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When A Kiss Of Love Could Become A Kiss Of Death

Krishanthan Jeyarajasingham, MD

Ahhh…love. What a beautiful feeling! Who would not want to love someone & be loved, whatever the gender identity and/or sexuality? It all sounds so obvious.  When something as innocent yet intimate as a kiss becomes politicized, it loses all purity. The “Kiss of Love” campaign in India has all the right phrases ascribed it such as: “my body, my right” or “the right to love in all its forms” or even “down with the goondaism of the self-appointed moral police.” It transforms an unbridled public display of affection into some type of lodestone of liberation. It takes a serious concern – egregious moral policing —and turns it into an amicable friendly kiss-a-thon.

Let us make one thing crystal clear: lip locks should not mean lock-ups. It is beyond ridiculous to have a cane-wielding policeman approach an a couple & administer a few hard thwacks or haul both off to jail under Section 294 for some consensual public display of affection. What is even more bizarre is the idea that cops can preemptively arrest you in case you kiss someone and that hypothetical kiss incites some outraged activist to physically assault you.  

But, please read my lips: it is also okay to be uncomfortable about seeing a couple making out next to you, whether in a bus or the subway station or just in front of you while you attempt to enjoy some chai with a samosa on the side. 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 while some of us are just plain traditional. Quite frankly, the great majority of us are not inclined to these displays of affection – no matter what those statues are up to on the temple walls of Konarak or Bengal. Most of us would prefer not to witness a bunch of people making out like nobody’s business in plain sight. At best, we avert our eyes or crankily tell them to go elsewhere. There’s a reason why even the bastion of lasciviousness, Bollywood, maintains a subtle, peekaboo relationship with such matters even in the 21st century. Despite all the hype, silver screen kisses are few and far between — and mostly are tentatively innocent, which should be a fairly evident sign about our kissing prudishness.

The media counts the lip-locks to measure the success of a protest. Eight, at Jawaharlal Nehru University a couple of weeks prior according the Times of India. All the attention is on the kiss rather than the travesty of moral policing. 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. Another incident involved a couple who was arrested for suspected “immoral activities” on a bench in Alappuzha, considered especially “suspicious” because the woman was not wearing anything to indicate she was married. An IT professional in Kochi was assaulted by some inebriated persons for riding pillion on a male colleague’s motorcycle. The television network, Jai Hind TV did a story about alleged immoral activity in the parking lot of a café in Kozhikode that included intimate affection. But the kissing was beside the point that the moral police did not need kisses to swoop down from above.

Political parties have noted these battles over public behavior as occasions ripe for politicking – on both sides of the moral policing fence. While the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vandalizes the café in Kozhikode, they protest outside the Star Theater in Kolkata because its manager refused entry to a young woman in a skirt, accompanied by her father, for a screening of the movie Happy New Year, incidentally a film where Deepika Padukone seductively pole dances. Let us also note that the Jai Hind network 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. Furthermore, it is true that protest is part of the performance & every protest needs something eye-catching and attention-grabbing.  Case in point: The Pink Chaddi (underwear) campaign was very clever. When the Sri Ram Sena decided to attack unprovoked women in a Mangalore pub back in 2009, its chief, Pramod Muthalik, announced that his “activists” would go around with turmeric and mangalasutras to shame courting couples on Valentine's Day. The Pink Chaddi campaign started couriering pink underwear to his office. It was humorously tounge in cheek while solidifying 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 walk” is not about walking down Delhi in a bikini or even hot pants. Women can get catcalls in India or pinched in that shared auto even in a perfectly demure salwar kameez (a traditional female Indian attire) as opposed to scandalous short shorts. The moral police have no right to decide what a woman should and should not wear but only the right to safely walk down the street unhindered. But choosing a kiss to battle moral policing runs the risk of looking like some self-indulgent reality show such as “Keeping up with the Kardashians”. To the casual observer it looks all about the right to kiss anyone, anywhere-it is not.  Even 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.

(Krishanthan Jeyarajasingham, MD is a researcher in Nuclear Medicine affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD. He is planning to pursue medical residency afterwards. )

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