Kiss for Public on Palace Balcony
William and Kate may kiss and tell, but the kiss is taboo in India as seen in the recent Kiss of Love protestsReuters

A couple kiss in a restaurant. A moral brigade present there breaks the couple apart. News of the incident goes viral in India and people start to protest by kissing in public against moral policing.

However in Bangalore, the police have denied permission to the organisers of the event, slated to be held on Sunday, 30 November.

The police have not granted permission for the protest citing, obscenity in public and public disorder. But, the defiant organisers have threatened to go ahead with their campaign.

The Kiss of Love storm kicked up by a freedom of expression protest, has highlighted a few chinks in urban Indians' mindset.

Firstly, as its organisers say, if the protest is meant to fight a regressive thought, are there no other issues as worthy of protests as a public display of affection?

Are the child rapes, sexual assault on women and the plight of millions living on a dollar a day not worth a social-media driven protest?

Perhaps such atrocities do not merit the collective attention of a selfie generation. There have been less than a handful protests by youth over rapes, farmers' suicides or eviction of poor from their native areas.

If today it is the freedom of unadulterated expression that is sought, tomorrow it can well be a call for porn films in the name of the same freedom, or a revoking of Contempt of Court Act. After all, the protesters may well argue, even judges are humans and the general public must have its say.

A society has certain rules and acts in place to ensure a certain amount of discipline and peace for everyone. Not everyone is bound to find the conditions perfect but a large majority remains satisfied.

Culture of display

Two, is the social media and mindless aping of the west (as seen on celluloid), promoting a culture of display and vulgarity?

We already have seen a barrage of obscene MMSes unleashed online. Unsuspecting youngsters are caught in the act, filmed and trapped with some ending up in suicides.

Is this the freedom the youth are fighting for?

The Indian market has opened up in more than one way. Students in schools are indulging in sexual acts, unprotected at that, and babies are landing up in garbage bins.

There seems to be a problem of too much in too less a time.

When the present campaign was held in cities like Kochi, Kolkatta, Delhi and Mumbai, the numbers who came in to watch and get titillated far outnumbered the protesters.

In Bangalore, Police Commissioner MN Reddi told the press that, "Granting permission would go against the obscenity provisions under section 294(A) of the Indian Penal Code. "

For once, leaders from all parties were unanimous that the "uncivilised" event should not be allowed, insisting that a protest against moral policing should not be fought through public display of obscene acts.

Where it began

The root of the campaign can be traced to a city in Kerala where a couple kissing in a hotel invited the wrath of a right-wing group. The kissing virus swept the country, with Facebook acting as a catalyst.

Freedom of expression is part of the Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution that gives conditional freedom, giving the limitations in Article 19(2). It cannot prevent the operation of any law imposing restrictions on the freedom in the cause of national security, public order, decency or morality, defamation, etc.

One such law is Section 294 IPC that police in the kiss campaign have sought to invoke. It 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, balled 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 both.

While advocates may insist on proof of the act being obscene or causing annoyance, the public pulse has largely been unwelcome to the event.

True, obscenity has not been defined in the section. However, Section 292 of the IPC, states "a book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any other object, shall be deemed to be obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect, or (where it comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items, is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt a person, who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it."

Vatsayana of the Kama Sutra fame has devoted a chapter of his sexual treatise on kissing, and old Indian texts may be quoted for their reference to the act, but none of that holds as a licence to public display.

No one is calling a kiss per se obscene. The objection is to turning the kiss into a public act. A vast section of India is not yet prepared for this revolution. Intimacy is still preferred to be kept within four walls. While agreeing with the concept of freedom, many fail to see a national issue in the prohibited kiss – yet another stalemate between two generations possibly.