October 23rd saw a group of activists of the conservative youth wing barge into a cafe, smash windows, overturn chairs and create nuisance, all in the name of opposing immoral activities like couples kissing and holding hands. The said incident occurred in Kozhikode, Kerala, with the agitators claiming that the cafe was facilitating these activities.
These incidences are not new in India. However, the Kozhikode incident was different. This time, the agitators were mostly individuals in their 20s and 30s as opposed to previous groups which constituted members in their 40s and 50s.
Response to this move by the conservatives has been divided across the nation. The incident triggered nation-wide protests from urban students who gathered on the streets to hold the ‘Kiss of Love’ protest where they openly hugged, caressed and kissed each other with the sole motive of challenging the India’s so called ‘moral police.’ Another batch of students from the political spectrum chose to speak against the ‘Kiss of Love’ protest however, citing it to be anti-Indian and more embodied in Western culture. This split in India’s youth can be attributed to the nation’s cultural tensions.
India seems to have moved forward quite a bit since the economic liberalization. However, things like public display of affection like hugging and kissing are still looked down upon. There is even an Indian penal code titled Section 294 which prohibits obscene acts in public places. Kissing is also considered an anti-cultural practice by Hindus, and Muslims, with many conservatives terming the act as being ‘not Indian.’
While many may think that only older generations tend to be conservative, the opposition to the Kiss of Love protests prove that even the younger generation is divided in its stance when it comes to choosing a conservative India as opposed to a more modernized nation that emulates the west.
The most recent Lok Sabha elections prove this point as well. Young Indians throughout the nation contributed to the BJP’s win in the elections. Studies indicate that over 66% of Indian youth favored the conservative and nationalist party BJP, as opposed to a mere 19% who favored the secular Congress.
However, many note that this favoritism towards the BJP was not necessarily because of its conservative Hinduism, but because of its leader Narendra Modi who spearheaded the impressive growth of the western province of Gujarat.
Many individuals also used the Kiss of Love protests as a platform to demand gender equality. However, opposers indicate that these kinds of protests could create open invitations for assaulters, with many reports of online rape threats already doing the rounds.
There is no doubt that despite the economic liberalization as well as the nation’s Americanization, India is very much conservative at heart. This makes one wonder whether public displays of affection are needed in the society, and if they are, then would this be the right time to showcase them?
The ‘Kiss of Love’ protest was staged to challenge the moral police that ransacked a cafe in Kozhikode for practicing immoral activities like hugging and kissing. Although India has moved forward tremendously in the economical as well as societal development, it still considers PDA as taboo. And we think the time has still not come when a couple can share a kiss in public without being stared down or frowned upon by by-standers.