Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ritwik Agrawal on the Kiss of Love

As many of you will know, a ‘Kiss of Love’ event has been planned in Delhi today. It will be at 4 pm at Jhandewalaan, at the Delhi headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the BJP and other organizations such as ABVP and VHP which collectively comprise the so called ‘sangh parivar’.This has been organized in light of the  similar event in Kochi, Kerala, which was organized against ‘moral policing’ that has seen a sharp increase with the victory of the Narendra Modi led BJP in the general elections in the country held in May... A journalist with DNA newspaper, Mumbai asked me a series of questions about the event, and I think putting up the questions along with my answers might serve some purpose, as these questions are by no means unique and regularly come up in the public discourse in India over matters of love, sex and free expression in general. Of course, I am not attributing these views to the journalist in question – she was only doing her job in articulating precisely the concerns which many have with respect to such demonstrations.

In Photos: #KissOfLove Delhi
Q. Do you support the ‘kiss of love’ event? and if so, why? - Absolutely. It has my wholehearted support. I believe it is an excellent initiative and many more such initiatives should be taken up, all across the country and particularly in areas where such things as choosing one’s own partner, which are  taken for granted in any modern society, are still huge battles (i.e., almost every Indian family, totally including almost the entire upwardly mobile, ‘educated’ middle class). To me one of the most important measures of the health and happiness of a society is the freedom accorded to people to love freely, and choose their partners freely (of whatever gender and sexual persuasion).
Recently we have had a setback in India when the Supreme Court struck down the forward looking judgement of the Delhi High Court de-criminalizing Homosexuality. Many who had felt empowered to come out of the closet in light of the HC verdict have now had to face oppression after the SC verdict re-criminalized a completely natural sexual impulse. This battle has now been taken up again in the Supreme Court, and one hopes the Court will set aside its earlier verdict.
Q. Do you think this demonstration will serve some purpose, or it is only being organized by Delhi youth to be ‘cool’ after similar demonstrations were organized in Kochi and Calcutta? - I think it is crucial for people, especially the young, all over the country to assert their right to their bodies, to choosing their own partners and their sexual orientation. it is deeply shameful that we still witness ‘honour killings’ where the ‘crime’ is nothing but cohabiting with the person you love.
It is crucial in light of the fact that the ruling national party, the BJP, made ‘love jihad’ its main campaign slogan in recent by-elections. Love Jihad is the notion that members of the Muslim community are ‘luring’ Hindu women to marry them so as to change the latter’s religion and produce Muslim children, ultimately culminating the ‘islamization’ of India.  The fact that such absurd fears have become mainstream enough to be taken up by major national parties shows how close India is to slipping into an even more un-free, almost theocratic condition not dissimilar to the situation that exists in Pakistan after the rule of the dictator Zia ul Haq.
Q. Aren’t there ‘more important’ things that should engage the attention of the youth? - As I say above, all those who value freedom, and wish for India to remain a free society (a society in which enclaves of freedom – such as universities and some urban spaces – have been created and there has historically been the push, since independence, of modernizing more spaces) must support initiatives like Kiss of Love, to counter the poisonous, socially divisive propaganda of the Love Jihad variety.
As the experience of countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and many others demonstrates, societies which had become relatively free and open in the Sixties and the early Seventies, have slipped into soul crushing fanaticism and un-freedom after the religious Right (of which the RSS is a prime example in India) engineered a massive reaction against all kinds of progressive tendencies.
These societies, and others like them, have consequently seen the obliteration of liberal, leftist and socialist thought and social practice, all in the name of ‘pride’, ‘hurt sentiments’, ‘authentic traditions’ etc. India seems to be on the brink of something similar, where the historically open and plural nature of the society is being sought to be radically re-engineered from within. In a nutshell, one can’t be complacent about freedoms and rights. These must be fought for and vigorously defended.
Q. Many who support the idea of freedom of choice – in abstraction – are saying that this is the wrong way to protest. India is a conservative country which frowns upon ‘public displays of affection’. Why choose such a mode of protest which may be offensive to many? - The modes of protest chosen by movements like ‘Kiss of Love’ are very useful in that they are exposing the structural hypocrisies of the authorities and political parties. It is notable that the Kiss of Love event in Kerala was not allowed to go on by the police, who have historically shown little inclination to act against violent thugs who haveraided bars, night clubs, hotels and other such establishments where ‘immoral activities’, i.e., people indulging in sexual acts out of choice, rather than our glorious, animal-trading ‘arranged marriage’ tradition, have been going on.
Violent activists who have attacked couples on Valentines Day, often in a well orchestrated manner with television cameras in tow, have acted with impunity with no regard for the law or its consequences. However those deciding to kiss on the streets, were apprehended in advance. This in a state (Kerala) ruled by the Congress, which claims to inherit a liberal tradition! In light of this, the mode of protest chosen for ‘kiss of love’ is effective, and it exposes hypocrisies which we as a society are highly comfortable with.
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'In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage and triumph: the sex instinct will be eradicated we shall abolish the orgasm, there will be no loyalty except to the party.. but always there will be the intoxication of power always at every moment there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless… If you want to imagine the future; imagine a boot stepping on a human face forever. The moral of this story is.. don’t let it happen.'   Eric Arthur Blair, (George Orwell) was born in Motihari, Bihar, on 25 June 1903, and died in London on 21 January 1950