A protest that began in the southern Indian city of Kerala has spread across the nation. The movement, dubbed the “Kiss of Love,” started as a Facebook page in opposition to India’s recent attacks on public displays of affection by morality police, and has spread rapidly across the country via social media.
It began when members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth group converged on a café in Kerala, ransacking it for moral obscenity, according to the BBC. The café had been the site of an online video depicting couples kissing. A rise in confrontations with conservative vigilantes of political and religious leanings has caused mounting tension in the nation recently, but the vandalized café seemed to be the crux.
In response to the incident at the café, the Facebook page was created and immediately organized a kissing protest on Marine Drive in the City of Kochi on Nov. 2. That Sunday, few protesters got to the event. Police stopped participants in the streets and local news station NDTV reports that some 50 protesters were temporarily detained. Many of the activists carried signs and chanted slogans aimed directly at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his conservative party. Hundreds, mainly onlookers, clogged the streets.
Despite the protest’s limited success, Kiss of Love caught on through social media and spread across India. More protests have taken place in Kolkata, Hyderabad and Mumbai. In New Delhi, kissing activists blocked streets and outnumbered a small group of conservative opponents. Pankhuri Zaheer, one of the movement’s organizers, says that the protests are about much more than the morality policing. The movement is about inter-caste and inter-religious marriages and live-in relationships, says Zaheer.
Indians seem dramatically split on the issue. While the Facebook page continues to gain support and more kissers promise to join the next protest in December, many conservatives denounce the public displays of affection as a perversion of Indian culture. An article by Chandrahas Choudhury in The Age, calls the Kiss of Love a force of anarchy, disrespect and AIDS, which Choudhury calls an “unmistakable portent” of “provocative public kissing.”Choudhury goes on to say that kissing has no sanction or precedent in Indian culture, claiming that the Kama Sutra and the erotic sculptures of Konark and Khajuraho are merely parts of a subculture of debauchery and extreme libertinism, and not representations of the nation’s true history and culture.
The Facebook page shows, among the many kissing couples, mothers and sons and fathers and daughters planting pecks on cheeks, as if to impress upon onlookers that the movement is not meant to be pornographic in nature. Last week in Kolkata, nearly 100 college students marched, carrying signs insisting that love is a democratic right, reports Reuters. One post on the Kiss of Love page with lip-locked cartoon silhouettes of same-sex and heterosexual couples shouts “Love Knows No Gender!”
It is unclear how many people will participate in the next protest, scheduled for Dec. 7, but the Kiss of Love continues to spread through India on social media platforms and is gaining momentum, as well as opposition. According to the BBC, Prime Minister Modi has yet to comment on the movement, though a Vishwa Hindu Parishad spokesman affiliated with Modi’s party says that such displays of public affection are not permissible in Indian culture.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa