Stuck in second gear. We are. Everyone’s kissing but no one’s telling. When they are, everyone’s flipping and no one’s listening.
Take, for example, the video of a couple kissing in the Delhi Metro that surfaced online recently. The culture warriors wouldn’t have it. Porn, a parallel drawn, they would perhaps have in the sweet sanctum of their rooms, but a public consummation of virgin emotions, they would not have under any circumstances.
Video-taping the couple without their consent was okay, their kissing was not. Fair game?
Public kissing doesn’t become Indians, we’ve been reminded repeatedly. (Public pissing, somehow does.) It is besharmi (shamelessness) that’s against established morals.
The land of Kama Sutra must reign in. Or give way to ‘Western influences’, as is often argued.
Making matters worse, if I may, is the Resting Indian Face. A safe conclusion that can be unapologetically drawn is this — we don’t really know how to look- a glance, a gaze, a stare, or a peek. We are hardwired to the familiar to such a terrifying extent that any unfamiliar sight gets greeted with zero subtle transitions.
If a heterosexual couple is met with mercurial disdain because of a show of physical affection, one shudders to think what all other couples go through, in a country that recently decriminalised homosexuality by partially striking down the provisions under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Our legal determinants need a ringside view of our social reflexes.
They say we take photographs when we want to freeze the frame, make it stay. Humour me for a second here. The couple’s photo/video stays. Not to cherish. But to shame. Even our corrective measures, when perceived as being on the right side of the moral compass, are riddled with elements of retribution and not reformation.
Let’s assume, for a second, that kissing is a Western import (the first instances of which, according to experts, have been recorded in the Mahabharata, by the way!). One then wonders if we, a historically ravaged region, in a bid to offer a fierce shelter to all that’s exclusively ‘ours’, are lashing out at ‘modernity’ without weeding out even that which stands to help us.
What exactly is so ‘obscene’ about two consenting ‘Westernised’ individuals kissing before others that is an absolute eye sore? It makes you uncomfortable, one can still take, but it makes you want to police them, one cannot.
The couple’s photo/video was circulated on the internet and legal authorities were tagged on social media platforms, asking for befitting action to be taken against such ‘obscenities’. This also happens to be the second time in the last two months that such footage has surfaced on the internet. Back in November, another video of a young couple had taken Twitter by storm, sending sanskar bouncers into a frenzy.
But then this is also a country that saw its mega star, Shah Rukh Khan, who has been around for donkey’s ears, finally lock lips for the first time with the female lead in 2012. Up until then, as this NYT editorial rightly puts it, he had been “teasing Indian audiences in dozens of films... by bringing his lips achingly close to those of his beautiful co-stars”. The rest was left to our blushing imaginations.
In 2014, Kerala’s ‘Kiss of Love’ protests hit the country’s collective conscience with a jab in the belly. Clearly, a gentle one, or we would have fared better today. Students took to the streets to protest moral policing and locked lips hoping to shock, familiarise, normalise, and de-stigmatise public displays of affection. This was an aftermath of attackers storming a Kochi cafe and flogging youngsters for engaging in ‘immoral’ activities. In 2017, the movement witnessed protests again to decry moral policing by Shiv Sena activists.
Apart from the clampdown on free expression of sexuality, pitting ‘modernity’ against ‘tradition’, it is important to note that this comes at a time when the country is reeling from the aftermath of horrific sexual crimes against woman. The debate around controlling women’s narratives is as volatile as ever.
(Venkaiah Naidu, the Vice President of India, remarked in a parliament session recently that women don’t need firearms. They have others to protect them. This was in response to two women MPs asking to speak while the Arms (Amendment) Bill was being discussed.)
One wonders if policing PDA is ultimately also a mode of controlling her sexuality again?
She who must be reigned in, she who can’t be defiled, definitely not in public. Honour, gentlewoman, is at stake.