The latest assault on the Kiss Of Love movement, the last in the long list of assaults against its activists over the past one year in Kerala, involves the arrest of two former KOL activists, Rahul Pasupalan and Resmi Nair, over sex trafficking charges. While the media has been mixing up this case with that of a pedophilia FB page in a rather unwarranted way , the media has been screaming about the pair’s connection with KOL and some reports almost imply that their actions were because of their associations with KOL. Others, including the arch-conservative newspapers, have asked whether the KOL was a cover for sex work markets!
Meanwhile, FB is full of dirty, stinking, horribly obscene comments against KOL , all made I suppose, by ‘ordinary people’. It is amazing how they seek to remedy lack of integrity with verbal diarrhea of this kind. The case against the two have not reached anywhere, and so it is not appropriate to say anything at all about it. Surely, if they are found guilty, they must be punished, but not before. However, it is important for me to condemn the manner in which this is being used to attack KOL.
The following observations are therefore meant to clear the air about KOL. These are my personal views, and do not represent a collective view on the matter. They hold irrespective of whether the two are pronounced innocent or guilty.
One, Rahul Pasupalan and Resmi Nair were indeed involved in a very visible way in the KOL protests at Kochi. But most of us who were also involved know well that even the protest against the attack on Downtown was not initiated by them. In fact, it was the media that picked them, ignoring others, more experienced activists, who were actually more deeply involved in organizing the protests. It was the media that projected them as ‘leading spokespersons’, and the assaults they suffered on media platforms led to strengthening their visibility in KOL. In fact, the Kochi protest would have been totally impossible in the way it was conducted if not for the immense courage of women activists like Jolly Chirayath – who persuaded others that it could be held in a public way and not in some mall in a corner of town. However, the two were indeed very visible, and the key activists were never granted the visibility they deserved. The mainstream media ought to be asking why it chose these two to represent KOL thereby reducing KOL to them.
Two, Rahul Pasupalan and Resmi Nair are better described as ‘former KOL activists’ rather than as ‘leaders’, ‘spokespersons’, or ‘activists’ of the KOL. This, as many have reiterated by now, was a movement with no Central Committee or Politburo. KOL does not keep tabs on its activists’ personal lives either! In the past months, both in the issue of Cherian Phillip’s misogynist comments, and in that of the For a Better FB campaign, Rahul Pasupalan had revealed himself to be totally opposed to the spirit of the KOL and indeed, many of us had condemned him outright and in public, pointing to the huge discrepancy between his statements and the KOL. Therefore the mainstream media ought to apologize to the KOL activists for its gross misrepresentation of the movement. Since we have no official committee that would formally expel anyone, affiliation is purely on the basis of a shared political understanding. Anyone who moves out of that understanding and takes a diametrically opposite position, moves away. Rahul Pasupalan did that, and even his presence in the KOL FB page in that name does not alter that. For us in KOL, as I mentioned earlier, this media bombardment is just the last in a long line of assaults we have suffered over the last year. We have weathered them, and we will weather this too.
Three, there is no common position on sex work in KOL though we are all against pedophilia and many of us have worked to report such pages, including in the present case. I, personally, am not willing to ride a moral high horse against sex workers. I do not think that sex workers do more harm to society than corrupt and inept politicians who loot the State treasury and take bribes from all sorts of people. I do not think that they are less moral than the thousands of ‘respectable housewives’ who submit to their husbands’ impossible sexual demands so that the latter will continue to feed and clothe them, and so that they may continue to wear the cloak of respectability. I do not think of them more guilty than thousands of Malayali who contribute to the destruction of Kerala through participating directly and indirectly in sand mining, quarrying, and other such activities. I do not think them more rapacious than the predators, say, in the TRIDA, who now seek to turn the grounds of an old and venerable government school into Trivandrum into real estate. I also don’t think them more ‘fallen’ than the many ‘ordinary, respectable’ folk who queued up for selfies with Sarita Nair. Most importantly, I personally think sex workers as peddlers of pleasure are a hundred times better than peddlers of hate – like the vicious Sasikala, who peddles verbal poison on Hindu right wing platforms, aiming to destroy all social conviviality in Malayali society.
Four, if the two did use KOL for personal gain, that it indeed condemnable, but it is important to remember that a different measure cannot be set for KOL alone. In Kerala and elsewhere, we have seen much sexual violence, swindling, and other crimes by persons affiliated to both religious and secular communities and institutions, including priests, sanyasis, sanyasinis, maulavis and so on, and by politicians, bureaucrats, film actors, and others. In each of these cases, the moral power/popularity of these institutions were used as a cloak to actively seek personal gain. If these institutions have not become redundant or proven to be immoral just because some people have used their affiliations to them for personal gain, KOL alone cannot be blamed. The big difference, of course, is that while these communities and institutions have too often tried to cover up the misdeeds of their members or actively defend them against such charges, KOL does nothing of that sort.
Fifth, I believe that KOL activists are well aware that they are in for the long haul. Misogyny, sexual conservatism, gender inequality, and such interrelated evils are enduring structures and we are not naive enough to think that they will be undone with a few struggles and that there will be no backlash. Mark my words, we will not cave in, we will not flinch.