Love in the time of moral policing

Image Credits: Chinta Bar

"To return to love, to get the love we always wanted but never had, to have the love we want but are not prepared to give, we seek romantic relationships. We believe these relationships, more than any other, will rescue and redeem us. True love does have the power to redeem but only if we are ready for redemption. Love saves us only if we want to be saved.” ― Bell Hooks, All About Love: New Visions

Perhaps, “Celebration of Love” conducted by ChintaBAR at IIT- ­Madras (IIT-M) had its inspiration from the Kiss of Love protests happening across the country. But, by conducting it in IIT-M, we had two main motives a) to raise our voice against moral policing and b)­ to initiate a discourse on love, relationship, sex and sexuality among the students. Though a few students came with opposition against the “method of protest” - hugging and kissing - majority of the students participated in solidarity.

The event received huge media coverage since it was the first of its kind in Tamil Nadu. The news was carried with a photo of mine, which captured me kissing my co-­organizer, who also happens to be my elder brother. What I witnessed later was a furious outrage from the society for kissing a member of opposite gender, conducting a protest against moral policing through this method, organizing such an event instead of studying, and polluting the "culture".

Why is our society irked when they see two people who are comfortable in each other’s presence expressing their affection? What makes them think that it is offensive and obscene and will mislead their children? The outrage at our photo reaffirmed the mentality of our society at large to label all relationships or their affection as lustful. For many, I was a lascivious prostitute throwing myself at a poor guy. For some who were over-concerned about my life and future, suggested that I should get married to the man I kissed, since no one else would now be ready to marry me. For the ones, who realized that we are siblings, blamed our parents for not raising us up properly. With their comments, it was not even surprising to learn that not in their distant dreams could they imagine a loving, friendly, respectful relationship between two siblings. The narrow minded society could not comprehend that a brother could let her sister be involved in a protest for love or bear his sister hugging or kissing another male/female friend of hers.

These point towards the misconstrued notions that we have around love and affection, and the violence in private space. To believe that love, if at all it exists, can be expressed strictly in personal spaces, in fact, is Victorian morality.This secrecy around love is cemented by confining it to the physical boundaries of bed room. In addition to this, protecting the 'purity' of female body by screening them off from the touch of other male bodies including father/brother, illustrates how every male-­female relationship is seen as sexual relationship. The consequences of this gender segregation end up in viewing the 'other' body as alien. The silences and taboos around love, sex, relationships and sexuality also contribute to alienation between sexes in the society.

Not so surprisingly, the outrage of the mob against me mirrors the threat faced by structures of patriarchal masculinity when a woman exercises her agency. The woman who hugs and kisses a man in public is none but a whore for the threatened. Slut-shaming the woman is an indirect warning to other women who will break from the chained private spheres. And, to rip me off my dignity by over-emphasising my sexual aggression seem to their only weapon towards inflicting their morality upon me.

One of the major argument raised against the event in and out of the campus was how children would be misled if someone expresses their affection in public. To those, I have some questions- What makes you think that a kiss of love would immediately turn your child into an immoral sex - craving monster? What makes you think that children are not affected by your fights at the domestic space, violence in terms of punishment at schools and homes, explicit sexual content and violence in various media of entertainment? In my opinion, to be brought up in an atmosphere of love, would give an atmosphere for children to learn to love and keep away hatred. Children can be taught about healthy relationships, safe sex, the need to respect the 'other' body only if there is freedom to interact with all genders.

The aversion to the Kiss of Love protests on the basis that it's polluting the so called divinity of kiss is yet another flawed argument. Kiss of Love puts forward a definite politics that underlines the agency to express their love with mutual consent and that no third person can poke their nose in the business of two consenting adults. Kiss becomes a symbol of resistance against the conservative moral police who are inflicting violence in the name of culture. Little do they try to understand the dynamics and diversity of the well glorified “Indian Culture” and is unaware that they are propagating Victorian morality in the name of Indian culture. The argument of Indian culture hence points towards the issues I had raised in the beginning - the threat of women asserting their sexuality as equivalent to emasculation of patriarchal male. It urges them to silence these voices of women to degrade them by character assassination.

At IIT-M, we celebrated love and passed the message of love, and two days later Hindu Munnani protested against it by spitting on the photos of the people who participated in the event. The ripples caused by our celebration in the society is only exposing the moral police we are fighting against. Celebrations of these along with the momentous Kiss of Love event at Kochi would awaken the remaining souls who will unite in more kisses and hugs against the rampant moral policing across the country. The brighter vision is that, there will be a tomorrow when no one scorns at couples or a group of friends or family members for being in love.