The week that saw a successful Marriage referendum for same sex partners in my home country, Ireland, brought me back to an intimate matter of a related sort which happened outside our hotel in India a while back.
One day around Christmas 2014 Mr Om, our hotel supervisor, came into my office and said: ‘Madam, there’s going to be a kissing strike on the beach.’ I didn’t have to think of a reply. I just blurted out ‘Ah! This is a joke.’
The ‘Kissing stirke’ was not accurately named. Officially it was called in English The Kiss of Love campaign. But Kissing strike was good enough in translation. It was a protest. And the protest was by young Malayalees (Keralites) objecting to the old guard who see any form of affection in public as unacceptable. Even something as simple as holding hands or giving a peck on the cheek when outdoors are big no-nos in most of India and Kerala is no exception. And that’s between straight couples only. (Take note if you’re coming on holiday).
The protest indicates a liberal ethos that is perceptibly creeping into Kerala youth. A longing for greater personal freedom which has trickled in through the advent of satellite TV, mobile phones with cameras and the much loved What’s App. These gadgets have brought western culture to the masses and it may be that they like what they see. But for the older generation, such displays of affection in public are nothing short of shameful.
Maybe the real fear is something else? Such affectionate behaviour suggests that there is indeed a relationship going on between two young people. And doesn’t this endanger the widely prevalent custom of arranged marriages (not to be confused with forced marriage) which over 80% of Indians still engage in?
The concept of an arranged marriage means that girl marries boy who are both virtual strangers to each other. The partners are chosen by the parents on both sides and the choice is based around education, job, salary, caste, skin colour and of course a nice fat dowry which the girl’s family must pay to the boy’s. It’s illegal but it happens. Any Indian who follows the arranged marriage system will tell you ‘Love comes later.’
The Kissing strike passed off peacefully. I haven’t seen any young Indian couples kissing on Alleppey Beach since. But after 14 years in this country I have a strong suspicion that the winds of cultural change are blowing.