The #KissofLove protest against moral policing, initiated in Kerala, has gone viral, with protests being organised by common students and citizens across the country. While the numbers of participants continues to swell, the RSS and ABVP continue to condemn and even threaten it, branding it as an affront to ‘Indian culture’. Ironically, in Kerala, the Congress’ youth wing as well as some Muslim outfits also turned up alongside the ABVP to protest.
Why #Kissof Love?
Some well-meaning friends ask, isn’t it frivolous to be defending the right to kiss or embrace in public? After all, aren’t there more important causes?
In answer, let us ask, why does the Sangh Parivar get its (khaki) knickers in a knot over the simple, silly kiss?
Well, because the RSS knows full well this isn’t just about the kiss. The kiss, like jeans, are a symbol of the freedom to love – breaking the rules set by the custodians of caste, community, and gender. And by that token, the kiss is also a potent threat to casteism, communalism, homophobia and patriarchy.
#KissofLove is going viral because it defies moral policing, and all sorts of attacks on democratic rights, and it celebrates the right – not just of individuals to kiss, but of communities to defy hate and embrace each other, of women and all people to freely decide who to love and marry, and of all citizens to resist ‘fatwas’ of the kind issued by the Taliban, khaps or RSS alike…
Let us remember that the Taliban found it obscene/immoral for Malala to go to school. The khaps find it obscene for girls to have mobile phones. The ABVP finds love itself obscene, and therefore protests against Valentine’s Day…. If we allow fundamentalist outfits to decide our ‘morality’, they will clap women in chains.
But Why Kiss in Public?
There are some who say, what’s the need to kiss in public? Why not limit intimacy to private homes?
Well, to begin with, it isn’t just ‘westernised youngsters’ who show intimacy in public. Subramanya Bharati, the great freedom fighter and Tamil poet, used to hold hands with his wife on the streets. In the late 19th and early 20th century in a Tamilnadu village, this was considered scandalous and obscene. But Bharatiyar believed there was nothing shameful about showing love and affection openly.
Moreover, rich people might have the luxury of private spaces in which to enjoy intimacy. For the poor and middle class (married and unmarried both!), in fact, it is only the parks and the movie halls or street benches that offer some spaces to meet and show affection without prying eyes. Ironically, they can find ‘privacy’ only in public, anonymous spaces – not in the tiny, cramped places they call home.
If we feel embarrassed by couples in public, we can always turn our eyes away! Remember how Hindi, Tamil and other movies used to show us couples dancing in parks, and then switch to images of flowers touching, to convey the kiss? Clearly those movies told us clearly that the lovers were kissing in the park – but that we, the viewers, and the camera, have politely turned our gaze away to the flowers. Will the ABVP leaders swear that they will never watch a movie in which thus tell stories in which couples kiss in parks?! Will they seek a ban on such movies?! Will they ban the Amar Chitra Katha story that depicted Subramania Bharati holding Chellamma’s hand lovingly in the public street?
We should indeed be concerned about protecting privacy. But the same groups like ABVP, that threaten violence against couples showing each other affection, have no problem with interfering in the private choice of a Hindu woman to marry a Muslim or Christian man! They have no problem with a Chief Minister who orders illegal snooping on a woman’s private phone conversations – in fact they defend it claiming her father asked for it! The ABVP also has no respect for a woman’s private choice to wear jeans – they claim the right to interfere.
We need to learn – and teach – the public culture of respecting the privacy of couples even on streets and parks. Couples kissing each other isn’t anyone’s business. Children, too, aren’t corrupted by seeing adults kiss. They are corrupted by watching dads beat up mothers, by silently suffering sex abuse, by a culture that teaches them that women should be controlled by men.
Who is ‘Western’? Who Follows in Macaulay’s Footsteps?
Ironically, the obscenity law (Section 292) in India is a product of the British colonial period, where the rulers were guided by Victorian morality. The Victorian ‘morality’ in Britain was ridiculous enough to cover table legs with cloth so as not to remind people of women’s legs, and they shackled women in corsets. But the same Victorian period was notorious for the proliferation of sex trafficking of women and children.
The ABVP says it is against the colonial legacy of Macaulay. For them, rejecting Macaulay means replacing scientific, rational education with Batra-type nonsense that confuses mythology with medical/surgical knowledge! But ABVP won’t reject the outdated and anti-democratic laws drafted by the same Macaulay – including Section 292, 377, as well as Sedition Act and AFSPA, to name just a few. Modi’s Government speaks of getting rid of outdated laws – but instead of touching the above laws, it only targets labour and environment-protection laws!
Historian Charu Gupta, in an article, tells us how the British translators of the Rg Veda and Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda left out certain portions that they found obscene!
An article in The Hindu quoted renowned cultural critic Sadanand Menon “Go to any Vaishnavite temple in India, and you will find the 12th century poet Jayadev’s work Gita Govind being recited during morning prayers. The Sanskrit verse has several lines in which Radha urges Lord Krishna to make love to her … While religious minded men and women seem to have no problem chanting these lines, they seem to get offended when a couple kiss in a park.”
Charu Gupta tells us how a British Orientalist folklorist was shocked at the marriage songs of northern India that celebrated the blouse (worn with the sari): “The Indian woman’s bodice is in reality no covering at all. It rudely shelters the breasts and leaves the stomach exposed. But chiefly on account of its indecency it has been the subject of many praises in the compositions of authors and poets, who only think of love in its meanest form.”
The entire body of Sanskrit love poetry, Kalidasa’s works, shringar rasa poetry – will the ABVP ban this from syllabi and from our reading pleasure because they describe love?
Of course, Gupta recounts how the Hindu/Hindu nationalism of the 19th century had Hindi writers and critics castigating shringar rasa poetry as a fallen and obscene form because it described women seeking love and sex; and instead promoted images of chaste, subordinated wives as ‘ideal’ Indian women. These attitudes were influenced by, and in turn influenced, Victorian morality.
The point is, that there is no universal ‘Indian culture’ that has always condemned public display of affection and sexuality. These attitudes have been shaped by the politics of different periods. In the 21st century India, should we promote a morality that allows some groups to terrorise people for the clothes they wear, the people they choose to love or marry, or the fact that they might show affection to each other in public? Or should we promote a constitutional morality – that protect the rights and privacy of individual citizens from mob sentiment and mob rule?
“Does Indian culture allow kissing in public”, is a question often thrown at the Kiss of Love protesters. The answer, actually, is Yes.
Seen the temple friezes at Khajuraho and Konarak?
Have you read the poems of 12th century Kannada devotional poet Akka Mahadevi? She used to wander totally naked, and she wrote:
“Not one, not two, not three or four
but through eighty-four hundred thousand vaginas
have I come.
I have come through unlikely worlds,
guzzled on pleasure and on pain.
Whatever be, all previous lives,
Show me mercy, this one day,
O Lord white as jasmine.”
Akka Mahadevi wrote challenging notions of ‘modesty’:
male and female,
blush when a cloth covering their shame
When the lord of lives
lives drowned without a face
in the world, how can you be modest?
When all the world is the eye of the lord,
onlooking everywhere, what can you
cover and conceal?”
Similarly, the poet-saint Lal Ded/Lalleshwari of Kashmir also wandered naked, and is revered by Hindus and Sufis alike.
Will the ABVP brand Akka Mahadevi and Lal Ded as obscene?
The worst part is that the ABVP and RSS goons actually indulged in sexual harassment towards the protesters at the Kiss of Love event. They taunted them, demanding kisses and sex and branding the women as sluts. They asked male protesters to ‘send your sisters to kiss us’. They don’t get it, do they? Women who kiss a person of their choice, are not ‘public property’ to kiss ABVP/RSS men on demand! And ‘sisters’ are not the property of brothers, to be ‘handed over’ to ABVP/RSS men. Sisters, women, will decide if and when and who they will kiss – and THAT is something ABVP/RSS should learn to respect if they claim to respect women.
Let us resist the fundamentalists and moral policing diktats of all communities! Let us recognise and respect that ‘Indian culture’ is a very diverse set of practises and traditions, and that change, too is an integral part of every culture. The debate is not about ‘Western vs Indian culture’ – as we have seen, it is the moral policing brigades that are truly loyal to Macaulay’s worst laws. Let us create and defend an India where the values enshrined in India’s Constitution: of the rights of individuals to live and love as they please without the interference of any mob sentiment or diktats – can be celebrated and respected.