The first thing that came to my mind when I decided that I would write a piece on the Kiss of Love protests for this new blog was how many possible misinterpretations there would be of what I want to say. I am in favour of the act of public kissing per se being used as a protest form against imposing restrictions on public physical intimacy, be it by the state police or the self-appointed police folks of the society. However, the articles and facebook updates I’ve come across (such as the ones on the Delhi Kiss of Love event page) and the speeches I listened to (such as the one by Nivedita Menon) of the pro-Kissoflove camp are either presenting the notion of Kiss of Love in a way that I’m not fully in agreement with, or are silent about such presentations. So it may be easy to interpret my opinions as a dismissal of Kiss of Love, but I want to stress that that is not what I want to do. Rather I’d like to add to the existing discourse around #KOL, while supporting its agenda of freedom of consensual intimacy. And here I will focus on only parts of the discourse around Kiss of Love, leaving out the counters to the Sanghi opposition of #KOL, because many others have already called out the Sanghis elaborately on their patriarchal, misogynist, rape-sanctioning, violent, casteist, religious fundamentalist standpoints and acts.
Also, I would like to add that pointing out the limitations of a discourse around a broadly progressive movement is not necessarily a bad thing, or something automatically ‘anti-movement’, as many would like to assume. In order to fight a repressive, freedom-curtailing machinery, shutting down all introspective criticism is not always a very positive move, and one that misses the distinction between critical support and opposition. Frenzied support where other aspects get brushed under the carpet is not a good approach to take. Rather, one should broaden one’s view of what the purposes of a movement are. One of them, I’d argue, is to broaden the discourse in order to account for the various sorts of oppressions that are usually not acknowledged, so that we could devise ways to resist those oppressions. Another political goal, I’d say, should be to move in a direction in which a better understanding of the reality does not come in conflict with your other political goals – in other words, you don’t have to cook up, invisibilize or distort facts to suit your political agenda, your political agenda is not in conflict with the reality. Both of these goals can get compromised by shushing all criticism.
The Kiss of Love movement began in response to moral policing by the Sanghis, but not all Kiss of Love supporters saw it as a counter specifically to the Sanghis, given the prevalence of such moral policing mindset among the non-Sanghis as well. But some did and took it as a weapon with which to counter the Sanghi brigade. However, they framed their discourse as a counter to what the Sanghi camp was saying and doing, such as public kissing wasn’t part of Indian culture and blah blah, and celebrated #KOL as an expression of “love”. While it produced some much-needed counters to the Sanghi propaganda, it is this framing of the whole #KOL issue – ‘love’ vs. Sanghis – that is problematic. The movement celebrated being in “love” without having a critique of what “love” often is in today’s society, in effect, celebrating “love” as it exists. The perception and representation of this particular move against Sanghi repression as purely an expression of ‘love’ is problematic. Without an attempt to understand “love” as it exists, many important aspects of our social interactions get missed and many possible applications of the protest form of public hugging and kissing remain unexplored.
To elaborate, among the #KOL supporters, there were people with diverse notions of love. There were those who are ‘disgusted’ with those who have not read Jibanananda or Sylvia Plath, there were those who would not fall in love with one who does not speak ‘good English’, who isn’t ‘fair and lovely’ or ‘tall, dark and handsome’, or ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ (in other words, those who don’t fit the gender profiles), or who is not in a ‘respectable profession’, or who does not earn much, or who is willing to sexually engage with people other than their ‘lover’. In other words, there were people supporting #KOL who are perfectly in agreement with the economic, cultural and other social arrangements that produce and reproduce certain hegemonic relations of class, gender etc. Calling this whole batch of notions ‘love’ and celebrating this is problematic. So what we claim here is the right to kiss without being harassed, the right to be physically intimate in public without being harassed. If the term ‘love’ is defined as it exists in practice, then a classist/racist/casteist/lookist/gender profiling love gets a free pass in this rhetoric, as something to be championed. If the term ‘love’ is defined in an ideal sense, to be against classism et al, then without talking about class, culture and other social repressions, this movement cannot claim to be about that ‘love’. It was heartening to see support for inter-religious, inter-caste relationships and homosexuality to be widespread among the #KOL protesters, but there was little discussion on matters of class, cultural hegemony etc. in the whole discourse around #KOL that I’ve come across.
We need to challenge the exclusivity of love. So while we’re talking about ‘love’ and the restrictions on ‘love’, we HAVE to get into what is passing as ‘love’. And we have to celebrate and promote not just the defiance of religious diktats, but the defiance of class diktats, cultural diktats, status diktats, sexuality diktats as well. We need to talk about the particularities that are missed or legitimized every day, by the structures as well as the individuals.