Shiv Sena members on Wednesday allegedly harassed and assaulted couples on Kochi’s Marine Drive walkway, after announcing on Facebook on Tuesday that they would take action against those romancing there. The police officer who was in charge of the area was suspended after the incident drew widespread criticism.

The local police had not taken any preventive action even though the Sena members had announced their plan to take to the streets. The activists chased away couples with sticks and physically assaulted them, witnesses said. The party said their action was meant to end “romancing under umbrellas” as a part of their initiative “to stop sexual violence”, reported Deccan Chronicle.

‘‘The campaign takes a cue from the reports of a rise in sexual assault cases against women,” an unidentified Shiv Sena leader told The Hindu. “Even schoolchildren are often found showing off romantic intimacy at this location.’’

The incident and the police inaction was condemned by both the Congress and the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist). “The police was protecting the anti-socials indulging in moral policing,” said Hibi Eden, a local Congress MLA. “The inaction cannot be justified in any modern and civilised society. The government machinery has failed in preventing such shameful incident in a fast-growing metropolitan city such as Kochi.”

“The police remaining mute witnesses is not acceptable,” said CPM Ernakulam district secretary P Rajiv. “Action should be initiated against the guilty police officials.” The police later detained six people in connection with the incident.

Marine Drive is the same place where activists held the “kiss of love” campaign in 2014 to protest against moral policing. The demonstration was organised after an attack on a coffee shop by a Hindutva group in Kozikhode, which claimed that the establishment’s young patrons were engaging in public displays of affection that were “against Indian culture”.