Sunday, November 9, 2014

Delhi students protest moral policing at RSS office

Threats of violence on social media clearly don't deter Delhi's youth. Despite, or, perhaps because of them, hundreds of students from institutions of higher education turned up at the Jhandewalan Metro station to participate in Delhi's edition of 'Kiss of Love', the ongoing campaign against moral policing, on Saturday evening. They didn't make it to the planned venue—the RSS office at Jhandewalan—but police's attempts to contain them within the area around the station and keep the campaign peaceful failed as well.

Representing the Right's position that such activities are "un-Indian" was Hindu Sena. They were outnumbered at the start but called in reinforcements. The resistance had started online on Friday night itself. Numerous Sena members left threats and warnings in comments. Those who had organized the protest were threatened even on phone. "They would bring up their mothers and sisters and in the next minute threaten to f**k me, my family," said Pankhuri Zaheer from JNU's department of women's studies who had called for the protest. "I'm scared, of course, but there are a lot of people with me and they always will be."

The first kiss—a brief lip-lock at the station—led to a minor tussle with a Hindu Sena member. There was more kissing—both gay and straight—and hugging later. Over a thousand had signed up to join on Facebook. "The number actually went up after the abuses started raining and word of the threats spread," said Anshika (she doesn't use a last name), student of German at JNU. Over 300 showed up. Police tried to reason with the protesters, urging them to keep it quiet and not march towards the RSS office but the students weren't having any of that. Explaining the choice of venue, one said, "We're not here to challenge the RSS, but all our spaces and love in all forms are under attack. The RSS people come to us, beat us up. This time, we've come to them".

While JNU students were once again at the forefront, there were representatives from several universities in the city—Delhi University (both North Campus and off-campus colleges), Jamia Millia Islamia, Ambedkar University and National Law University. Many of these students were attending their first protest. "We've come because moral policing is totally unacceptable," said Aarushi Mahajan of NLU. Another student explained how it wasn't about the kissing at all. "We've come here to claim space for affection." Ambedkar University student Akansha Tyagi said she joined to protest against the "increase in surveillance in Delhi University since Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad won the student elections". ABVP chose to sit this one out but its leader, Saket Bahuguna, later issued a statement blaming "sexually frustrated communists" for spreading obscenity.

Standing for "Indian culture", Hindu Sena members gathered at the Metro station and said they're not against pyaar but kissing in public, which is like "walking around naked". They also expressed concern about the spiritual and emotion purity of "sisters and mothers". "This isn't progress. What should be promoted is Indian culture. Kama Sutra isn't what they think. We'll have Kama Sutra Day instead of Valentine's Day," said Sena member Vishnu Gupta.

For the first hour, both sides were confined right outside Gate 2 of the Metro station. Police stopped Kiss of Love campaigners from heading for the RSS office through an inside lane, repeatedly pushing them, human chain and all, back towards the station. Metro users lined up to watch from the station as did employees of banks, insurance companies and showrooms lining the road. By 5pm, all attempts to get in the lane thwarted, the group—now a sizeable one of a few hundred—headed for the main road. They slowed down traffic on Rani Jhansi Road, chased after policemen trying to block them and finding DB Gupta Road—where the RSS office is situated—barricaded, occupied the chowk. There was more kissing—gay and straight—and each round was followed by a frenzy. The Sena, now outnumbering the kiss campaigners, went for them but the police, for once, left the kissers alone and pushed back the spoilers. It was past 6pm when the crowd moved down DB Road, away from the chowk and the RSS office, to disperse. Police detained 60-70 of them but released them immediately afterwards.

The “Kiss of Love” protest, meant to celebrate the freedom to express love, went off peacefully here on Saturday amid heavy police presence. However, there were hardly any kisses, except towards the end and they were not allowed to go as far as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh office as originally planned. Also, the number of protesters was significantly lesser than the numbers who had registered online for the event. Around 1,500 people had registered on the Facebook page of the campaign, the attendance was very low. The protesters, about 50 in number, were stopped near the Jhandewalan metro station. They however made the most of the opportunity. From shouting slogans like “Sanghi gunde hoshiyar, tere saamne karenge pyar” to singing songs like “pyaar kiya to darna kya” and even managing a few kisses, they did it all.  After this, they moved towards the Jhandewalan roundabout where the police had barricaded all roads leading to the RSS office. The policemen were to arrest anyone who tried to break the barricades. A lot more kissing was allowed to happen towards the end.

Love must be above politics and the right to express it must be above any fear – this was the prime reason that motivated the group of students to organise the “Kiss of Love” protest. Despite a shortened route, the protesters were still happy with the outcome. “We got an overwhelming response. It was a spontaneous thing organised by us only two or three days ago. We just put up a page on Facebook. And, although we did not go as far as the office, I think we made our point which was that love is above politics,” said Ritwik Agarwal, a research scholar from Delhi University. He was very specific that they were not affiliated to any student or other organisation and they did not subscribe to any ideology other than the innate right that humans must have over their own bodies as also the right the choose whom they want to be with.
The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Sangh Parivar, however, chose to attribute political motivations for the protest. “These are communist, naxal and Maoist organisations. All their ideas and views end at bodily pleasure. Their leaders are accused in many cases of sexual harassment.” Students from Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University took part in the protest. The movement began when activists from Kerala decided to protest against alleged moral policing by the right-wing groups by organising a mass kissing campaign on November 2. The campaign was launched on social media after a coffee shop in North Kerala’s Kozhikode city was vandalised by a group of people who criticised the public display of affection by some couples there.