A thought arose of late when considering a recent Italian court decision that apparently makes it illegal for a man to scratch or adjust himself in public.
The Italian ruling clubs together all forms of “crotch-scratching”— prompted by discomfort or by superstition — as offensive. Certain actions are considered inappropriate for public viewing. They not only offend the “average man” — a useful alibi for legislators — but also taint the sanctity of the public sphere. The issues raised by the Italian ruling go beyond the obvious question of violating an individual’s right to touch himself. Suddenly, this behaviour becomes as suspect as a range of other ‘uncivil’ activities — spitting, peeing or bathing on the streets — which would be severely condemned in any Western society ….
…. There is nothing inherently dangerous about crotch-scratching. Unlike spitting or peeing publicly, it does not ‘pollute’ in any physical sense. It is rather like a moment of unconscious intimacy with oneself, like biting fingernails or tugging at one’s hair. The West remains unmoved by unabashed public display of sexual affection, but is perturbed by a superstitious habit.
The Italian legislation is the outcome of a history of sensibilities that is unmistakably Western. These sensibilities have been formed as much by increased awareness of civic norms as by a heightened self-consciousness (as in the flatulent woman on the plane). It is unlikely that India will ever have a law that forbids men to touch their privates in public (in which case, every second man would have to be fined by the minute.)