India’s ‘Kiss of Love’ Campaign Misses the Mark

Sandip Roy


From and our content partner New America Media



Ed. Note: A campaign in India has highlighted tensions between progressives advocating for the right to public displays of affection and more conservative activists who say such behavior violates India’s traditional values. The “Kiss of Love” campaign started in the southern state of Kerala and has now spread nationwide, with protestors gathering this past weekend in front of the Delhi headquarters of the right-wing organization RSS. NAM contributor Sandip Roy says the “kiss-in” protest fails to draw attention to the real culprit -- moral policing.


Kiss of Love has all the right slogans. My body, my right. The right to love in all its forms. Down with the goondaism of the self-appointed moral police. But it turns full-on PDA into some kind of lodestone of liberation. It takes a serious concern – egregious moral policing — and turns it into a television evening-news-friendly kiss-in.


Let’s get one thing crystal clear. Lip locks should not lead to lock ups. It’s 100 percent not okay to have a cane-wielding policeman come up and give you a few hard thwacks or haul you off to jail under Section 294 for some consensual public pappi-love. Even more outrageous is the idea that cops can preemptively arrest you in case you kiss someone and that hypothetical kiss incites some outraged Morcha activist to come beat you up. That you should get arrested, instead of the goon with the flying fists, is simply mindboggling.


But read my lips. It’s also okay to be uncomfortable about seeing a couple making out next to you. In a bus or the subway station or just in front of your local Café Coffee Day.


The Kiss of Love protests seems to miss that key distinction, and therefore undermine the very cause they espouse.


Some of us are moral policemen. Some of us are just a bit fuddy-duddy. But let’s face it, the great majority of us are not given to PDA – no matter what those statues are up to on the temple walls of Khajuraho or Konarak. Most of us don’t want to see a bunch of people making out like nobody’s business in plain sight. At best, we avert our eyes. Or crankily tut-tut and tell them to get a room or at least find a bush. There’s a reason why even the bastion of lasciviousness, Bollywood maintains a peekaboo relationship with the big buss even in the 21st century.


Despite all the hype, silver screen kisses are few and far between — and mostly tentatively peckish, which should be a pretty tell-tale sign about our kissing prudishness.


So the media counts the lip-locks to measure the success of a protest. Eight, at Jawaharlal Nehru University on Saturday according to the kiss counter for the Times of India. All the attention is on the kiss rather than the travesty of moral policing. (Of course, that a reporter spent his time counting the kisses at a kissing-protest speaks volumes about our comfort level with the act.)


The problem is that the protest ought not to be about kissing at all. The original protest in the state of Kerala was sparked by a string of moral policing incidents. A theater artist and her colleague were detained for traveling together at night. A couple was arrested for suspected “immoral activities” on a bench in Alappuzha, especially suspicious because the woman was not wearing anything to indicate she was married. An IT professional in Kochi was beaten up by drunk men for riding pillion on a male colleague’s motorbike. Yes, Jai Hind TV did telecast a story about alleged immoral activity in the parking lot of a café in Kozhikode and that included hugging and kissing. But the kissing was beside the point. The moral police didn’t need lip locks to swoop down with their goons.



Political parties see these battles over public behavior as occasions ripe for muscle flexing – on both sides of the moral policing fence. While the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha vandalizes the café in Kozhikode, the BJP Yuva Morcha protests outside the Star Theater in Kolkata because its manager refused entry to a young woman in a skirt, accompanied by her father, for a show of Happy New Year, incidentally a film where Deepika Padukone pole-dances. Let’s also note that the Jai Hind channel in Kerala is Congress-owned. As long as moral policing is seen as an effective organizing tool, parties will fuel the fire.


This means it is all the more imperative to effectively resist the repressers. “To me one of the most important measures of the health and happiness of a society is the freedom accorded to people to love freely, and choose their partners freely (of whatever gender and sexual persuasion),” writes Dilip Simeon. Undoubtedly.


It is also true that protest is in part performance. And every protest needs something eye-catching and attention-grabbing. The Pink Chaddi campaign was smart. When the Shri Ram Sena decided to attack women in a Mangalore pub and its head Pramod Muthalik announced that his “activists” would go around with turmeric and mangalsutras to shame courting couples on Valentine's Day, the Pink Chaddi campaign started couriering pink underwear to his office. It was cheeky, funny and made its point without making it seem like a campaign for the right to wear pink chaddis in public.


Protesting moral policing should not become about the act of kissing. Just as the SlutWalk is not about walking down Delhi in a bikini or even hot pants. Women can get cat calls in India or pinched in that shared auto even in a perfectly demure all-Bharatiya salwar kameez as opposed to scandalous do-you-think-it’s-Miami shorts. The moral police have no right to decide what a woman should wear but the right to walk down a street and not be harassed should not be confused with the right to wear shorts.


But choosing a kiss to battle moral policing runs the risk of looking like some self-indulgent Emraan Hashmi reality show. To the casual observer it looks all about the right to kiss anyone anywhere. That very much misses the wood for the trees. Worse as the cameras zoom in on those puckered lips, and reporters spend their time counting the kisses, we do less than lip service to the real issue of moral policing.


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