There may not be a mass of couples smooching by the sea in Kochi this Sunday, but on Wednesday evening, a group of activists managed to put the limelight on moral policing in Kerala by merely announcing their plans for a "Kiss Day".

Prompted by an incident of moral policing in Kozhikode last week when a group of Yuva Morcha activists allegedly attacked a café frequented by courting couples, some young protesters announced a "Kiss of Love" event at Kochi’s Marine Drive on November 2. The event, taglined "Freedom to kiss", invites couples to step out in public and make a statement against moral policing by openly kissing and hugging their partners.

As word of the event passed around through social media (its Facebook page has more than 24,000 likes), the Kochi police denied permission for such the public protest. Kiss of Love volunteers have continued to publicise their event anyway, but some volunteers have reportedly already faced manhandling while promoting the kissing protest at the venue.

A very Indian story

The planned protest as well as the vitriolic reactions to it are a familiar Indian story. The loyal defenders of Indian culture have consistently displayed allergic reactions to the idea of a public lip-lock, even in more liberal cities like Mumbai.

Both Mumbai and Delhi metros have witnessed multiple instances of the police threatening, detaining or even arresting young couples for being affectionate – or “obscene” – in public. Though kissing has finally become commonplace in the movies, off screen, celebrities face as much heat from the moral brigade as the ordinary citizen.

In 1980, for instance, actress Padmini Kolhapure unwittingly stirred up a storm when she gave England’s Prince Charles a peck on the cheek during his official visit to Mumbai. In 2007, when Hollywood actor Richard Gere swept actress Shilpa Shetty in his arms and kissed her on the cheek at an event in Delhi, an indignant Jaipur court rewarded him with an order to have him arrested.

In public spaces across India, even though young lovers persist in their efforts to claim quiet corners for themselves, the fear of the moral police does not really go away.

Kerala’s Kiss of Love campaign, for instance, has been planned in Kochi even though the incident it is protesting took place in Kozhikode.

Some timidity

“What is the point of the protest if they are too frightened to venture into Kozhikode and take the moral police head on?” said author Rupa Gulab, whose works include I Kissed a Frog.

Gulab does not see public displays of affection being accepted in Indian culture anytime soon, “because we are a nation of hypocrites”.

Kissing, according to filmmaker and writer Paromita Vohra, is a particular sore point for vigilantes because it’s an act that falls somewhere in between love and sex – neither solely sexual nor solely romantic. “Kissing is more like a physical symbol of personal choice, so it calls up many anxieties among people,” said Vohra.