The ‘Kiss of Love’ protest that took place on the 8th of November, 2014 at the Jhandewalan Metro Station, saw about two hundred people affirming their right to celebrate love and the myriad modes of its expression; a reclamation of public spaces from the hawk-eyed gaze of the Right. The protest, which was initially to be held in front of the RSS office, was part of a larger movement sweeping the nation, with events of a similar nature having been held in Kolkata and Mumbai. The Delhi chapter held the protest in solidarity with the first ‘Kiss of Love’ protest at Kochi. The protest organized in Kochi was triggered by an instance of moral policing, where a café was vandalized by members of right wing outfits following a report by a local news channel about the ‘immoral’ activities taking place in its parking lot.
The event page on Facebook was responsible for spreading the word about the protest. The page acquired over 1200 likes in a couple of days, and was besieged with menacing messages that didn’t stop at threatening to disrupt the protest, but went so far as to threaten the lives of the organizers. The protesters assembled at the Jhandewalan Metro Station at 4 PM, where a small band of about fifty members of the Hindu Sena, RSS and ABVP had already gathered, staging a counter protest. The police had barricaded the route that led to Keshav Kunj, where the RSS office is located, so after attempts to form a human chain and get past the police barricade failed, the ‘Kiss of Love’ protesters took an alternative route along the main road. The protesters chanted slogans (‘sanghi gunde hoshiyar, tere samne karenge pyar’) and held placards, marching along Rani Jhansi Road. Much to the excitement of the media, fiery speeches were delivered by the organizers and symbolic kisses were exchanged, transcending boundaries of gender and sexual orientation.
At the forefront of the protest in Delhi were students of JNU, DU, Ambedkar University and Jamia Millia Islamia, with a few students from the second, third and fifth year attending the protest. Aditya Raj from the fifth year deserves special mention, as he was actively involved in making sure that the protest went on without a hitch. The protest was also attended by activists, teachers and lawyers. The media was present in throngs, clambering over protesters with absolutely no regard for personal space, remarking dismissively at the aims sought to be achieved by the protest, and displaying a peculiar, nauseating brand of voyeurism in its eagerness to capture the kisses on camera. Most mainstream media reports failed to capture the spirit of the protests, which can be attributed to its inability to understand its ideological underpinnings (see here and here). The police seemed to side with those who were protesting against the ‘Kiss of Love’, doing little to stop its members from entering into a physical scuffle with the protesters, and cordoning off the route to the RSS office. According to the police, around seventy protesters were detained, and later released. Towards the end of the protest, when protesters began to disperse after the symbolic kisses had been exchanged, members of the RSS and other right-wing outfits, who had, by then gathered in large numbers erupted in a furore, and lunged at the protesters. However, they were restrained by the police.
The protest was a success, with the event page attracting over one lakh Facebook likes by the end of the day. Detractors commented on the paltry number of kisses that were actually exchanged, but failed to appreciate the symbolism enmeshed in the act. Against the backdrop of an ascendant Right, the Kisses were an act of defiance, challenging the self-appointed doyens of a morality that rests on the repression of sexual expression and freedom.
Watch this space for more on the ‘Kiss of Love’ and its symbolism.