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A Market Place Where You Are the Product: Hook-up Culture in India

The marketplace in the capitalist structure is such that it has to engulf all parts of the individual’s life. The alienation that individual feels caters to the expansion of this market as the market advertises that it has the solution for this alienation. Each and every aspect of the human life has come under this assault of the market this includes spirituality which the idealistic religion claims to be something that is not materialistic and even sex. Earlier market had limited itself to sex work and marriage but now the market is attempting to bring all aspects of once sex and sexuality under its control. This is extremely exploitative especially in a semi-feudal country like India and is leading to greater alienation.

Imperialism’s Role in Hook-Up Culture

The neo-liberalization of the 90’s led to an increasing invasion of finance capital in India. A quantitative change in the base led to a slow shift in the superstructure. Hence, the culture and practices of the people of India were impacted by the import of imperialist culture. New gender identities started to emerge, and the influence of the globalized media even led to changes in sexual practices among the youth. Sneha Krishnan’s ‘Where do Good Girls Have Sex? Space, Risk and Respectability in Chennai’ talks about this change in the sexual practices of the youth. Here, we can see from an interview with a hijra sex worker that the ‘respectable’ women refused to do oral sex until the emergence of ‘MTV’ culture i.e., the arrival of neo-liberal culture.[1] Men used to approach hijra sex workers for oral sex before the arrival of this culture. However, now, as Sneha Krishnan explains through her ethnographic research, young college-going women have adopted the practice of oral-sex as more respectable practice in comparison to penetrative sex. This hierarchy of sexual acts created in the minds of these girls is in itself an import from the West. Hook up culture that had emerged in advanced capitalist countries after the so-called sexual liberation movement also seeped into the culture of the urban petty bourgeoise. Hook-up culture in India has a distinct class nature as it is the petty bourgeois whose lifestyle is the most impacted by the globalized media. This is due to them having most access to global media as opposed to the proletariat and peasantry and their specific aspiration of imitating “whiteness”, coming from their aspiration towards class mobility.

An advertisement for a dating show on MTV India

The import of imperialist culture in India has led to the commodification of sexuality across the media, which has seeped into the consciousness of the populace. The market has capitalized on this change in the culture and imitated the sexual marketplaces of dating apps that emerged in the West. Now apps such as Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, Hinge etc. have become an emerging sexual marketplace particularly for the urban petty bourgeois. This has led to a consumerist approach towards dating, where young people go unto these apps looking for viable sexual partners. A consumerist attitude towards sex has led to a commodification of sexual prospects available on these apps. The sexual part of an individual is separated from the other aspects of their life. While hooking up you meet the other individual just to satisfy your sexual needs. This leads to a culture that dehumanizes the prospective partner as a sexual object. Hook up culture in general is thus exploitative because of this commodification of human beings. The culture of these apps when viewed through the particularities of India evidences that hook-up culture in India operates differently due to its semi-feudal conditions. This culture gets more exploitative in India because of these particularities, that is the lack of democratization of Indian society.

Imperialism’s superstructure has a massive role to play in this import of sexual commodification and the idea of “liberation” through anarchic sex. In a society that has not undergone democratization, imperialism attempts to export the idea that the questions of sexual violence in India, that of rampant patriarchal oppression of women in India is a question of “repressed libido” of some men, due to sex being less available. Shikha Dalmia, an Indian immigrant, writes in the Wall Street Journal, “the upshot is legions of grown, unmarried men who have never had sex. It is their repressed libido that expresses itself in weird social pathologies such as harassment. Trying to stamp out harassment with the tougher laws that India has recently embraced—declaring stalking a crime, setting sentences of five years for groping, one year for lewd gestures—will help at the margins at best. A problem rooted in natural urges is unlikely to yield to legal quick fixes.”[2] Opting first to reduce the problem to individuals and mere biology, Shikha’s resolution is a “sexual revolution” of the Amerikan type, the idea that sexual anarchy will somehow alter the oppression of women and queer persons under Brahmanical patriarchy. Imperialist superstructure utilizes these “brown-skinned” immigrants and diaspora intelligentsia to push its agenda through globalized mainstream media like Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine etc. On the one hand, while the Indian ruling class is rejecting Orientalism outright, harping on and on about resisting western culture, it is giving free rein to imperialism on the economic line. Meanwhile, intellectual discourse created by persons from the third world living in the West becomes legitimized in this narrative, since it is coming from the ‘native’ who is ‘decolonizing’ academia. This is exported across Indian intelligentsia.

Describing the nature of ‘comprador intellectuals,’ Hamid Dabashi, an Iraqi writer, exposed the ideological framework of imperialism’s onslaught through its superstructure. In his work, Brown Skin, White Masks, he examined the nature of Iraqi migrant intellectuals in America where they provided all sorts of intellectual justification of the Amerikan invasion of Iraq.[3] Persons like Shikha Dalmia represent the intellectuals in the same fold. Notable feature is that, Shikha herself is directly associated with the Reason Foundation in USA, which claims that they are providing the alternate of left and right political discourses. Beyond the left-right rhetoric they firmly believe in “free thinking and free markets.” Interestingly, in the era of imperialism and monopoly capital, the foundation is spreading the idea and vision of “good imperialism” in world, upholding the primacy of private property and the ideology of libertarianism. In India, this ideological trend is represented by so-called activists like Jaya Sharma who is projected by the state to attract the urban petty-bourgeois masses. Jaya Sharma, some organizations like ‘Agents of Ishq’ and other sections of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia uphold a similar inclination towards sexual liberation and the idea that sexual kinks, practices like BDSM and whatnot can somehow be democratic in nature in a semi-feudal society premised on the absence of democracy for the wide masses. This penetration of post- modernist ideology has played horrible role to split the masses in sections and identities, where everyone locates their problem in a very individual perspective and sectional interests. The missing of totality and lack of an objective vision are a win-win situation for the post-modernist framework. Under the garb of concern for women’s oppression under patriarchy, the puppets of imperialism spread sexual anarchy to derail the masses while parallelly giving superficial skill training to the young generation for the co-option in the imperial market as cheap labor.

Effects of Semi-feudal Base

The mode of production in India is not fully capitalist nor feudal. Imperialist capital allied with the feudal class to create a semi-feudal, semi-colonial mode of production. This mode of production has led to several feudal practices such as caste to continue in India. Patriarchy in India is also feudal in nature. This semi-feudalism affects the hook-up culture in India. Let us look at this through the example of how caste functions in the urban dating world. Dhiren Borisa in his piece ‘City and Sexuality: An Auto-Ethnographic Storytelling of Caste, Class and Queerness in Delhi’ explains how in gay dating in Delhi, men from lower castes would use fake surnames to gain admission to the urban-elite dating hubs of the privileged gay men. They also use fake addresses to appear to belong to elite areas of the cities so they can gain acceptance in the dating world dominated by the prejudices of the upper-castes and class.[4] A similar phenomenon is seen in the shift of the urban elite from Tinder to Bumble as the former had seen the entry of the lower petty-bourgeois, thus hurting the puritanical approach of caste-class protectionism that pervades in the minds of the urban elite. This feudal culture persists despite the western, imperialist culture that this elite aspires to imitate.

An advertisement for Grindr in India

The feudal culture also affects sex in such a way that sex is not even as democratic as the sex in western countries. In general, the satisfaction of the male plays an important role and women may continue having sex even if it is not gratifying them because of societal pressures. In India, this gets more violent. This is because patriarchy in India is affected by its semi-feudal conditions. So, while feudal conditions in India lead to pressures and excessive control in lives of women by their families since they are expected to maintain the caste-class purity of the families; at the same time imperialist commodification of their bodies places a double burden of patriarchy on them. Thus, as highlighted by Sneha Krishnan, the consequences of pre-marital sexual activities are way more detrimental for women in India than in the West. At the same time, as they have been bought up in a culture of silence and male-dominance, “consent” coming from women while hooking up comes from a much more coercive social basis. Due to the feudal nature of male-dominance in India, ideas of consent are not as well developed and male entitlement towards female bodies exposes women to violence and abuse in hook-up culture. Due to the societal taboo towards sexual activities by women, and the fear of feudal repression from families, women are much less likely to report sexual abuse during these “hook-ups” in India than in the West, where ideas of consent are still more pervasive in society. Women are also socialised into accepting more pain for the comfort of men by the feudal family structure. This leads to an extremely abusive sexual relation where consent is obfuscated.

Class Basis of this Culture

The act of hooking up is time consuming. From finding a match, to eventually finding a safe place to meet up it takes hours. In a third world country like India, the work time is divided based on class. A member of the proletariat has to work for at least 12 hours a day. This was the informal norm until very recently and now it has been legalised too. The remaining time that the worker has discounting the time that they require for replenishment is very limited and therefore, we can say that the proletariat has close to no leisure time. One needs a high amount of leisure time to do this and the working class does not have the time for this. The intrinsic nature of this culture is such that only people from a petty bourgeoise or bourgeoise background have the time for this. Thus, class plays a huge role in who gets to hook up. It is intrinsically unequal in nature.

Why Do People Hook-up

It is not just sexual desire that draws people towards this exploitative hook up culture. The material conditions of modern-day society alienate individuals from themselves, their labour and from each other. Neoliberalism tries to create silos and silos within these silos. The individual is alienated from the collective. People try to address this alienation through mindless consumption. Here, sex becomes a product, something to be consumed to deal with one’s alienation. Thus, even when it is exploitative and oppressive people try to find sex to deal with this alienation. The internal emptiness that human beings feel remains unaddressed and this mindless, anarchic sex, where you objectify yourself and your partner leads to more alienation. As the alienation that the individual feels remain unresolved, this becomes cyclical. This constant objectification of the self leads to deeper issues such as viewing yourself as a mere product in a dating marketplace.

The reason people look upon sex as a solution to their alienation, their loneliness lies in the commodification of sex. Social media, tv shows etc. push sex as a necessity in life, a product an individual would be incomplete without. Hence, bodies are commodified, everything about our bodies is sexualised in media representations, over social media, even in non-sexual contexts. This disproportionately impacts women as they are the objects of patriarchal consumerist media, of the male gaze. Social media also plays a role in this hook up culture. Female bodies are presented with unrealistic beauty standards. Models must present their body in such a way that all the sexualised part of their bodies can be seen in just one picture. In a YouTube video, the model Amouranth talks about having greater body pain and the feeling that her body is ‘asymmetric’ because she has to display both the ‘butt’ and the ‘face’ in just one photo.[5] This constant sexualisation of human body in social media also drives this consumeristic desire for sex. Human body becomes an object whose purpose is to merely satisfy the sexual needs.


This exploitative cycle where individuals are reduced to mere objects to satisfy ones sexual desires is not the solution to the alienation that one feels. In capitalism the market keeps on expanding-now, spirituality and even sexuality has become part of this market. Capitalism creates alienation and provides ‘solutions’ to this alienation, however these solutions are inadept in addressing the alienation that one feels deep inside. At the end of the day, the solution lies in subjecting oneself to a collective, a collective that is standing against everything that capitalism stands for. It is only in this collective that one can find respite from the oppressive individualism that capitalism subjects us to. The struggle of this collective against capitalism will also simultaneously be a struggle against the alienation within you. The only solution is revolutionary struggle where you will find your comrades.

by Ramnit Kaur

and Mukundan, students of law, Jindal Global Law School

Download PDF of this article here


[1] Krishnan, Sneha (2020), ‘Where do Good Girls Have Sex? Space, Risk and Respectability in Chennai’, Gender, Place and Culture, Gender, Place and Culture.

[2] Dalmia, Shikha (2013), India Needs A Sexual Revolution, Wall Street Journal

[3] Dabashi, Hamid (2011), Brown Skins, White Masks, Pluto Press

[4] Borisa, Dhiren (2020), ‘City and Sexuality: An Auto-ethnographic Storytelling of Geographies of Caste, Class and Queerness in Delhi’, Geography and You, 20 (4-5): 82- 87.


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