Kiss of Love: Kerala govt's first mistake was siding with moral hooligans

The “Kiss of Love” in Kochi on Sunday was meant to be a protest against the increasing trend of moral policing in Kerala, particularly after the recent attack on a restaurant by a Sangh Parivar organisation (Yuva Morcha). But it turned out to be a remarkable spectacle that exposed the pretensions of progressiveness by the most literate state.

A harmless and symbolic act of kissing and hugging one another by less than 100 people had turned Marine drive in the city into a venue for a lawless free-for-all by the police, hooligans, right wing organisations and thousands of men. In the end, the handful of protesters ended up in a police station with or without kissing and hugging, and the show was taken over by moral goons themselves, even as the police watched from the sidelines.

Representational Image. AFP

Representational Image. AFP

The event will also be recorded in Kerala’s socio-political history as a unique occasion when Hindu and Muslim right wing organisations fought together for the same cause - public morality. The Hindus were represented by Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and the Yuva Morcha and the Muslims, by the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which had been charged by the NIA for anti-national activities. Not surprisingly, in TV channel discussions, leaders of these organisations spoke in the same language and stressed the need to protect the culture and morality of the state. Public hugging and kissing, according to them, were deviant sexual behaviour that befitted only western cultures and attempting them in India was an affront to public morality. They argued that the groups that organised the “Kiss of Love” campaign were disruptive and had a vested interest in creating social anarchy.

The organisers can be gratified that their campaign was a success in spreading the word because besides the state’s media, national and international media also picked up the story. There was enormous buzz in the social media with thousands of people pledging their support to the initiative. Many of them even shared pictures of their kissing their loved ones - friends, children, parents and lovers. There hasn’t been any other event that had evoked so much curiosity and social media response in the state in the recent past.

However, what the media stories might not have completely conveyed is the shocking attitude of the government towards women and its soft approach towards moral goons. Even though the "Kiss of Love" protestors would have violated no law and could have caused no disruption to public life by their expression of love and solidarity, the police chose to arrest them even before they reached the venue. Reportedly, it was a preventive arrest meant to “protect” them from the right wing groups that had threatened retaliation. After arresting the protestors, a group of not more than 50 people, the police allowed the Shiv Sena, Yuva Morcha, Bajrang Dal, SDPI and some other groups to have an absolute free-for-all at the venue creating a land-and-order mess.

What the police should have done was to allow the protesters to peacefully assemble, protect them from the hooligans and intervene only if they violated any law. Instead, they prevented them from reaching the venue and cleared it for the hooligans and thousands of onlookers, mostly men. For hours together, the police was clueless as to how to handle the crowd even as traffic in the city came to a standstill.

The message that went out in the end was that Kerala is still a strongly patriarchal society and women’s role in public spaces is severely challenged. That thousands of men gathered to both attack and watch a few women who wanted to hug and kiss betrayed a deep malaise in society. And by siding with them, the government endorsed their view that the responsibility of public morality lay with women and that they needed to be protected.

It may surprise outsiders that how a state with near-total literacy, impressive socio-economic indicators, the history of a successful social reformation movement and communism can come to such a passe. The state has been witnessing an increasing incidence of violence against women, with some studies in mid-2000s suggesting a 300 percent rise.

Similarly the trend of moral policing is also on the rise. The attack by Yuva Morcha on a restaurant in Kozhikode in northern Kerala, that led to the "Kiss of Love" protest, was the latest in a series of incidents of moral policing. Media reports and amateur videos show vigilantes, including from right wing religious groups, engaging in honour attacks on women and men in different parts of the state. Recently, a local court has sentenced to life a group of men, who had killed a young man for his alleged relationship with a women in their locality.

The “Kiss of Love” was a great occasion for the government to show the state as well as the rest of India that it will not tolerate moral policing. Instead, it allowed the moral goons to hijack the venue and have a field day. The religious right wing groups and their patriarchs can rejoice.

Updated Date: Nov 03, 2014 15:36 PM

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