Three years ago, Marine Drive, Kochi, became the site of the very first non-violent protest on November 2, 2014, to wield their lips as weapons; over 50 youth activists gathered to publicly express their affection. What happened next? Terrorised by the sounds of smacking lips and loud kisses, thousands of outraged activists descended onto the site of protest to physically separate the activists and prevent them from, well, hugging and kissing. It made us question, once again, what it says about the state of our society when the idea of violence is entirely normalised, yet the idea of ‘physical’ love is subjected to so much stigma? And make no mistake about it, the stigma is real. The very nature (and volume) of the opposition to these quiet-natured protests was enough to prove it.
Right-wing activists spanning religious lines and radical Hindu and Muslim groups all united in secular scandal against this ‘untoward’ display of love. The Kerala police drew first lathis, then eventually moved on to pepper spray and canes to disperse the restive crowd, and about 80 campaigners were detained till the evening until the tangibly puckered-up atmosphere had reverted to the more familiar, tight-lipped variety.
The first ‘Kiss of Love’ protest might not even have made it to its final point successfully, but the initial phase of the movement snowballed from then, spreading quickly over the country to several universities around the country to become a movement against moral policing, even as Shiv Sainiks cried ‘love-jihad’. In Kolkata, the Hokkolorob movement’s slogan evolved into ‘Hokchumban’ (let us kiss) and ‘Amar shorir amar mon bondho hok raj sashon’ (It’s my body, my mind, I won’t allow moral policing). In Central Delhi, scores of hugging and lip-locking activists, mainly from Left-leaning student organisations, gathered right outside the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office.
In retaliation, a flurry of slogans of ‘Pyar karo par apni sanskriti ke anusar’ (Love but within the limits of our culture) and ‘Pashchimi sabhyata vaapas jao’ (Western culture, go back) were brandished by a right-wing group identifying themselves as the Hindu Sena, because — as Kafila pointed out – it is common knowledge that the Kamasutra comes from Western culture.
For the first time, a nationwide movement had seen protesters wield an unlikely weapon — love and physical intimacy. United by similar experiences, young Indians related to being on the receiving end of high-handedness and stern judgement that comes with being in love, in public. This was three years ago.
The open-mouthed, unabashed and unapologetic kiss of love donned the cape of the superhero India needs and returned to Kerala in 2017, to stand as a symbol of protest against the Shiv Sena’s moral policing. On a Wednesday evening in March, young men and women sitting at Marine Drive were chased away by activists of the right-wing party for shameful public displays of affection. The same beach was stormed then by protesters the very next day, reclaiming their right to hug and kiss in public spaces without the act being rebuked as ‘anti-Indian’.
In a way, it seems only natural that kissing be our weapon of choice. The researchers who have traced the history of the kiss, have sniffed out its origins and it’s been led ... right back to India. According to Texas A&M University anthropology professor Vaughn Bryant, kissing is not instinctive and in fact, is strictly a learned cultural pattern that’s very recent. As is reported, “Bryant argues that kissing started in India and spread slowly after Alexander the Great conquered the Punjab in 326 B.C. As his generals returned to their homelands, they brought kissing with them. Around 1500 B.C., Vedic Sanskrit scriptures, the foundations of Hindu religion, began to mention people “touching” with their mouths. Bryant also sees the Kama Sutra, a classic text on erotica, as further evidence that kissing began in India due to the large number of references it makes to kissing and kissing techniques.”
About half a century later, the epic Mahabharata, contained references suggesting that affection between people was expressed by lip kissing.
We couldn’t help but pay ode to a local movement that traded in the gunpowder, treason and plot for an arguably more powerful alternative – the power of love.
Despite India’s long-standing yet veiled affair with sex and sexuality, where intertwined fingers and kisses on the cheek are still taboo in public, we’ll keep counting on that power.
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