repulsed by it. "I don't think beating or strangling your partner is a way of expressing your love. When we held the reading, a lot of audience got into a discussion afterwards and I remember that some women talked about the pain and humiliation," she recounted. Though she is happy to see that people are breaking away from the conservative and orthodox ways of sexual intercourse and trying on new experiences she believes that a thorough awareness of the practice and complete consent of the partner is crucial. "I might be a vegetarian but I cannot expect everyone around me to be the same. So we have to coexist. As long as one is doing it with consent I suppose it is a private affair, but otherwise it is not just the women but also the men who can be at the receiving end of violence," she explains.

Sneha (name changed) is of the same opinion. A Mumbai based entrepreneur, who was until recently what the BDSM insiders call a "vanilla" person (a person without kinky inclinations), was exposed to BDSM by her partner, a dominant. She says, "Male domination is a way of life in India and it is not just limited to the bedroom." Calling herself a reluctant participant, she says, "I have started this but I am very confused, as my partner seems to have two sides to him, a kinky side and a vanilla side. I am quite sure that such a situation cannot lead to a proper relationship, at least not for me."

Whereas, Sanjay, from Kolkata says, "There are all sorts of relationships which have formed in the community. People have revealed themselves to their vanilla spouses as kinky after years of marriage. Single people have found their mates inside the community and have had long term relationships."

When asked, he admits, that many people also have had major difficulties in accepting the kinky side of their spouse or partner.

The BDSM community in different cities is close knit, making it easy to call out practitioners who abuse their partners in the name of BDSM. "We are pretty close as a community as we cannot interact with vanilla people on the same level. It is an unsaid rule to inform each other if they have heard of a practitioner exploiting someone and calling it BDSM," adds Sanjay.

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