Abdullah Rahman, Rahul Meenakshi & Sanjana Krishnan
'Kiss of Love' and the Islamophobic Undercurrent of the Movement
The famous case of Downtown restaurant in Calicut that was vandalised by Bharatiya Janta Yuva Morcha (BJYM) on 24th October, 2014 for allegedly promoting immoral activities is now a nationwide furore. The goons of the BJP's youth wing reacted to the news report of a Congress owned TV channel JaiHind TV citing footages of couples engaging in public display of affection, with no substantial evidence against the Café.
Three points of arguments can be raised here: one is the fascist agenda of attacking a popular café owned by a 25-year-old Muslim youth under the guise of "immoral activities" is a case of Islamophobia. Two, the regressive youth wing of BJP backed by the central government in association with the Congress funded news channel have slaughtered the reputation of the restaurant for vested interests in the name of moral policing. One is not trying to downplay the significance of rampant moral policing in India, but attempting to draw attention to the larger case, which very slyly has been rendered unimportant, rather invisible. Three, even if we delve into the issue of moral policing the blurred images of couples (in the media footage) seemed to be of two consenting adults. What gives any individual or group the right to attack people's "character" and their right to consensually engage with one another?
Drawing from the series of events in Calicut, protests were scheduled to be organised in Cochin on 2nd November, 2014, which also inspired, a "bunch of progressive Malayalis" in University of Hyderabad (UoH), mostly from Students Federation of India (SFI). We emphasise Malayalis primarily because it was an initiative by some Malayalis on the campus, and the Facebook page which was created to invite students for the protest used English and Malayalam for discussion and the propagation of the message. No other language was used to invite a multi-lingual student community. The campaign was predictably titled 'UoH in Solidarity' which was later changed to 'UoH against Moral Policing'.
Downtown restaurant in Calicut
The "progressive communists" chose to conveniently ignore the contours of the events leading to the Downtown incident and cashed in on the event for gaining political mileage. The fashionable Kiss protest in UoH was a crowd puller and this stunt was a success in terms of gaining nationwide publicity. Ironically none of these "modern communists" gathered for the protests held against mass killing of Dalits in Maharashtra just the previous day by another student group on the campus and also failed to extend support and stand against the bogey of "Love Jihad". On the contrary, members of every student wing on the campus were present for the "Kiss of Love" (KoL) drama, in solidarity, despite difference of opinion, barring ABVP which is famous for its notoriety at all times as self-proclaimed protectors of Indian culture.
The misrepresentation of the "KoL" protest and the ABVP's counter protest with "external elements" inside the university degraded, not only the whole essence of the protest, but also showed their vested political interest in the name of solidarity and culture. One of the organisers, while speaking for solidarity with the protest, articulates that, "we are protesting not for kiss, but against moral policing... you don't need a partner to kiss, you can kiss anyone, if that person is allowing you. So we are focusing on consent issue. If you are having consent, then definitely you can."*
The leftist agenda behind creating this drama is nothing short of a highly Islamophobic discourse. One of the other organisers on being asked about opposition to the protest alleged, "We got mockery from the Student Islamic Organisation (SIO), Jamat and Popular front of India (PFI), who made "fun" of us directly. We never got any threat from ABVP, although we knew that underground activities were on." These claims are blatant lies, and disregard the fact that there is no PFI on UoH campus, and cadres of ABVP and BJYM did disrupt the event and were violent with the participating students. Ironically, the SIO participated in the event as can be proved from images and footages available from the media in spite of their ideological differences.
These two testimonies were articulated differently countering two distinct political ideologies. They created enormous confusions not only in their own internal space, but also, amongst outsiders. The first testimony shows discontent against the traditionalists, while citing examples from the same tradition. The other testimony selectively targets Muslims without any substantial evidence, illustrating the Islamophobic nature of the protest in the university space. Since in UoH, the Islamic groups neither engaged in acts of moral policing nor did they hold any counter protest; the nature of their contestation was against the selective nature of the "KoL" protest. This also proves and draws us back to the agenda set by the left and right to hegemonise the actual event and hijack the issue under the façade of moral policing.
Apart from the misleading arguments which have been making the rounds, another facet of this protest is the homogenisation of the event. UoH is a multicultural space housing individuals and groups from across the globe. A group of one hundred fifty students claiming their voice to be that of 6000-odd students of the University is an exaggerated self-proclamation and an unwarranted representation of the student community. The organisers also failed to take any criticism on the event from different quarters; rather they indulged in vilifying individuals and groups. Thus, through the rhetoric of moral policing, victim herself/himself has been accused of indulging in moral policing.
The "KoL" protest which is considered to be against the act of moral policing, needs to be de-codified in terms of its origin and ideology. In a Hindu majoritarian society it is the predominant thought that prevails and conceptualises culture. This dominant thought has been contested from time to time by the dominated. It is the dominant who always create a safety wall in order to save or maintain cultural norms through different modes of operation to keep away "deviations". In this context the act of general policing is not general in its nature, it rather originates from the Brahminic thought processes and is deeply rooted in Brahminic ideology. People at large are the victims of this dominant ideology.
In India, targeting Muslim businesses has been a feature of majoritarian violence against the minority community. However, in the case of Downtown Café, the establishment was targeted under the garb of moral policing, thus successfully hiding the majoritarian element of the attack. "Kiss of Love" in this sense has failed to address the issue in a holistic manner, and has fallen into the trap of Hindutva by confining its protest to moral policing, and not elucidating the majoritarian politics of targeted attack of Muslim establishment(s). If it was a case of moral policing, how come cases of aggression haven't been reported against any couple, but only against the establishment?
The supposedly progressive student organisations, not excluding the Indian left, have not only failed to address majoritarian aggression against the Muslim community, but have also created a discourse of Islamophobia through their protest.
*Note: media footage for "kiss of love" protest at University of Hyderabad can be found at provided link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpgMtjd4fC0
Abdullah, Rahul and Sanjana are currently students of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Hyderabad.
Pictures courtesy: the internet and the writers.