The ‘long hug’ controversy exposes Kerala’s struggle with its hypocrisy
Kerala has a problem. Many in fact. And the latest is the row over a hug between two students in a school in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s capital.
A Class 12 boy hugs a Class 11 girl congratulating her for her recital of a Western song. A teacher takes objection to the “long hug” as it “violates school discipline”. The school management summons the parents of the two students and allegedly humiliates and threatens them. The Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights supports the students, but the Kerala High Court is convinced by the school’s argument. Sadly, the high court’s decision in this case is disappointing.
Kerala, the large urban village that it is, is struggling to co-exist with the modernity it aspires to achieve without letting go of the petty prudishness it prides itself on. The controversial hug reflects this struggle.
Not long ago, a police chief in Kerala suggested that a man staring at a woman for more than 14 seconds could land in jail. Now a “long hug” can be problematic.
Kerala, it would seem, has a multiple personality disorder, more like the three characters actor Vikram plays in the 2005 Tamil/Hindi film Anniyan. Kerala can be regressively puritanical, ambitiously progressive and mindlessly violent, all at the same time.
How else can one explain the following: Kerala has the highest alcohol consumption per capita in India, but, the state, its government and people alike, refuses to acknowledge that it has a drinking problem. At the height of the ‘beef ban’ controversy across India, Kerala was one of the few places that held beef fests to stress the importance of the freedom of choice. Yet, a majority in the state didn’t bat an eyelid at the cruel ways adopted to address the stray dog menace. The 2014 Kiss of Love protests, against moral policing, started in Kerala, but the state was quick to accept the love jihad bogey, the Hadiya case being an example. Kerala has the envious distinction of voting to power one of the earliest elected communist governments in the world — but it is also home to many ultra-orthodox religious groups.
This “long hug” controversy is also a manifestation of a fundamental flaw that runs through the fully literate state — fake morality. Kerala is the first state to unveil a transgender policy in 2015, yet, many of the transgenders employed by the Kochi Metro quit allegedly because they were unable to deal with the social stigma. A sex ratio of 1.084 is a matter of pride, but on women’s safety it has a long way to go. A good indicator of this is to check how many women use public transport or even access public places on their own after sundown. The International Film Festival of Kerala showcases the best, even avant-garde, cinema from across the world, yet there’s a regressive honour in many men deeming it their ‘duty’ to protect women and restrict their world to the four walls of the house.
All these reflect a hypocrisy in society that Kerala is in denial about. Until the problem is acknowledged there can be little progress towards becoming a truly enlightened and empowered society.
The inflated egos and misplaced sense of morality must not come in the way of the academic goals of two students. Till then, let children be free to express their emotions without fake morality coming into the picture.