When Pooja, a 33-year-old homemaker from Bengaluru, India, wakes up every morning, she posts a nude photo of herself on her Instagram. She then shares that with a Telegram group of Indian nudists. She adds a simple “Good morning” or “My Instagram post for the day!” with the photo.
Others in the group, primarily men, respond with good morning texts, accompanied by nude photos of them holding their early morning cup of tea or coffee. Finally, a couple sends a nude selfie with emojis hiding their faces.
These faceless selfies belong to Indian nudists, for whom genitals are not the main focus of naked photos. Instead, the nudist movement believes in embracing everyday life devoid of clothes and letting your bare limbs soak in the sunlight. Nudist groups exist all around the world, with some people even growing up in nudist families.
In India, your naked body is kept private, and if you show too much skin, you’re met with judgment from others. Perhaps this is why Indian ministers get away with saying things like wearing ripped jeans makes women “run towards nudity.” Nudism almost seems like a revolutionary act in a society that believes morality and modesty are tied to what people wear and how much skin they show.
Pooja, 33, has been a nudist since 2015 and moderates, several nudist groups, online on platforms like Meetup and Telegram. Each group has over 50 to 75 members from across the country. Pooja started her nudism journey in 2015 when a friend in the eastern city of Kolkata introduced her to the lifestyle. Pooja requested us to use only her first name to avoid legal and personal repercussions.
“I once went to my friend’s place, and she was completely nude,” Pooja told VICE. “She then told me about the nudist lifestyle and how she would always be naked at home when her husband wasn’t around.” After that, she visited her friend frequently, and the two would hang out in the nude. After a few weeks, the duo went to a nudist meetup in Kolkata. “This meetup was limited to women only. I would keep my clothes on because I felt shy, but seeing other nudist women chilling together was refreshing.”
Nudist meetups are exactly like how you’d chill with a bunch of friends. There are snacks, conversations, music, and laughter – stuff that brings people together, except they are naked. “One time, I went to a meetup where there were women and couples. At first, I kept my clothes on but instantly connected with everyone there. By the end of the meetup, I was nude too.”
India isn’t exactly the most friendly country towards nudity. The government has strict obscenity laws, some going back to the colonial era. These laws have been used against prolific authors, artists, and models, to name a few. For a book or object to be obscene, the law says it must be lascivious or prurient or have the effect of depraving or corrupting someone. Unfortunately, the terms “lascivious,” “prurient,” “deprave,” and “corrupt” have not been clearly defined, leaving room for interpretation.
In 1995, models Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre were charged under obscenity laws after they admitted they filmed an advertisement for a condom company (coincidentally called Kama Sutra) naked. In 2020, Soman was again charged under obscenity laws after posting a picture of himself running naked on a beach.
All of this means budding nudists find it hard to find a community. For Amar Singh, a 63-year-old from Jharsuguda district in the eastern state of Odisha, it was sheer luck that led him to online nudist forums in the early 2000s. Singh’s name has been changed for his safety.
“I would search for random things on the internet, and then I found this naturism website. So I connected with the man who used to run it, and he was of Indian descent too,” Singh told VICE over a phone call. Singh and his wife connected with nudists from around the country through this forum. “Most of them were in West Bengal. I remember that clearly,” he recollected. After much planning, Singh finally met one of his nudist friends from Kolkata in West Bengal. “We just spent time together naked; I finally felt accepted.”
Singh recalls how his now-deceased wife was a nudist way before the couple knew what the term meant. “She would always be naked or wear minimal clothes at home. She used to say it helped her breathe better.” The couple used to go to several nudist meetups across India and Thailand. “She would keep her clothes on because she’d feel shy about being nude in front of other men.”
He also recalled bathing nude in the Ganga river in the religious cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh. “I have been to the historic Kumbh Mela and lived naked with Naga sadhus.” The Kumbh Mela is a significant pilgrimage for Hindus and happens every 12 years. Naga sadhus are Hindu ascetics who remain naked at all times and cover themselves in ash. In India, it’s considered acceptable when nudity is accompanied by a religious angle, like in the case of Naga sadhus and Jain monks. During the pilgrimage, over 2 million devotees dip in the holy Ganga river, many naked.
But when it comes to being nude as part of one’s lifestyle and not out of a religious reason, nudists are left with little to no outdoor options except for isolated spots at beaches, forests, mountains, and heritage monuments. Many nudists, like Nitish – a 31-year-old from Bengaluru – go to secluded and remote locations to be naked. “I don’t mind someone seeing me nude, but I don’t know how they’ll react,” Nitish told VICE. “So, sticking to being nude in your own home or secluded spots is a safer option.”
Once, Nitish was out with fellow nudists he’d met on an online community on the outskirts of Bengaluru. “We stripped down and asked a passerby to take a photo of us. He didn’t mind. Such pleasant surprises are nice but rare,” he said. So in 2018, Nitish booked a resort in Bengaluru for himself and six of his nudist friends. “We could convince the resort manager to let us roam around naked freely. It was a little bit of work, but he understood.”
For privacy reasons, Pooja uses just her first name and does not reveal her face in photos she posts on her Instagram and in the groups on Telegram. However, she doesn’t hide her face during in-person meetups. “I initially wore face masks, but now I don’t feel like covering my face in meetups. But I tell everyone that if they ever see me in public, they should not approach me.”
For many, this lifestyle remains a secret from their families. For example, Pooja’s husband doesn’t know about her nudist lifestyle. “We had an arranged marriage, and he comes from a conservative family. So I don’t think he will fully understand what nudism means to me.” During family vacations, Pooja often walks to secluded places closer to nature where she can take her clothes off. “Every inch of my skin can breathe freely feels liberating to me.”
Nitish said that a few of his close friends and family know that he mostly prefers being in the nude. “They might not know what nudism is, but they know that I hate wearing clothes, and that’s enough for me. At one point, my domestic help understood that I was naked most of the day. But she also understood there was no sexual reason or kink behind nakedness. So she went on about her day, and so did I.”
Singh, a nudist for over 20 years, has shared details about his lifestyle with close friends and family. “Over half of my coworkers knew about my nudist lifestyle, too,” said Singh, who is now retired. “I now live with my son, and I’ve told him that this lifestyle is a personal choice and isn’t hurting anyone. He hasn’t fully come around yet, though.”
In 2018, a picture of Singh in a nudist gathering was published in a Thai magazine. Singh didn’t think the image would make its way to the inboxes of his relatives in India. “But my daughter’s in-laws found that picture and sent it to my friends and family. I was humiliated and angry. My life had turned into hell,” he said. Since then, Singh hasn’t attended any nudist gatherings in India out of fear that something terrible might happen.
While we usually associate being nude with something sexual, Pooja remains firm that there is no sexual element involved in the meetups. “This nudism community is about embracing the lifestyle and learning more about yourself. Even in the group, we have rules around how photos shouldn’t focus on genitals, vaginal openings, and erect penises should not be seen. We often encounter perverts who are only interested in looking at naked people, but we have ways of filtering them out too.”
Before every meetup, Pooja sends a text explaining the rules and boundaries of the arrangement. For example, carry your towels and sit on them; physical touch is limited to handshakes; if you have an erection or pre-cum, use your towel to clean it. “I even ask them to leave digital devices like phones and smartwatches in the other room. So when we gather together to talk, it’s just us without devices.”
Photos from the meetup are taken on the organizer’s phone, who later shares them on the group chat. Demonstrations are free of cost and see around 10 to 20 people. On some occasions, they have included both men and women. However, some meetups for women only have a smaller number of attendees. Pooja and Nitish are usually found at rallies in Bengaluru, where the group has rented an apartment to have a safe space. Pooja also helps coordinate meetups in cities like Goa, Bhopal, Coimbatore, Chennai, and Kolkata.
Nudism, as a lifestyle, often gets mixed up with naturism even though their core beliefs are hardly similar. For example, naturists believe in living closer to nature and letting go of artificial objects. “Since I live in a metropolitan city, I can’t be expected to hunt firewood for my meals and wash my clothes in a river. That’s not possible,” said Nitish.
Similarly, loads of people think nudism and exhibitionism are the same things. However, exhibitionists get sexually aroused while having sex or being naked in public, whereas nudists don’t necessarily see it that way. “I think there’s a fine line that separates exhibitionism from nudism. Loads of people want to join our forums thinking we’re a group for exhibitionists, but we’re not.”
For Pooja and Nitish, the nudism journey is not just about being naked. Instead, they’ve cultivated a new love and appreciation for their bodies along the way. “My body changed a lot after I gave birth two years ago,” said Pooja. “I quit nudism for nearly two years during my pregnancy and the year after. After that, I didn’t like my body anymore; it looked very different from before.”
Pooja was then encouraged to come back to nudism by a community member. “They reminded me it was important to love my body and keep checking in with myself. Nudism helped me love my body again.”
Nitish’s nudism helped him realize that people have different body types, which is okay. “In a gym, men are usually over-conscious or secretly insecure. They might constantly be comparing their body to someone next to them even though everyone is at the gym for the same goal: to get healthier. Nudism helped me see the toxic pressures men face from society about body image.”
In several meetups, Singh noticed that some men would feel awkward being naked around other men. “I haven’t seen that often with women, though. It’s possibly easier for them to get naked around each other.” Nitish wants to build judgment-free zones in the community where people can be themselves without feeling the weight of their body image issues and insecurities. “This is a judgment-free zone, and we’re all here to enjoy nudism,” he said. “During meetups, no one checks out the other person or ogles at them. Instead, there is direct eye contact.”
Singh believes there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of nudists in India. “They’re probably scared or ashamed to explore their desires,” he said. “Our mindsets need to change, and we must accept others’ choices to embrace nudism too.”