why is it still taboo for men to hold hands?
While male friends holding hands is stigmatised in the UK, in India it’s normal. Photographer Vincent Dolman captured men of every age on the streets of India, holding hands. It’s pretty sweet.
Photography Vincent Dolman
London and Mumbai are very different cities. Obviously. London’s a landlocked patch of concrete, skyscrapers and terraces, new build flats and old pubs. The harbour city of Mumbai is all chai, technicolour everything and people scaling 40-story bamboo scaffolding without a harness. A glistening jewel on the sea of India’s west coast.
When he visited India for the first time, what struck British photographer Vincent Dolman about it wasn’t the organised chaos or the heat -- it was all the men holding hands. Which isn’t really the done thing for English men. The pinnacle of physical interaction between most lads comes after scoring a goal at football. To hammer the depressing point home, it was recently reported that more than two thirds of LGBTQ couples won’t hold hands because they’re scared of abuse, because, horrendously, homosexuality is still stigmatised. “In our society you only get a hug from your mate when you’re in the pub and have had a few, or on a pill at a festival,” Vincent explains.
Unfortunately, the restrictions around homosexuality are even worse in India. It's still incredibly taboo, and in fact illegal to have gay sex there -- although this law is currently under review, and will be a monumental breakthrough for LGBTQ rights if decriminalised. But when it comes to men holding hands, it's commonplace, regardless of sexuality. For them, it’s indicative of friendship and connection. After travelling around India a few times, Vincent noticed it popping up in the background of a few shots, so he headed back to Mumbai to make a series of images to explore it in greater depth. “It took me a couple of days to get my first good shot,” he says. “At first I was looking in the wrong places and at the wrong time of day. But with the help of a local fixer, and through conversations, I learnt that it mostly happens when guys are chilling,” he says.
The photos are evidence of this; there’s young men and old men and twenty-something men. There are pinkies gripping, fingers weaving, hands clutching. Most are candid, some are posed, all are joyful -- simultaneously conveying a sense of intimate affection, while also not being a big deal at all. Just guys hanging out on the beach and in the street, their love and support of each other signposted through the simple act of interlocking fingers. There’s something a little sweet, and something very freeing about Vincent’s photography.
“It’s just like when we would put our hands on our mate’s shoulder,” Vincent says. “It’s different to us, and yet so normal to many other cultures. That’s fascinating to me. I love the way men can, without even thinking, show how close they are. I want to make men in western society think about maybe being more affectionate.” Why? "Because it represents love and friendship,” Vincent says. “Much needed in today’s world.”