Some well-meaning folks who are against the ABVP/RSS hooliganism have been asking about what should be the limits to personal freedom in the public sphere. Where should the line be drawn? And whether a personal act like kissing being made a mode of protest fits into the public sphere given that others may not be open to the idea of public display of affection?
Now, of course kissing is a personal act of affection. The KoL protest is intended to resist physical aggression by the ‘moral police’ on that very personal sphere. Public and personal are not watertight compartments. When one is in public space, one does not throw away his/her personal freedom of expression, the freedom to be themselves and to bring those freedoms along into the public sphere. Kissing in public or public display of affection is not something novel that people are talking about. It is pretty common in industrialised as well as tribal societies. It has wide social acceptance.
The question of public morality is not something static – it evolves as society evolves. And it is best decided by the principle of constitutional morality (not mass morality) that can be tested and tried in a civil manner vis-a-vis a changing society. Some people can always be uncomfortable with the idea of kissing or showing affection in public. It is fine, it’s their personal choice. But to impose that code of conduct on others by use of force is fascist. Similarly, if somebody feels clearly uncomfortable with watching people kiss – it would be wrong and totally not cool to intentionally disturb that person by kissing in front of his/her nose. It’s all about tolerance, mutual respect and the principle of ‘live and let live’.
The main point however is, the KoL protest is not just about people wanting rights to kiss in public. Not at all. It should be seen in the backdrop of the overall threat (not abstract, but very real!) by the fascist forces on people’s right to love, marry, choose their partners and their lifestyles. We all know about how sinisterly the bogey of Love Jihad is being used. People are getting killed and hacked to pieces. Riots are being engineered, women are being raped – over the question of patriarchy claiming communal territory over women’s bodies. Babasaheb Ambedkar wrote, in the Annihilation of Caste, that one of the most effective and practical ways to abolish caste was to encourage and practise inter-caste marriages. Similarly, inter-religious marriages are beautiful and can ease communal tensions. Why do you think the Khap panchayats and feudal forces are so dead against inter-marriages? Because it topples and threatens the existing order, the existing hegemony of caste class and religion. Why are the RSS/BJP busybodies constantly monitoring women’s freedom and the freedom of the LGBTIQ people? Because it helps to keep a grip on women’s (non-heteronormative males more generally) active participation in public life and in the production processes. At the same time it maintains the status quo of patriarchal order. They often mask these very real shackles using the terminology of ‘protectionism’, ‘decency’, ‘mass sentiments’. The rights to personal freedom of persons of oppressed gender, sexuality, caste and religion is not antagonistic with, but rather ingrained and consistent with fighting caste atrocities, communal violence, gender discrimination, the wage question and disparities in the economic sphere.
If we allow them to curb our personal freedom in one sphere, that unfreedom will necessarily spill over to other spheres as well. So it is important not to be abstract in our extrapolations, and see things in perspective in the backdrop of a concrete threat of fascist aggression.
[Kasturi is an activist with the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) and the Cinema of Resistance movement. She is also a researcher in Theoretical Physics.]