“ Kiss of love “ is a movement against moral policing of the state and religious fanatics. It is a non violent protest which started off in Kerala after various incidents of moral policing which includes vandalism, unlawful arrest and attack on common people. The protest garnered momentum when students of Jadavpur University organized a similar initiative in front of Jadavpur Police Station at Kolkata. Soon Delhi University and students from other parts joined in and by now “Kiss of love” has become a well-known campaign. While the protest received several threats from religious and political groups like Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, SDPI, Vishva Hindu Parishad, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Sena , several left wing political identities have opposed it. Though the legalities of “Kiss of love” movement was never in question as Supreme Court has long declared that Kissing in public is not an obscene act and no criminal proceedings can be initiated against it still many people couldn’t connect to it for various reason ranging from cultural downgradation to decency to even the essentiality of the movement.
I had the privilege to talk to Dr Rinita Mazumdar, (Assistant Prof. Philosophy & Culture Studies,Central New Mexico Community College and Affiliate Prof. Women Studies at University of New Mexico) about the inherent politics of the movement and the immediate questions which are rampant regarding the very existence of the movement.
Shuvojit: What was your first reaction when you saw the “Kiss of Love” movement?
Rinita: I was very glad that at last some reaction to the systemic hegemony and patriarchy is happening, even if the setting is only urban and confined more or less to the middle to upper classes.
Shuvojit: Before going into details do you think kissing in public is an indecent gesture?
Rinita: I would answer the question by asking for the intent of this public display of action en masse. What is the intent of doing this? If the participants and/or the organizers havea political intent, that is, the intention is to (a) create social changes (b) bring in democracy (c) resist State repression on human bodies, then I would think it is not only NOT indecent, but actually a moral obligation to break stereotypes and question hegemony and state power. If it is just an individualized romantic gesture, then I would not give it much importance, but would resist the State prohibition. So, in those cases I would not think of it as indecent; the only place where I would consider it “indecent” is where it is flaunted to gain attention or “look I am better than you” or there is force on one partner to another. I would draw an analogy here; nudity. Do I support it or not? I would support it if it is a political movement, for example, the survivors of rape by the Indian military in Manipur used mass nudity to show resistance; whereas if it is for flaunting individual rights or show off, or for the purpose of raising a consumer commodity, then I would be not support it.
Shuvojit: There had been widespread resistance in India against “Kiss of Love”. The resistance not only came from the state and religious fanatics but also various other sections who couldn’t connect with the Kiss of Love movement. One of the most important aspect being is this kind of movement even needed in India where poverty, struggle for food, gender rights should be in the priority list?
Rinita: About this I can write pages but I will not as I do not have time and the space is limited. I think this is the typical “vulgar Marxist” line. There are various ways hegemony can be resisted, and just because one is resisting in one way does not exclude them from resisting it in other ways. But most of all, those who form the third type of people who are saying that it is “trivial” forget that one of the ways feudal patriarchy broke was when a lot of people were catapulted into the wage labor system, land and labor became commodities (with Speelhamland Law in England), and when the idea of sexuality as right for the individuals also came into existence. The problem is, most people still think of sexuality as the sex act. But “sexuality” is an entire network of power systems that encompasses the market, the State and so on. If people are asserting their individualism or autonomy, of which a central one is to choose their identities and life styles, then development in the sense of social inclusion is inevitable.
Let me explain this a little bit more. Taking a cue from Amartya Sen, I would define “development” as the opening up of choices for people. In order for a person to choose his or her own identity, whether one wishes to be an industrial worker or a peasant who tills the land, one has to first have access to the basic minimum in society, which in political philosophy are also called “positive rights”, the right to be free of hunger, or food security, the right to be free of homelessness, or having a shelter and so on. A flourishing polis is one where the community (maybe in some cases the State) ought to guarantee these for everyone. Taking this slightly further, a truly democratic State guarantees that everyone can participate in the polis to discuss and exchange ideas and choose their identities; but in order to do so, the minimum freedoms like freedom from hunger or homeless must be a right. I think in some Scandanevian nations these are guaranteed as human rights (right to food, right to housing, right to health care).
Now, back to our question, how is this related to the movement called kiss of love. The participants in this movement are part of a larger revolution because they are aspiring to break the older system and move onto a new means of human relationships, which says that the State has to stop its dictate at some point on human behavior (provided it is not harming society at large, something that John Stuart Mill talks about in his “On Liberty”). This is the political side of the protest. There is a socio-cultural side, a positive side to this movement, it is a movement for community building. Let us remember that without first building communities, no system, feudalism or capitalism can work, something that Adam Smith could not comprehend via his sole individual the “homo economicus”. Further, this public display of affection as a movement will break some of the older feudal structures where women will assert that even they have the right to choose and if so, then the traditional system of transferring women with land, dowry, and so on will face severe crisis, in other words, both the landed feudal class as well as the peasant class will think of moving into a different economic system for dowry is no longer needed. A woman can be part of the wage labor and then choose her partner, the wealth associated with marrying of girls could be better used elsewhere, the “dead capital” can be used to make movable capital and the “unproductive labor” of the housewife can be converted into productive labor, which will probably generate more wealth. Remember those who are opposing it are not against sex per se, they are against everyone’s access to pleasure and sexuality which kiss of love can break.
Shuvojit: Can you elaborate on the statement you recently made in a social networking website : “Kiss of love is a resistant political movement”?
Rinita : The above answer is partly an answer to this question too. Certainly, think of this. Human sexuality was always organized. Like land or other resources for human survival, human sexuality was never outside of culture, it was never “raw” it was “cooked’ and one of the fundamental ways in which it was “cooked” was to channel it via marriage., the linchpin of private property. Now to maintain this organized system, that is to create this “market” many taboos were created and sustained, like taboo on incest, taboo on marrying in the same tribe and so forth. The purpose of marriage in traditional societies is to create alliance between families were women were transacted, that was needed because the market had not developed so kinship structure sort of took the place of the modern market, transaction of land, women, goods and so forth. This organized society and people had to abide by the law of the head tribal patriarch, however unjust it is. With industrial revolution the need for marriage and larger families have declined as the market is satisfying much of our needs, and yet the contradiction is that both society as well as culture is adhering to the older patriarchical organization, and decision is still coming top down. Kiss of love, even if it is small questioned this system of hierarchy, of patriarchy where organizations have the ultimate power and all decisions are coming top down, it shows the people can make their own decisions and assert their free will. It also demystifies that marriage has a religious aura and the rules are absolute commandments. They are human rules which were made for a time and period of history, with the changes in history humans can break these rules, create their values, and move onto the next level of human development. Some day in the future we shall even see artificial reproduction, how are we going to adapt our social relationships to them? We have to realise that the older familial structures broke and we adopted to the nuclear families in the 20th century, we also have to adapt, kiss of love demystified the taboos and totems, showed the everything is about, and people can create new values. When a system is oppressive, human beings can throw it and dream of a better system. In the feudal times all human relationships were conceived in terms of Divine Commands, the French Revolution was the first to break it, nonetheless, the secular State could not totally demystify human relationships and hence power remained an integral part of human interactions. To realize that all human relationships are ultimately social and not “natural” one needs movements, and kiss of love is a movement to show that human relationships are created by human beings and can be changed by them via social movements and collective will.
Shuvojit: People are stamping this movement as elitist and glamorous. Their questions is how many people from a village or lower class can connect to this movement. Your views
Rinita: This is true of ALL movement, but they chose this one! Yes, it ought to spread to most where the feudal system is most prevalent, and where people have less say over the organizational power; it has to spread and I am certain slowly it will. In the USA feminism started as a white middle class movement and then gradually spread to women of color feminism, and saw how powerful it is. When white middle class women talked about “reproductive choices” against the State, women of color pointed out how eugenics and the State were always part of their reproduction. This movement can actually get class boundaries diffused, upper class women kissing and hugging lower class men/women, across religious boundaries and then spread it for community building.
Shuvojit: The understanding of Patriarchy in India even after Delhi Rape case and the following legislative changes is very restricted to “women and respect” . How do you connect Patriarchy and Kiss of Love movement?
Rinita: Everything I said above. Patriarchy does not oppose sexuality, it just opposed it in some ways. In feudal patriarchy, pleasure and power were controlled by some men and most men and women had no access to it just as they had no access to property. In capitalist patriarchy more men and some women have access to their pleasure and own their own sexuality but most do not, this movement will open up the hegemony surrounding sexuality and how it is enmeshed with power at every point. Human sexuality is through and through political, the State has controlled and organized it to maintain power via totems, taboos, eugenics, anti-miscegenation laws and in feudal times as the State was based on Divine Command, such laws got religious sanctions. Hence, any movement to break those laws would be a political movement, so is the kiss of love movement.
Shuvojit: Few people even compared “kiss of love” with eve teasing . They said just like eve teasing which is actually a display of lust in street , kissing in public by two adults is display of lust. Do you want to differentiate the two ?
Rinita : No because here the voice of the subaltern is speaking, it is a political movement, if workers control the modes of production, it is still work but not alienated labor, same here. Feminism is not opposed to sexuality, it is opposed to POWER. Like a socialist movement is not opposed to industrialization (depending on various factors), but on the control of the modes of production by a few at the expense of many; so this movement is an attempt to show that those who controlled pleasure, choices for reproduction, laws of eugenics, need to give up their power.
Shuvojit: “Indian culture” and “Western Culture and modernisation” this discourse is rampant. Your views with respect to Kiss of love and indian culture
Rinita: This is exactly that all “nations” do, here too the “other” is constructed as “evil” but most of these people will say “yes” to a “washing machine” or an “automobile” and both as far as I know originated in the “West”. Edward Said talks about “orientalism”, we can call this a new kind of “orientalism”, or something like Nietzsche says, the “other” is invented as “evil” in order to show how good we are. Here the “West” “East” are selectively created again for some people to maintain hegemony.
Shuvojit : With this rapid fire of kiss of love from Kerala to Kolkata to Delhi the religious fanatics and state is obvious of one question : Will the next be publicly making love ? Your views
Rinita: It depends on where the movement goes. I hope it is not trivialized, in corporate all classes and all ethnic groups, all religious groups, and show that it is at bottom a political movement, not frolicking or about the pleasure of the individual, which people can get in the “private”. Ultimately, if the movement goes in the right direction towards creating more democratic space, then it will politicize many things which were so far de-politcized, for example, sexuality, reproduction, intimate relations, parenting, the family as an economic unit and how it evolved in the last 200 years as a result of the progress of the market. I think the importance of this movement is great, it has to be intensified in the right direction with the intent to spread democracy and expand people’s choices.
Rinita Mazumdar is an Assistant Prof of Philosophy & Culture Studies at Central New Mexico Community College, New Mexico, USA, and an affiliate Prof of Women Studies at the University of New Mexico. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, and Master’s Degrees from University of Phoenix (USA), Brock University (Canada), and Calcutta University.
Dr Shuvojit Moulik, Civilian Welfare Foundation.
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