Kochi youth flock to protest moral policing

10 March 2017

Kerala citizens on Thursday announced that they won't tolerate ''moral policing'', with political parties, cultural organizations and activists protesting the Shiv Sena highhandedness that Marine Drive in Kochi had witnessed a day earlier.

Rallies, meetings, hugs and kisses marked the state-wide protest, which also reverberated in the state assembly.

A group of Shiv Sena activists had on Wednesday forcefully evicted young couples from Marine Drive, a favourite hangout of the city's youngsters.

Hundreds of youths turned up at the Marine Drive Walkway on Thursday evening, dancing, hugging and kissing in a rare public display. The second Kiss of Love (KOL) campaign went off peacefully with police forming a protective ring around the protesters.

The first KOL, organized on 2 November 2014 after members of the Sangh Parivar attacked youngsters in a Kozhikode restaurant, was marred by sporadic incidents of minor violence.

The Marine Drive Walkway, which unusually remains deserted till noon, came alive after youths started flocking to the venue to register their protest.

"The atrocity that took place on Wednesday needs to be condemned and protested. There is a need to reclaim our public spaces. Youths should be able to place their hands on their lovers' shoulders and hug them in public. There is nothing immoral about this and we are fighting for this cause," said Johnson N P, a KOL activist.

The organizers arrived around 4pm with umbrellas, parodying the claim of the Shiv Sena that canoodling couples took cover under parasols. "We are here to kiss and share the message of love. Those who protested against the campaign earlier are nowhere to be seen today," said Lasar Shine, another organizer of the event.

The activists wore garlands and crowns and coloured masks. Many of them also brought origami works and balloons, adding colour and an vibrancy to the protest.

Kalakakshi, an artists' collective, painted the umbrellas with pictures of smooching couples. Protesters later held the umbrellas while sharing kisses, displaying love in an unabashed manner.

A huge posse of police, led by the city police commissioner, looked on: this time to safeguard the youths.

Later, a street play was organized by the transgender community, who alleged moral policing by the police. The play soon went out of script and control: it turned into a display of affection with a couple rolling and kissing on the ground. They invited rude comments from the spectators, though unlike the Shiv Sena men, they did not take the law into their own hands.

The protesters later formed a huge circle, and sang and danced to folk songs. They soon erected a makeshift podium, where couples climbed over to display affection in public. Young couples, one after the other, were seen climbing the podium to kiss. Alternative folk band, 'Ooraali', performed at the venue, providing the perfect background score.

BJP workers, who also staged a protest against moral policing, chose to call their event 'Mathruvandanam', and raised anti-KOL slogans.

Police, however, stood vigil, and separated the right-wing protesters from the activists, leaving no chance for another lapse of the kind which a day earlier saw the suspension of a sub-inspector and the transfer of several other officers.

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