Saturday, December 6, 2014

“What next?”: Sawal ka jawab bhi sawal hai!

Gourab Ghosh


With the Bengaluru Comissioner of Police M.N. Reddi's refusal to grant permission to the city-based organizers of Kiss of Love to hold an event in the city in solidarity with the string of events that have taken place in recent times, beginning with Kochi, it is time again for us to think, discuss and act on certain questions regarding the Kiss of Love campaign as a form of 'protest'.  There has been a good amount of discussion in academic circles, in the mainstream and the social media, about the nature of this campaign. It has, by its seemingly 'sensational' nature, even managed to become a topic of household conversation in 'developing' India. It is no surprise that the ultraconservative, fundamentalist, patriarchal and right-wing section of commentators immediately said, “Why this? Why indeed?”

For the protesters who joined in solidarity in various parts of the country and for the organizers who braved brickbats to put together these events, the question is more than just why. The question is: "What next?"

The answer is Bengaluru.

The answer to the 'why' and the answer to the 'what next' is one and the same: Bengaluru. India's 'Silicon Valley'. Presumably, the 'answer' to India's 'development' problems.

The uncertainty that now looms over the Bengaluru chapter of Kiss of Love with the police commissioner's dismissal of the proposed event forces us to ask certain questions that have repeatedly come up in conversations with the protestors, with members of the broad Left and other progressive groups.

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The forces on the right in Bengaluru and their ilk all over the country have expressed an inability to comprehend the agenda behind such an outlandish act of 'protest'. The organizers, however, have a simple answer. Their platform, they said, is not about the simple liberty to kiss in public. Their platform is one to raise voices in unison against moral policing, against a fascistic government in the Centre and its tentacles that reach out to choke independent voices, against forces that snatch away the fundamental, Constitutional rights of freedom of expression of the citizens of India. This platform is against them. This protest is against them. This is why so many young protesters have come out on the streets with the organizers of Kiss of Love, in public places and in university campuses, to challenge the tyranny of the patriarchal fascist moral policing of the Right. This, apparently, is still 'not clear' to those leagues of "cultured Indians".

It is without question that with his refusal, M.N. Reddi has also joined the league of those august gatekeepers of "Indian culture", whose ranks include the Chairperson of the Karnataka State Women’s Commission, Manjula Manasa, who termed the Kiss of Love campaign as "uncivilized", "contrary to our culture", "obscene" and "western influence". Such accusations, perhaps, were inevitable. We are all too aware of the existing angst of this vocal section of the right wing forces that periodically issue such statements on matters as banal as usage of mobile phones to the serious ones as honour killings and caste oppression. What is interesting, however, is that the Bengaluru city police has granted permission to organize a queer pride parade in the city, but denied the same to a 'simple', 'innocent', 'harmless' campaign to kiss (which is to walk, to sing, to dance, to fly) on the hallowed streets of 'developed' Bengaluru.

 The question then again becomes: "What next?"

Bengaluru's pride march is significant as it is the first such event in the city after the Hon’ble. Supreme Court's infamous judgment of 11 December 2013 holding up the archaic, obscene Section 377 of the IPC in Delhi and the rest of the country, and thereby recriminalizing homosexuality in India. Pride marches stand testimony to expressions of sexual freedom, of different human identities that are erased and repressed and ignored by force. Pride marches create spaces to express affection, love, care and solidarity. Pride marches resist, and they march on even in the face of raised eyebrows and judgmental frowns that question the very necessity of such an act of protest. Pride marches on, proud of its history that spans decades and continents. Pride, now, has earned itself a political legitimacy, and this is why the Bengaluru Police must 'protect' and 'escort' the march—its mode of putting forth its 'agenda' is an 'accepted' one, even it is one that continues to rankle the Big Brothers who seek to govern this nation.

The significance of this political legitimacy granted to the 'agenda' of Pride, even by forces such as the Commissioner of Bengaluru Police—namely, the freedom to voice one's identity based on gender and sexual orientation—cannot be understood without recognizing the arduous legal, social and political battles waged by activists over the last few decades in India. It is their tireless activism that has now placed the battle for sexual rights in its rightful place alongside the battles for social justice in many other fronts, from labour rights to caste oppression.

Kiss of Love, in comparison, has little in the way of political legitimacy. Its mode of protest has appeared eccentric or 'sensational' to many. Its protesters, it has been said from certain progressive factions, are 'not politicized enough'. Meanwhile, the cultural and moral police, touting its aforementioned inability to comprehend the "why" of the Kiss of Love campaign have raised its apocalyptic visions of indecency and obscenity taking over the society at large. The straw man that is the "youth" untaught in the ways of "conservative and orthodox Indian values", in this rhetoric, appears to have opened a Pandora's Box.

We cannot help but ask a question to this league of fascists in response: who and what decides on "obscenity"? How does expression of "affection" with consent, in a public place, become a punishable offence under section 294(a) of IPC? And who drafts and crafts the 'imaginary' "Indian culture"? For these custodians of "Indian values", there is nothing 'obscene' about men urinating in the open (in this age of Swachh Bharat). There is nothing 'indecent' about a 'responsible' husband publicly mistreating his wife with the choicest verbal abuses, or a 'protective' brother beating up his sister for voicing her opinion. There is nothing 'obscene' about politicians and administrators rationalizing virulent misogyny in the name of 'boys will be boys', or saintly 'men of god' molesting their female devotees. There is nothing 'obscene' with ministers openly watching pornography inside the Karnataka Assembly!

These are difficult times, and the hydra-headed fascist, repressive forces raise their heads in myriad directions in a multiplicity of ways. Kiss of Love is one of the many acts of resistance against the same. When we ask ourselves "what next?", we must recognize that times like these demand multiple ways of contending with such sections, even ones that are conventionally 'not political', seemingly light-hearted and tongue-firmly-in-cheek. We must recognize that Kiss of Love has, in its own manner, has shaped a group of like-minded fellow fighters. This is why when the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha activists vandalized a restaurant run by a Muslim youth in Kozhikode, arguing that the young men and women who frequent the place are "destroying" "Indian culture", a few created a Facebook group called "Kiss of Love community" and turned up at the Marine Drive for protest. The first Kiss of Love protest was against moral policing as the protestors held hands, kissed on the streets and behind the bars. When the Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and Akhil Bharitya Vidyarthi Parishad, and conservative Muslim political groups like the Social Democratic Party of India and Sunni Yuvajana Sanghom with district level activists of Kerala Student's Union beat up some of the protestors, the moment asked, "What next?" The answer was another Kiss of Love solidarity protest against moral policing and the tyranny of goons from these conservative outfits. Every such Kiss of Love protest has started asking "what next?", even as it's answered in another protest. These protests, whether spontaneous or organized, hold a tremendous potential to mobilize people and to build the strong resistance imperative to counter the fascist forces that are threatening to overrun our time.

The question raised by comrades from the progressive factions is far more serious, namely, whether or not the mode of protest upheld by the Kiss of Love protesters is "political enough", if such a manner of protest can constructively contribute to the larger resistance against the Right or if it is simply another neo-liberal gesture meant to distract us from larger struggles. In response, we cannot help but repeat the same point: the first Kiss of Love was organized against moral policing, and every protest thereafter has carried the struggle forward. Kiss of Love is but one front of the vast battlefield that is the resistance against Right wing forces. Is it true that it has been largely limited to the big cities? Yes, certainly, just as it is true that organizers and participants in the Kiss of Love protests, for all that they are confined to a few metros and university campuses, are youth from diverse backgrounds, youth who see through the sham that is "Indian culture" as preached by the Right wing, youth who are raring to march on, march on.

These voices are important for future struggles, be they independently waged or fought hand-in-hand with the broad Left. The outrage and scorn poured from both police and the Right wing forces have galvanized them into action. These are difficult and dark times, and there must be clamour. There must be noise. There must be voices raised: of women emerging out of the domestic sphere clanging spoons on thalis, of the homeless and the dispossessed half-submerged in water, of tribals embracing trees, of students singing songs and of queer folks in masks as they clap their hands and walk in pride. And yes, of youthful voices in the metros and university campuses, rising up in protest and defiance. Let us not forget that they first raised their voice owing to the immediate requirements of the moment, triggered by the vandalization at Kozhikode. There is little doubt that there will be fellow fighters like the so-called 'kiss revolutionaries' in the future again, calling for protests on a diverse range of social, political, cultural and economic issues, and progressive forces will have to respond to them with the nuance and consideration they deserve.  

As Brinda Bose writes in an article on Kiss of Love, "There is a bottom-line now that we must all begin our discussions from: that we are no longer living in a left-liberal or even centrist-liberal country but are caught in the vice-grip of an acute capitalist culturally-right-wing government whose supporters are coming out of the woodwork in astonishing numbers. Once we take this as given, and if we are agreed that the repression is unjustified, we ought to perceive the dire need for micro-mobilization processes that up the protest ante, if in multiple, diverse, dispersed forms." It is ironic that the Right displays enormous flexibility and spontaneity in hitting back against any and all who speak up against them, as evident in the manner in which they employed traditional gundagardi along with the social media to threaten the organizers and participants of Kiss of Love. Perhaps there is something to be learnt from here: the fact that to oppose such deceptive, protean forces of oppression, we must adapt ourselves. The present time thus demands demonstrations, hartals, slogans, unions and yes, laughter and frivolous kiss-filled protests from the youth that leaves the Right fuming and shaken to the core; the present time demands everything that will create solidarities among progressive sections of the society.

We do not know what will happen to the Bengaluru kiss of Love chapter, we do not know what will happen to the protestors who will still show the courage to come on streets against police, government and the Right, we do not know what challenge lies next, we do not know what will happen to Bengaluru now. The answer has to be Bengaluru, that we can say.

The fight grows more intense and challenging with each passing day. We must revise, yes, and discuss and debate, but let there be clamour! Yes, there must be clamour.

[Gourab Ghosh is a Ph.D scholar at the Centre for English Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He is an SFI and Queer rights activist. He has been a part of the Delhi chapter of Kiss of Love and organised the JNU chapter of the campaign with other fellow comrades. This article acknowledges the long discussions with fellow comrades and fighters who have helped in shaping my writing: Arjun, Suresh, Swati and Vikram.]

Article referred:

Bose, Brinda. “What Next”. <http://humanitiesunderground.org/what-next/#> as accessed on November 10, 2014.

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