Preserve The 'Kiss Of Love'
By Kandathil Sebastian
31 October, 2014
On 2nd November, some youngsters from Kochi in the state of Kerala, India plan to organize a different kind of protest which they call ‘kiss of love’. These youngsters are protesting against the growing intolerance towards the Public Display of Affection (PDA) in the state and they call likeminded couples to come out in large numbers to join them by hugging and kissing each other.
A press release by its organizers says that “with this symbolic gesture we would like to send a strong message to social elements who indulge in moral fascism and moral policing.” The trigger for this incident is the vandalizing of a coffee shop in Kerala by another group who claimed that the cafe was used by young students for dating, which was unacceptable to them.
The Kerala incident of intolerance to PDA is not an isolated event. Last week the authorities of the University of Zimbabwe banned hugging and kissing in the campus by pasting a circular on students’ halls of residence, saying anyone ‘caught in intimate position (like kissing in public places)’ will be severely dealt with.’ Currently students of the University of Zimbabwe are locked in a battle with university authorities.
Recently in 1991 the Beijing University, China banned on “kissing, holding hands, hugging, whispering, or holding unauthorized gatherings” as the university authorities declared such acts as an “offence against decency.” The decency and morality of Public Display of Affection is being passionately debated across the planet.
In this context, the present essay is an attempt to understand what PDA is, and why certain sections of the society are intolerant towards PDA. It also explores the possible role of enlightened citizens in the context of growing intolerance to PDA.
ORIGIN OF KISSING AS A NOBLE ACT OF PRESERVING HUMANITY
Kissing is believed to be an advanced form of communication which involves sensations of touch, taste, and smell. Kissing could strengthen trust and bonding not only among humans but also among animals. A kiss can express a range of emotions from respect, peace, love, to passion and sexual desire. Depending on the actors involved and the environment in which it is conducted, the experience of kiss can be sweet, warm, awkward, intense, transporting, disappointing, boring, sublime, and even life changing.
While some cultures (e.g. tribes in Sudan) don’t kiss at all, some cultures in Australia and Africa started kissing only after European colonizers introduced this practice among them. Generally speaking, most cultures have many different ways of kissing with the Germans reported to be having the most variety with 30 different types of kisses.
Like in the case of many other inventions, there is a theory that the art of kissing was invented and developed by Indians. According to this theory, the invaded armies and the early traders who came to India learned the art of kissing from Indians and spread this practice to other parts of the world. But anthropologists disagree with this theory and they trace the origin of kiss to early practice of tribal mothers feeding masticated food to their babies through mouth.
Thus a kiss has its origins in the supreme form love between a mother and child and it had noble intentions of preserving and sustaining the human species. Though Indian tribes might have also practiced the mouth-to-mouth feeding, they could not take the exclusive credit of inventing the kiss.
EVOLUTION OF PUBLIC KISS
From its humble intentions of maternal bonding to the child, kiss has evolved in style and form to meet multiple social and individual objectives. There is enough evidence to conclude that the art of erotic kissing was refined and developed by early Indians as described in ancient Indian texts. The first mention of a kiss in writing appeared perhaps in the Mahabharata (composed between 3000 BC and 1500 BC) which celebrates the kiss between Rishyashringa and Vaishali! The Vedic Sanskrit texts dating back to 1500 BC also mentions kiss.
In 2nd century AD, the great Indian author Vatsyayan in his much celebrated book of Kama Sutra devoted an entire chapter to explain various methods of kissing and he details around 30 types of kisses - straight, bent, turned, press, nominal and throbbing and so on. Later on kissing has taken various forms in different parts of the world ranging from the Chines variety of rubbing one's nose against the cheek of another person and the Japanese sniff kiss to the French variety of deep lip locking.
Multiple forms and styles of kiss have been abundantly documented in art and literature and even by the religious books. The mid-18th century collection of renowned poems titled Radhika Santwanam describes fairly graphic details of erotic kiss and it is considered as a well-known work of Indian literature. In the book of Song of Songs in the Bible we see a great celebration of sexual love in verses like "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for thy love is better than wine."
In most part of history a kiss has served multiple social and political purposes other than sexual bonding, especially purposes of a formal ritual for devotion and a symbolic gesture indicating respect as in the case of a greeting with a kiss. We have age old practices of Hindu priests kissing temple floors before entering, Christian priests kissing the Holy Bible after reading it and Muslims kissing each other after festival prayers and these serve as best examples of symbolic use of kissing during religious devotions.
If we go back to history, we see Persians and Romans of 5th century BC speak of different styles of kissing (on the mouth, on the cheek etc.) among people of different ranks. The social status of a Roman citizen determined the part of the body on which he or she could kiss the emperor - from cheek to foot. In the New Testament we see numerous instances of kissing ranging from Mary Magdalene kissing the feet of Jesus as an act of love, Jesus kissing the feet of his disciples as an act of humility and Judas Iscariot kissing Jesus as an act of betrayal.
In the modern era we see kissing couples at the conclusion of a marriage ceremony. Political leaders and other celebrities exchange kisses as an act of greeting each other.
PUBLIC DISPLAY OF AFFECTION
Public display of physical intimacy between loving couples through holding hands, cuddling/holding, backrubs/massages, caressing/stroking, kissing on the face, hugging, and kissing on the lips is generally referred as Public Display of Affection (PDA). Kissing for social purposes is acceptable in many of the Western countries and hence there was some kind of tolerance towards those men and women who publicly display their affection too.
However all forms of PDA is not tolerated in most countries. For example, PDA beyond the hand-holding, arm-around-the-waist, closed-mouth-kiss type is considered as out of order. Extreme PDA (for example: hands under clothes, deep tongue kissing etc.) is not welcomed even in the Western countries. Since Indians have not used to the idea of kissing for social purposes, no form of PDA is generally tolerated, especially in conservative quarters of the society.
INTOLERANCE TO PDA - THE GLOBAL SCENARIO
If we examine history, we see numerous instances of conservative forces attempting to restrict human actions using public health and other altruistic motives as excuses for imposing many of their moral codes and belief systems. This happened in the history of Kiss also. In 15th century there was widespread suspicion that humans might spread the plague through their saliva. In 1439, as recommended by the parliament, King Henry VI banned all type of kissing including “small specks” on cheek.
Subsequently, the Roman emperor Tiberius outlawed kissing in public ceremonies in an attempt to stop the spread of herpes. In 1562, officials in Naples, Italy banned kissing in public with a strict warning that those caught kissing could be sentenced to death, with the hope that it would stop more outbreaks of plague. Such efforts to control people expressing their affection based on fear of diseases survived only till the scare of such diseases existed in people’s mind.
Concerns other than health were also used to prevent people from kissing in public. In 1910, France banned kissing on French railways because it could cause delays. In 1982, the Iranian Parliament listed "kissing for pleasure" in a list of outlawed moral offenses.
Former US Vice President Al Gore set off a media storm when he kissed his wife, Tipper, after accepting his party's nomination for president in 2000. In 2003, Moscow considered a ban on kissing in public places, but People protested by kissing perfect strangers on the street and the proposed law was abandoned. Recently, dozens of couples at a train station in Ankara, Turkey staged a kiss-in to protest a crackdown on kissing on subway cars.
INTOLERANCE TO PDA AND PUBLIC KISS IN INDIA
Perhaps India’s approach to PDA is best reflected in its popular movies where actors run around trees with no scope for kissing (though there are a few recent exceptions). The reason usually given by film makers and censor board is that these movies are for family consumption and hence no kissing! However, there is no hesitation or censorship on showing the most brutal violence on screen!
In India, public intolerance towards PDA could be of recent origin. It is interesting to note that pre-independence Indian movies did in fact feature kissing scenes and one needs to do more research to find out from when Indians started becoming more ‘Victorian’ than ‘Indian’ on moral values!
More research is also needed to see whether increasing intolerance towards PDA has anything to do with the increasing emancipation of women in Independent India. India has changed and there are more women in public spaces – in colleges, work places and politics and today there is more direct social male-female contact than before. PDA such as handholding is in a way an expression of comradery and affection between men and women in an egalitarian spirit. Most patriarchal men are intolerant towards such actions.
Quite often it is restrictions imposed by patriarchal families on youngsters and their lack of privacy at home is a compelling reason for couples to engage in PDA.
There are many incidents in the recent history of India, due to which many people are outraged by public kissing, especially by the celebrities. In 1980, Padmini Kolhapure gave a peck on Prince Charles cheek during his visit to India and the event created a huge media scandal. In 1993 when Nelson Mandela kissed Indian actress Shabana Azmi, it caused a big heartburn to many Indians. The kiss between Hollywood actor Richard Gere and Indian actor Shilpa Shetty in April 2007 at an HIV/AIDS awareness promotion function lead to many protest meetings in many Indian cities along with beating and burning of effigies of Gere and filing of court cases against these actors.
It was not only the Hollywood actors, but ordinary young citizens of India who celebrated the Valentine Day in recent years met with threat and opposition from conservative Indians.
In India the biggest challenge to PDA is the ambiguity of the law itself. It is not only misused by the police but also by several outfits who claim that they are the custodians of Indian culture and law. Indian legal system discourages PDA through section 294 of the Indian Penal Code which is a law against public obscenity.
The law says that “ whoever, to the annoyance of others, (a) does any obscene act in any public place, or (b) sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both”. As per this law, causing annoyance to others through "obscene acts" is a criminal offence. The law does not give explicit definitions of "obscene acts" and so it is blatantly misused by police and lower courts to harass couples who display affection in public. Indian cops search, catch and penalize couples who engage in PDA in gardens, parks, cars, restaurants or similar public places. It is an easiest money-earner for the police.
Vigilante conservative groups claiming themselves as custodians of Indian culture has recently started challenging PDA. Their intolerance is partly due to their sexual deprivation and partly due to their faulty socialization and molding in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, those who wanted to take political advantage out of these events deliberately let such vigilante groups create tensions and the authorities appear to be not serious to restrict moves of such groups. Consequently we note two emerging trends in our society. These disturbing tendencies are:
1. The tendency to ignore all pluralist cultural moorings of Indian society and trying to define everything under a monolithic definition. The discourse that there could be many kinds of kisses is not acceptable to them. They would rather believe that there could be only one type of kiss which is erotic.
2. There is a tendency to suppress all dissents at any cost. Its symptoms are visible in all public spheres including cyber space where one could see concerted attack towards people who express dissenting ideas different from that of the ruling discourse.
The above mentioned trends are not limited to India only. Therefore youngsters of the world from Kochi and Beijing to Zimbabwe and New York need support by enlightened individuals to preserve their kiss of love. Supporting and preserving the kiss of love and thereby preserving individual freedom and plurality of ideas are the responsibility of all those who would want to realize a free and fair society. Tolerating public expressions of love is much wiser than tolerating public expressions of hatred and violence.
(Kandathil Sebastian is a Public Health researcher, International Development Consultant and a Novelist)
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