BJP protesting Jharkhand’s ‘kissing contest’ makes them enemies of love

Is the saffron party's definition of decency harassing the most socioeconomically defenceless members of India?

 |  5-minute read |   12-12-2017
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“kissing contest” in a local tribal fair in Jharkhand’s Littipara Assembly constituency of Pakur district is the latest thorn in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s eternally sore throat. The contest, organised by a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MLA Simon Marandi on December 9 at the Dumaria mela, has come under fire from the state BJP unit for “trivialising tribal culture”.

While the ostensible reason for promoting the contest – “to prevent married couples from seeking divorce”, an apparent trend among the Santhals of the region – is plain silly, the contest itself is just a whole lot of harmless fun. It could also be seen as an unorthodox way of expressing love at a time of endless moral policing by the state, at a time when majoritarian paranoia of the so-called “love jihad” is being normalised everyday by politicians and the national media.

The kissing contest organised at the annual fair held in Talapahari village of Littipara Assembly constituency, of which Marandi is the elected MLA since the bypoll conducted in April this year, was partaken by 20 couples, according to reports. As per Marandi, the contest was to promote love between couples, and nothing else.

Supporting the “kissing competition”, Marandi told the Indian Express: “It is not about making people modern as such, because tribals have their own lifestyle. But it is also true that there is a growing trend among tribals of divorcing their spouses. Men and women, both leave their current spouses to marry somebody else. This leads to families breaking up. This event was intended to make love blossom between the couples. In fact, the name of the fair in Santhali language literally means “kiss of love (prem ka chumban). I don’t understand what the hullabaloo is about. This fair has been held for a long time and several competitions are organised. Since it was a local affair, I had to attend it.”

The emphasis on local practices and love to prevent social disintegration of tribal communities, as opposed to “promoting modernity” with the public kissing is interesting. And, it’s exactly this aspect of the contest that’s reminiscent of the “Kiss of Love” protests organised in Kerala in 2014, and again in May 2017, that’s got the BJP’s goat.     

While in Kerala, the local activists were protesting against the BJP/Shiv Sena’s incessant butting in on matters personal, the Talapahari fair kissing contest has been questioned by the BJP as “organised indecency”. In fact, the state BJP has sent a two-member team to probe the matter, and to “establish its authenticity”. Just how would the district administration is going to authenticate a local fair event is of course a question that’s no longer a laughing matter.

BJP’s tendency to constantly police the private and community spaces of societies, to homogenise and sanitise every local custom, event, gathering according to its ideals of Brahminical mindset, to judge every difference by the distance it travels from the normative Hinduness – is writ large in the latest controversy that’s erupted in Jharkhand.

Moreover, the ruling BJP also uses and abuses the law according to its whims and fancies, turning the law into from a system to help the citizens to one in which everyone is surveiled and scanned for potential criminality. Hence, the deputy magistrate of Littipara saying the public kissing contest among the Pahariya community members at the Dumaria mela amounted to “prima facie a case of indecent behaviour in public place, which is a violation of sections 292, 293 and 294 of Indian Penal Code” is basically like classifying the behaviour to fit the offence.

The Pahariya community form a particularly vulnerable tribal group of the Santhan Pargana, and setting the law after them for an event at a local fair is the very definition of a Big State. It’s a violation of the individual’s fundamental rights of privacy, freedom, right to assembly, and to express consensual love. Exactly what is the state doing in this space of spousal love and community kinship?

Various political and religious groups like the VHP, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Sena, Shiv Sena, among others, draw their political capital by bashing up youngsters for expressing romantic love. In fact, 2017 India has seen the apex court turning an adult woman’s choice of love into a reality TV soap of the most distressing kind, denying her the fundamental right to privacy, her bodily and religious autonomy, and disrespecting her choice of partner. The Jharkhand protests over the kissing contest is just a sorry extension of the same cycle of BJP’s Hindu patriarchy manifesting itself like a nosy hostel warden.

But the ones the Jharkhand BJP threatens to undo with law also happen to be the poorest and most vulnerable members of a disadvantaged community of the state. Is the BJP’s definition of decency harassing the most socioeconomically defenceless members of India? It would certainly seem so.

Also read: No, Modi. Blue Whale challenge is not a joke

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