Kissing can damage your career and reputation. This is the lesson that India's most famous actress and one of its well-known female politicians have learned in recent days. One of these controversial kisses was a social greeting. The other occurred in the latest Bollywood action film. Both kisses have exposed how Indian society is struggling to cope with increasing social changes. One of the most striking manifestations of this westernisation is the emergence of strong, independent women in all walks of life. But the past year has shown that no matter how successful women may be, they are still vulnerable to criticism. When Vasundhara Raje, who is Chief Minister of Rajasthan, a state the size of France, greeted a businesswoman friend at the World Economic Forum meeting in New Delhi recently with a kiss on the cheek, all hell broke loose in Rajasthan. For Ms Raje and members of the upper middle classes, the air-kissing is as routine as blinking. They were stunned at the outrage that greeted her gesture - not helped by the fact that the angle of the photograph published in all the papers made it look as though they were kissing on the mouth. Conservatives in Rajasthan called the kiss 'obscene' and 'vulgar', vilified Ms Raje for tarnishing the reputation of Rajasthani women and demanded her resignation. 'It's a shameful blot on all Indian women. We have not seen any chief minister in such a disgraceful pose like this ever before,' said Rajasthan politician Mamta Sharma. Earlier this year, a south Indian actress, Khushboo, was hounded and persecuted for remarking in a television programme on Aids that couples engaging in pre-marital sex should use condoms. She was accused of encouraging pre-marital sex, publicly humiliated and forced to apologise. Just days after the Raje incident, a lawyer in Madhya Pradesh filed a criminal case against a kiss between two of India's biggest heartthrobs - former Miss World Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan. In their latest blockbuster, Dhoom 2, Rai and Roshan kiss on the lips, a fleeting peck by western standards but more than what Bollywood is accustomed to. The lawyer, Shailendra Dwivedi, accused the two stars of lowering the dignity of Indian women and encouraging obscenity among India's youth. Bollywood films started to show on-screen kisses only in the late 1990s. During the period when kisses were forbidden, films nevertheless showed couples thrusting their pelvises and making other sexually explicit gestures during song-and-dance routines. Observers accuse Mr Dwivedi of seeking cheap publicity, but he has supporters. 'Our culture is going down the toilet or is certainly headed in that direction. Westernisation means sex, promiscruity, abortions and family breakdown,' said Prakash Sharma, national convener of the World Hindu Council, a Hindu nationalist group. Both kissing cases reveal how Indian society is struggling to cope with new social freedoms. 'Men are still not comfortable with strong women, particularly in politics which is male-dominated. There are double standards. If a male politician had performed a 'westernised' gesture like a kiss, no one would even have noticed. But every action of women like Ms Raje is scrutinised and criticised,' said political analyst and author Satish Jacob. In a wider sense, the film kiss demonstrates how, for conservatives, the new India of dating, partying, kissing, drinking, and watching western programmes, is utterly repugnant. But contradictions abound. 'The lawyer has no problem with Aishwarya Rai being dressed in revealing clothes in the movie. That's fine. But he doesn't like the kiss. Where's the consistency?' asked 24-year-old call centre worker Neha Kapoor. For freelance editor Srinvasan Dutta the controversy smacks of hypocrisy. 'If kissing is so bad, how come we ended up with over a billion people? Sex is the main recreation for millions of Indians,' said Dutta. Such contradictions apply to women like Kapoor. Indian parents are increasingly educating their daughters but feel uncomfortable when they land jobs, become financially independent and demand social freedom. 'They think you're a call girl just because you work night shifts. They can't handle the fact that I am free to make my own decisions because I have a good income,' said Kapoor, whose parents have not told their relatives about her job for fear of disapproval. The inability of some Indian men to cope with independent women can also be seen in the alarming rise in acid attacks by jilted lovers. Psychiatrists in New Delhi say there is a disturbing increase in acid attacks by men who feel humiliated if a woman spurns them. Last month Suman Khujur, a mother of three in west Delhi, had acid poured on her and was forced to drink acid by her former lover. He attacked her after she left him. Khujur, 35, died later in hospital. In the past six months there have been at least 14 acid attacks in the capital. 'It's usually done by men who suffer from an inferiority complex. Their ego can't cope with a woman reacting negatively. They think she should be easily available,' said Dr Arvind Aggarwal, senior psychiatrist at the Holy Family Hospital in New Delhi. For many Indian males, the new Indian woman is difficult to digest. She marks a break with Indian society's cultural orthodoxy, which dictates that a woman should be docile and accept her husband's authority unquestioningly. With education and financial independence, this dynamic has broken down. A new one is emerging. But the birth pangs are proving painful.