In India, to kiss openly is considered a public disgrace that can mean jail time.
This appeared to be the message conveyed on Oct. 23 by Jai Hind News, a popular local news channel in India's southern state of Kerala, when it broadcast footage of a couple kissing in an upscale terrace cafe in Calicut.
Within an hour of the broadcast, a group of right-wing Hindu fundamentalists entered the cafe with iron rods, smashing windows and upturning furniture. They claimed the cafe endorsed "un-Indian" behavior.
Less than a day later, the incident ignited a nationwide movement, city-hopping from Kochi to Hyderabad to Calcutta to Mumbai to Delhi. Known popularly as the "Kiss of Love" campaign, the movement's message is straightforward: Let's kiss in public.
"We wanted to show how humans express their love. A kiss is a short and sweet expression," explained Rahul Pasupalar, co-creator of the movement's Facebook page along with Farmis Hashim. "We didn't think the page would get more than 200 likes." By the time Pasupalar woke up the next morning, the Kiss of Love Facebook page had over 1,000 likes. Within two days, that number had increased ten-fold.
In early November, more than 10,000 people gathered on Marine Drive in Kochi, but according to Pasupalar, about 80 percent of the crowd was there to watch. "Kissing and protesting has never happened in India. People had big imaginations; they were climbing up on trees to snap photos."
Still, the Kerala protests gained enough clout to raise national eyebrows. A photo of Pasupalan and his wife Resmi Nair, kissing in the back of a police van after being detained, went viral. Following the protests, 52 Kiss of Love protestors were detained, and roughly 25 hospitalized for minor injuries inflicted by right-wing opposition protesters, who'd arrived equipped with tear gas and iron rods.
The Indian Penal Code states that anyone who "does any obscene act in any public place" may be subject to arrest. Police are granted moral authority to intervene. Kissing in public violates this act.