"Kiss of Love" protesters. Photo courtesy of Mithun Vinod.

Dozens of demonstrators attempted to hold a pro-kissing protest Sunday in Kochi, in India’s Kerala state, in protest at conservative groups who attack those who dare to express affection in public. Thousands of people showed up to gawk at them or attack them.

The “Kiss of Love” movement began in reaction to an incident that took place in Kozhikode, in Kerala state, on October 24. A private television station aired footage of a couple kissing in a restaurant there, alleging that it was a hotbed of immoral activities. The next day, a group of young men went on a rampage at the restaurant in question, shattering windows and destroying furniture. The men reportedly belonged to the youth wing of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which is the country's ruling party.

After this, young activists throughout the region banded together over Facebook to organise the “Kiss of Love” protest in Kerala’s biggest city, Kochi. They were repeatedly denied permits by the police, and several of their volunteers were attacked before the demonstration even took place.

Scenes from the protest. Video courtesy of Dark Frame Creations.

“Many people were holding sticks, iron rods, and stones … They were ready to kill us!”

Farmis Hashim is an engineer who lives in Kozhikode, Kerala state. He helped organise the “Kiss of Love” protest.

About 30 or 40 of us gathered at our meeting spot with our placards. The police had warned us that there would be a big crowd, and that we wouldn’t be able to reach the spot where we wanted to hold our rally. Indeed, there were thousands of people there, more than we could have ever expected. A few hundred were our supporters, and about half had come just for the show, but there were also lots of people against us. They came from right-wing groups and extremist religious organisations. Usually extremist Hindus and Muslims are against each other, but they banded together against us. Many people were holding sticks, iron rods, and stones. We were shocked – they were ready to kill!

Men protesting against the "Kiss of Love". Photo courtesy of Mithun Vinod.

Fortunately, the police arrested us very quickly. They said they wanted to protect us, which was nice, but they should never have let all these armed people gather in the first place. Not to mention that they didn’t arrest any of them, even though after our arrest, some of our supporters got beaten up. The number of police officers sent to the scene was clearly insufficient, and they failed in their duties.

Protesters being taken into custody. Photo courtesy of Dark Frame Creations.

The moment the police moved in to start arresting us, we started kissing, and we continued kissing in the police van and at the police station. The police didn’t care about that; they were more concerned with the disorder going on outside.

Kissing in police custody.
“People should be allowed to express their love without having to look over their shoulders all the time!”

‘Moral policing’ is a huge problem all over India, not just in Kerala state. And it’s not just about kissing or holding hands, which you’ll rarely see in public in India, even though it isn’t against any law. Other people are always poking their nose into your business – if you’re walking with a girl, sitting on a bench or a motorcycle with a girl, people will ask if you’re married. And if they don’t like your answer, they will feel entitled to attack you, sometimes physically. [Editor’s Note: Killings linked to ‘moral policing’ cases are regularly reported.] These ‘moral policers’ come from all religions and backgrounds; they even include women. This mentality is ingrained in our patriarchal society; everyone’s experienced moral policing at least once in their lifetime, even if they’re walking with their spouse or their sibling.

I don’t think one protest like this is going to change society overnight. Still, we’ve got people all over the country talking about the problem, and sympathy protests were held in Hyderabad and Mumbai. So we hope this will be the start of a movement. People should be allowed to express their love without having to look over their shoulders all the time!

Protesters hugged, too. Photo courtesy of Dark Frame Creations.

A protester's message. Photo courtesy of Dark Frame Creations.

Police dispersed the crowd with canes.Photo courtesy of Dark Frame Creations.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure (@gjfaure).