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Kerala’s Kiss of Love – Protesting without Political Parties

“Police detained the 50 protestors against moral policing, and only some got to lock lips on the way to police vans,” said the DNA Newspaper in its day-after story on the Kiss of Love event that happened in Kochi.

The DNA article on Kiss of Love was titled “Under khakhi shadow, Kiss Day dies in Kochi And Mumbai.”

“No Happy Ending For Kerala’s ‘Kiss of Love’, Police Pick Up 50 Participants,” exclaimed NDTV in its report.

kiss-of-love

While there were many, including the Times of India, which saw it as a major disruption, there is a large section – both within media and in the public – who believe that the police and vigilante action essentially killed protest against moral policing.

Yet, ask any Malayali living in Kerala and he or she will tell you that the protest dented their political cynicism.

NOT JUST A CHANCE TO KISS

The naive onlooker, especially outside Kerala, maynot fully understand what the protesters set out to do.

Kerala has almost never seen raids on shops and establishments from right wing groups, and the audacious attack on ‘Down Town’, a trendy hangout and restaurant for young people in Calicut, came as a shock.

While in most places, including Mumbai and Mangalore — the usual venue of such attacks — people dismiss such events as political gimmicks, in Kerala, the liberals decided to make sure their protest got registered.

But in a notoriously cynical state, how do you make sure media, and people in general, sat up and took notice?

Kerala was one of the few states where the anti-corruption protests failed to take off as expected, despite strong antipathy towards corruption and the overall break-down in the rule of law.

For the Kiss of Love protesters, their reaction to the break down of law and order through acts of what they call “moral policing” had to be registered. Not just the ransacking of ‘Down Town’, but several incidents, usually involving beating up of lovers or suspected lovers, had been reported from the state in the last five years.

So whatever protest had to be done, it should not go unnoticed. For the same reason, the organizers must have rejected the favorite protest tactic of liberals in India — candle-light marches.

After all, when corruption had not made Malayalis come out with candles, would “moral policing” do it? Unlikely.

SEX SELLS

So, what could attract the attention of the media and people in a state where women who wear jeans are ogled at even in the cities?

That is when the example of Turkey, Russia and other places where protestors have used kissing to attract attention was held up as a good example.

Kissing, and other acts of sexual connotations, are especially useful in societies where particular forms of sexuality, for example gay rights, is repressed. It attracts attention like nothing else.

KISS OF LOVE – A SUCCESS?

It is in this context that the event must be evaluated. In a sexually conservative society, the protestors successfully hogged news TV coverage for almost 12 hours.

Thousands of Malayalees, eager to see if people would indeed kiss in public in a society where lovers don’t even dare hold hands, poured into the venue to witness the ‘historic event’.

Conservative organisations, such as the various Hindu and Muslim bodies and the student wing of the Congress Party, were forced to take the threat of ‘cultural disruption’ so seriously that their members were patrolling the Marine Drive venue an hour before the event began.

The police, which did not expect the large turn-out of onlookers or conservative organisations, were at a loss about how to avoid a street fight at Kiss of Love. They took the easy way out, and since it would be difficult to arrest the 5,000 or so onlookers and vigilantes, decided to arrest the 200 or so kissers.

Yet, the event yielded enough photos, including that of a couple engaged in a deep kiss inside the police van, for the Kiss of Love brigade to use as motivational posters.

Net net, the success of the Kiss of Love should not be judged by how many people actually kissed, but how many people were forced to sit up and take notice. It was the first Facebook-based protest in Kerala, and generated several times the media coverage that the Anna Hazare protests did.

It was also perhaps the first time that a political protest was being organized by anyone other than a mainstream political party, and for the first time broke political parties’ monopoly over protests.

While the event is unlikely to change, or even dent, social mores in Kerala, it would be unwise to dismiss it as a just ‘chaos’ or a ‘damp squib’.

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