When a kiss means more

A peck on the cheek given by African National Congress president Nelson Mandela to an Indian film actress has sparked a furious debate on sexual morality in the columns of an Indian newspaper.

The photograph of the kiss, received by Shabana Azmi as she presented Mandela with the Newsmaker of the Year award on behalf of Cape Town newspaper South, appeared in the English-language newspaper The Pioneer.

Azmi, an award-winning actress in India’s serious “parallel cinema” and a Muslim, is well known for her support of liberal causes.

“Tomorrow the actress may invite someone even to her bedroom on the pretext of it being a fashionable etiquette,” fulminated Badrul Islam of the Aligarh Muslim University.

The furore has become increasingly strident, with Muslims and non-Muslims alike joining in the fray. It was Islam who started the row, writing: “It is an act which is both un-Islamic and un-Indian for it is not in consonance with our culture. I vehemently and totally disapprove of and object to the actress’s misdeed.”

Amena Jayal, a Muslim reader, demanded to know how Azmi’s “daughterly peck on Dr Nelson Mandela’s cheek” could amount to “an insult, and taint the sanctity of Islam”. To suggest that Azmi might next invite someone to her bedroom was “in the worst possible taste”, she declared.

A Hindu student, Mudit Mittal, emphatically supported the actress “A kiss does not always have to be in the sexual context,” he wrote. “Next time Mother Teresa kisses a Muslim boy, please don’t make an issue out of it”—The Guardian

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