I might fall in and out of love. I might or might not kiss the person I love. I might do several other things too… It is my life, my body, my call and my conviction. Unless you are my father or mother, you don’t have to be worried about me and the things I do. Or unless we are doing that in your living room or on your lap, you can ask your soaring blood pressure to take a break.”
Twenty-two-year-old Devika Premlal’s outburst on her Facebook wall against the frequent attacks on young couples in Kerala pretty much sums up the idea of the Kiss of Love protest being held today in Kochi. Some call it Kerala’s ‘Pink Chaddi movement’, the liberal Malayali’s answer to the increasing instances of moral policing in the state.
It was the attack on a cafe in Kozhikode on October 23 that sparked this protest. Following a news channel report that the coffee shop was allowing “immoral activities”, the BJP’s youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha allegedly vandalized it. The widespread anger at this attack channeled into a Facebook campaign.
The organizers of Kiss of Love say that they are not just asking for the right to kiss in public places but for greater tolerance towards public displays of affection between two individuals.
They are hoping “to open up spaces in the rigid Kerala society to make it tolerant towards expression of love in public spaces.” They are in fact urging “parents, brothers and sisters, couples, and everybody to come out along with your loved ones and join us and express your love in public places”.
Participants say the response to the campaign, particularly on social media, has been patriarchal and sexist. “Would you let your mother/ sister/wife or daughter attend the event?” is the most common comeback. There are also sexually loaded comments about participants. Clearly, for most of these respondents women are not individuals capable of making decisions for themselves. “Our society is highly patriarchal and still does not accept women as equals which is the crux of the whole issue,” says Vivek P, a research student at Calicut University.
The campaigners say that in recent times there have been instances of married couples being beaten up because the moral police were not convinced of their relationship; even siblings were being heckled for walking together. For all its very impressive markers of progress, Kerala society still remains conservative and there is marked disapproval of public gestures of affection.
“Our society is in transition. Youngsters think differently, and their perceptions might not be conventional. The threats against Kiss of Love indicate that there is a section in society that is reluctant to accept these changes,” says filmmaker Rahul Pashupalan, who is on the organizing committee of the campaign.
Kartika S, a student from Shoranur in Palakkad, says that the buzz surrounding the campaign will ensure that regressive elements will not get away with bullying in the future. In the neighbouring state of Karnataka, random attacks by the right-wing fringe organization, Sri Ram Sene, had carried on for months in 2009.
Political parties in Kerala are refusing to take a clear stand on the issue. CPM MP M B Rajesh and Congress MLA V T Balaram have backed it but the Students Federation of India (SFI) and Kerala Students’ Federation (KSU) are playing it safe. They say they “have no official association with the event”.
While declaring solidarity with the event Rajesh had said: “Just because you don’t agree with a way of protest you cannot stop or attack it.” Balaram had been even more supportive: “Any move to supress a non-violent assembly of people should be considered undemocratic.” But KSU state secretary P Y Shajahan has declared that youngsters would not be allowed to kiss in public as it went against “cultural values”.
The Muslim Students Federation (MSF) state head T P Ashraf Ali has condemned the moral policing but maintains that the Kiss of Love campaign imports a “decadent” western idea. But he agrees that Kerala society needs to be more tolerant of alternate points of view on the subject. “There is a tendency among people to pry into others’ personal lives. Such attempts should be resisted and society should learn to have a more open approach on such issues,” he says.
Kochi police which has been cautious about taking a decision on the Kiss of Love campaign has informed the Kerala high court that it would not give permission for the event. City police chief K G James said that the event could lead to “law and order issues”. Noted poet Anwar Ali says the police should actually be offering protection to the organizers and participants. “Those who are attending the event are assembling peacefully, and are in no way disrupting or creating friction in public life,” he says.