Kiss and tell: India’s #KissofLove protests spotlight shifting culture
What first started as a non-violent protest has now become a movement
As the #kissoflove campaign continues to trend across Indian social media, the pro-public-kissing demonstrations have transfixed Indian social commentators and media in a debate about whether public displays of affection challenge the values of Indian culture or not.
What first started as a non-violent protest, organised through a Facebook page, in response to the ransacking of a South Indian cafe by a mob of right wing nationalists angered by local media reports of public displays of affection, has now become a movement.
With protests already planned for next month, they have also already taken place across the country in cities such as Kolkata, Hyderabad Mumbai and New Delhi. But whether #kissoflove can inspire a revolutionary cultural shift is being disputed.
According to Binoy Kampmark, in a recent comment piece for Counter Punch: “A 100 university students marching in Kolkata can hardly be deemed to be a revolutionary, wall-tearing throng. And having 110,000 likes on a Facebook “Kiss of Love” community page is hardly indicative of anything more than enthusiastic clicking. The jury is very much out on the effect of the movement, even as it throbs with calculated affection.”
Recently, conservative political commentator Swapan Dasgupta told the BBC that “India has moved considerably in terms of its social attitudes over the past 20 to 25 years, particularly since economic liberalization took place, and while public displays of affection are far more pronounced today than they were some time ago...the mores which operate, say, in Amsterdam or perhaps in parts of central London might not strictly be applicable in India.”
However, this week, as student activists across India continue to chant “right to love is our democratic right”, a creative satirical YouTube video named “Kis ka Problem hai” (meaning “Who’s problem is it?”) went viral overnight with 102,084 views in one day. It attempts to expose the hypocrisy of being offended by public displays of affection in contrast to other social problems such as child labour and eve-teasing. The protest is moving beyond the street and into the domain of creative productions such as memes and short videos.
The public clashes and tension have largely been between the group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS - the Hindu nationalist organization) and with various student groups. The urban young have been particularly active; the All India Students’ Association (AISA), the All India Students’ Federation (AISF) and the Students Federation of India (SFI) are key activists.
Since newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power this year, there’s been a growing fear that right wing cultural policies may see a resurgence. According to Tanya Basu from the Atlantic: “these protests are not new, but what was” striking about the vandalism in late October was that the nationalists who ransacked the place were young, in the same age group as the patrons they were taunting for their PDA.”
As Narendra Modi’s ruling party continues to protect Indian values reminiscent of India’s past, some political commentators have labelled the right wing party’s version of history as a “mythical past” because Indian history and culture have been replete with erotic and sexual imagery, whether it be the famous Khajuraho Group of Monuments in Madhya Pradesh or the Kama Sutra text, which celebrates lovemaking in graphic detail.
Whilst the focus of the protest aims to challenge the actions of the morality-enforcing activists as an affront to freedom of expression, Pankhuri Zaheer, one of the movement’s organizers, has widely been reported as saying 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.” The politics of public kissing in India may be emblematic of a wider debate about what constitutes Indian values but in itself highlights the diversity of Indian culture.”