When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

India

In India, Where A Kiss Is Not Just A Kiss

The current series of kissing protests in India are indicative of a country and a culture in transition.

"Kiss of Love" protesters in New Delhi on Nov. 8
"Kiss of Love" protesters in New Delhi on Nov. 8
Ranjani Iyer Mohanty*

NEW DELHI — The India of today is basically conservative in nature. Bollywood and Tollywood movies may be full of heaving breasts and thrusting hips, but everyone knows they are fantasies.

Katrina Kaif may seem close to reaching expand=1] a climax while promoting a mango drink, but actors are considered outside the pale. An advertisement for strawberry-flavored condoms in the middle of a Saturday afternoon sports match may appear risqué — but it’s sponsoring the national passion of cricket, so all is forgiven.

And while one can often see young men strolling on the streets holding hands (accepted because it is viewed as platonic), public displays of affection, commonly referred to as PDA, between young men and women are discouraged. PDA are not illegal per se, yet Indian law does state that an obscene act in a public place that disturbs others is punishable, and there’s often someone around disturbed enough to label an act as obscene.

Kissing is seen as the tip of the iceberg, with orgies and social anarchy lying not far below the surface.

But not everyone buys into this perspective. Recently a couple was kissing in a café in the southern state of Kerala, and was caught on video, which sparked vandalism against the café. Galvanized via Facebook, a "Kiss of Love" protest against this moral policing of PDA was organized in Kochi. Soon groups of young, urban, college students were gathering in support in various cities all over the country to stage kiss-ins.

Interestingly, ancient India was very liberal. The Kama Sutra — written around 300 BC — describes 15 types of kisses, a fitting rebut to anyone arguing that kissing is a western import. Furthermore, the Hindu and Jain temples in Khajuraho, dated around 1000 AD, have several graphic statues showing superbly athletic and creative acts of love-making.

But over time, attitudes, particularly towards women, became more restrictive. With the arrival of Islam, women took to covering their heads and sometimes their faces with their saris. With the arrival of the British, women began wearing blouses under their saris. And most recently, Hindu fundamentalists in some smaller towns declared that young unmarried women should not wear jeans or carry mobile phones, so as not to tempt rapists.

Youth revolution

Now, having reached one extreme, the pendulum of acceptability is starting to swing back towards the lenient side. And that’s happening for two reasons. Firstly, globalization — spearheaded by satellite TV, the Internet, and the Indian diaspora — has exposed Indians to life and practices in other countries, and some of it looks like fun. Secondly, the youth of India are stirring, and there are a whole lot of them.

Half of India’s population is under the age of 25 and 65% is under 35. The 15-34 age group currently numbers roughly 430 million. By 2020, this age group will number 460 million and the average age will be 29, making India the youngest country in the world.

There will be enormous consequences — not only political and economic, but also cultural — to this demographic shift. The young will demand not only less corruption, more transparency, better education, and more job opportunities, they will also want a culture that better expresses who they are. While respect for tradition and subservience to the elderly are Indian hallmarks, over the next few years the voice of the youth will gain in importance.

Power is shifting from the old to the young, as politicians begin to woo them for their vote. Then, once the young are earning and have spending power, the markets will cater to them as well.

A kiss is not just a kiss. While the acceptance of PDA may not lead to anarchy, it may enable affection and desire to be expressed in a healthier way: less repressive, more consensual, less violent, and more mature. Acceptance of PDA may also lead to a questioning of other restrictions. It may free India’s youth to ask: “Why not?”

As they find their voice, these kissing protesters may sound the first note of a longer song that expresses their liberality and their vision for their lives and their country. When this happens, both political and cultural change will accelerate further.

Given the competing forces of tradition vs. progress, old vs. young, and rural vs. urban, it remains to be seen where the pendulum will come to a rest. But for now, India is as much a tangle of contradictions as it's ever been. Krishna’s birthday was celebrated a few months ago with much fanfare all over the country, but the deity was a consummate Casanova and no doubt kissing rated high among his skills. And last week, while the inside of the national newspaper The Times of India earnestly discussed the ongoing kissing protests, on the front was a half-page advertisement for Skore Easy condoms, with the tag line “Just sex. No mess.”

*Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer based in New Delhi. Her previous articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Financial Times, The Atlantic and other publications.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Ukraine Is Turning Into A "New Israel" — Where Everyone Is A Soldier

From businessmen to farmers, Ukrainian society has been militarizing for the past six months to defend its sovereignty. In the future it may find itself like Israel, permanently armed to protect its sovereignty.

Ukrainian civilians learn how to shoot and other military skills at a shooting range in Lviv on July 30, 2022.

Guillaume Ptak

KYIV — The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point. Vladimir Putin's army has suffered its worst setback since the beginning of the invasion. The Russian army has experienced a counter-offensive that many experts consider masterful, so it must retreat and cede vast territories to its opponent.

The lightning victory that the head of the Kremlin had dreamed of never took place. The losses are considerable — Ukrainian troops on the battlefield now outnumber the Russians.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

On April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted that at the end of the conflict, Ukraine would become a "big Israel". In an interview with Ukrainian media, he said then, "In all the institutions, supermarkets, cinemas, there will be people with weapons."

The problem of national security will be the country's most important one in the next decade. An "absolutely liberal, and European" society would therefore no longer be on the agenda, according to the Ukrainian president.

Having long since swapped his suit and tie for a jacket or a khaki T-shirt during his public appearances, Zelensky has undeniably become one of the symbols of this growing militarization of Ukrainian society. However, the president claimed that Ukraine would not become an "authoritarian" regime: "An authoritarian state would lose to Russia. Ukrainians know what they are fighting for."

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ