Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kiss of Love: Looking beyond choreographed acts of love

To be or not to be can be translated as to be in communion or not to be in communion. There are several ways for people to be in communion with each other. Mere presence, an online like, touching of the hand, hugs and even a kiss in some cultures are all ways of seeking and being in communion. Participating in each other’s lives is definitely Christian and needs to be encouraged in all possible ways. No one prevents children from playing with each other and expressing their love towards one another. But forced acts of love are not freedom acts but choreographed acts.

The kiss of love in Kochi, Kerala had a reason of being an act against moral guardians in society. It was a protest and a sign of defiance against what was perceived as being against one’s freedom. The famed café in which couples got together and the morality groups which came together to teach the couples a lesson all lead to triggering a response by a part of society in Kerala. This has also created a chain effect with other cities including Bangalore picking up the kiss. But what is the real issue about and how should be engage with the act of kissing in public?

For starters, is it right for any group or religious institution to judge couples and women in particular? Freedom is the same for everyone and wearing a religious symbol does not give one person or group more freedom than the other. What religious groups can do is to give a religious undertaking of what is right and wrong and allow people to decide what they want to do. Any other violent expression of one’s religion is an infringement upon the rights of another person and also misinterpretation of the peace and love within one’s own religion.

What should be discussed before the kiss of love? The kiss of infringement and humiliation in public should precede the kiss of love. Why can’t religious heads and societal leaders make public statements that men who force themselves upon women in buses, public spaces, educational institutions and even religious sites are doing wrong and will be taken to task by the religious heads and societal leaders themselves? Why can’t women and men be offered the security of being safe on the roads and public spaces? Why shouldn’t the bodies of women belong to them and not be open to male gaze and insult? Why isn’t it that leaders don’t come forward when acts of violence and discrimination are followed against women in society?

Is kissing such a bad thing and who can one kiss? One can kiss one’s family, friends and in some cultures a kiss is a public gesture of greeting one another. Why do we make it into something else? In St. Luke 7: 36-50, a woman cries onto Jesus’ feet, wipes it with her hair, kisses his feet and puts expensive perfume on it. Jesus in St. John 13 washes his disciples’ feet. Bishops today wash and kiss the feet of altar boys and priests during Passion Week suggesting that kissing as such is not wrong. It is the opening up of an individual to the realization of how small one is and how one should wash and kiss the feet of others to bring about humility and love as two important Christian factors in one’s existence on earth.

But what is the kiss of love becoming? There is a lot of promise in the kiss of love. The promise lies in humility and love. But the kiss of love is being limited to a media choreographed event which turns into a security nightmare for the law enforcing agencies. There are so many people serving and loving humanity, kissing the very core of human suffering and expressing God’s love. But what is the kiss of love doing? It is protesting, defying and fighting. There is a street fight between the guardians of morality and the guardians of love. The media loves a story and the stage is set for Romeo and Juliet and their saga of love being denied and buried.

So kissing is good. But it is good when it is done for suffering humanity and when it leads to humility and the expression of Godly love. Any other kissing can be done in the privacy of one’s own room with one’s own partner. Public kissing cannot be exclusive and for a select few. It has to go much beyond that. But public kissing cannot be the infringement of the rights to one’s own body either. One cannot force oneself on a girl or woman in secret and then come and preach about morality in public.

What does the law say? Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code states that “whoever, to the annoyance of others, a) does any obscene act in any public place, or b) sings, recites or utters any obscene songs, ballad or word, 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.” Outraging the modesty of a woman comes in Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code. It says “Assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.—Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.” Both laws leave much to be desired in them and many a time it depends on how it is interpreted and used. It was interesting to note that in Kochi while on the one hand couples got together, on the other hand sections of the bystanders were insulting and hurling obscenities against the women present. Who then was breaking the law?

Jumping on to the road should be done for totally different reasons. When modesty is questioned and women are prevented from leaving their houses no one says anything. Those who stay at home and have to make do with domestic violence are silenced from many quarters. This then calls for religions to do what they are called to do and that is to express God’s love in its manifold ways. If this is not done, love will be hijacked by other institutions and used for a dramatic effect, moving away completely from the actual meaning and need for love. Let’s love and move on.

Today is the International Day For the Elimination of Violence against Women.
You are invited to orange your neighbourhood.

Picture courtesy http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/end-violence-against-women

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