INDIA - AGRA'S BLOODY VALENTINE

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Feb 16 2009, 5:06pm


Last Saturday, couples across India risked head shavings, public thrashings and forced marriages – all in the name of romance. Violence and unrest broke out across the country following threats by members of Hindu extremist group Sri Ram Sena (SRS), or 'Lord Rama's Army', who branded Valentine's Day "anti-Indian" and spoke out against the decadence and immorality of the touchy-feely foreign import. This is the same group that created headlines last month after chasing, slapping and kicking young women drinking at a bar in Mangalore, Karnataka.


Over the weekend, extra police were stationed outside shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants and ice cream parlours, while hundreds of potential troublemakers from hard-line Hindu organisations were taken into preventative custody. But despite these measures, certain fringe groups managed to make their presence felt. Gift shops selling Valentine's Day merchandise were vandalised and forced to shut down. In Agra, six vigilantes were arrested for shaving the heads of young couples in a park, one boy was married-off to a donkey for spending the day with his girlfriend, while in Haryana state, a young unmarried couple were dragged from a house by police and given a public thrashing.

There's no doubt about it, Indians really love love, but is the shiny new global economy really ready for the mass-produced, kissy-wissy, Hallmark-branded romance that we take for granted in the West? We travelled to Mysore, Karnataka, to talk to a cross-section of people living in the heartlands of the Valentine's Day debate.

Lokesh, 42, tailor
I don't like Valentine's Day – this is not Indian culture. Our India is good, but other country's traditions are not good for India. Valentine's Day makes so many boys and girls go down bad route – like sex-route. These days, youngsters just want to pick up girls and go dancing and smoking hash and throwing bottles in lake and staying all night at pub while mother and father is waiting at home for them. If you want to celebrate Valentine's Day then you love mother, you love children, your sister, your friend, you love education. Even cards I don't like. Valentine's card doesn't mean respect. After day is over, just throw card in the dustbin. My wife wrote me only two love letters in 16 years of marriage and I still keep them in a suitcase under my bed.

Madhu Maik, 29, restaurant owner
We don't think Valentine's Day should only be for Westerners. The art of lovemaking itself – the Karma Sutra – came from India, so if you oppose Valentine's Day then you are also opposing a central part of Indian culture. These threats by the SRS are already affecting my business. We are usually one of the most popular Valentine's spots in the city. Every year we decorate the place with banners, balloons and flowers – but this year we're not planning anything. We don't want to risk any trouble. This year orders of Valentine's cake and chocolates are down by around 60-70 percent, so just imagine the percentage loss all over India.

Sonica Ganapathi, 20, engineering student
These guys don't have any right to ban Valentine's Day, it should like totally be left up to the individual. Making it a big issue, it's crazy! Like they can tell us what to do. I love Valentine's because it makes the day special. My guy is going to get me something like cards, chocolates, lingerie, flowers, and then probably take me out for lunch or dinner – but my parents don't like it so we have to be like totally secretive. Here in India, you know you can't just behave how you like, like in the West. Holding hands is OK but smooching and hugging is like totally off-limits. You should be able to respect your own culture as well as embrace other cultures.

Ratna Prashanth, 40, English lecturer
It's bullshit, this Valentine's protest. It's really absurd. In India we have got to start swimming with the tide. The basic culture should be there, but we can't ignore progress. In a democracy everyone has a right to live in happiness, to live in the way that they choose. We shouldn't miss any occasion to celebrate life, and why should we? Until a while ago unmarried couples were unheard of in India, whereas now there are many young people practising live-in relationships without marriage. Change is happening for the good

Dr. Sandeep Malavade, 34, dentist
There would be more Valentine's Days in the year if it were up to me. I got married two months ago and I'm here buying something for my new wife. She likes the romantic cards, the ones with poems about feelings. After all, Valentine's Day is all about sharing feelings, expressing your love for one another. I am going to buy my wife a new dress, some flowers and chocolate, to show her how much I love her. The views of this SRS group are all bullshit: if people want to kiss and smooch and express their love for each other then they should be free to do this.

Sarvananda G. Dasa, 38, Hare Krishna
If it is taken in the right spirit, Valentine's Day can create harmony – but if lust predominates, it can create havoc. And, unfortunately, lust tends to predominate. According to Vedic thought, the relationship between man and woman is sacred and must be sanctified by certain institutions. It says that all women should be living under the protection of men because women are mentally and physically weaker and can become easily misguided. Sexual attraction and pleasure is the most powerful force in the world and unless it is enjoyed under the institution of man and wife, it can lead to suffering for the whole society. Bhagavad Gita states that when women are left unprotected they become polluted and that leads to the creation of unwanted children – and unwanted children create havoc in society. That is why relations outside marriage are considered illicit, because they lead to sinful tendencies and are harmful to society as a whole.

We believe that Valentine's Day should not be prevented by force, rather we should create awareness so that people accept the need to maintain respectful relations between man and woman – so they do not become loose.

Joshua Ellis, 22, business management student
Valentine's is a day to show your feelings for the person you love. I just bought a card for my girlfriend – along with a box of chocolates, a big bouquet of flowers, a stuffed bear and a ring. I'm going to propose to her tomorrow evening at sunset from my favourite viewpoint in the Bihar Hills, because up there it feels like you're floating over the clouds. Afterwards I've booked a table at a nice restaurant and hired a band to play all her favourite songs, so I guess you could say I'm pretty romantic. There are a few people who have a problem with Valentine's Day. They're saying they want to go around locking up unmarried couples who are out dating – but these people need to grow up. And when I say grow up I mean catch up with the rest of the world. This place is still so slow; India needs to start approaching things in a more broadminded way.

Manjit Singh, 54, restaurant owner
In India lately people have started doing this Valentine's celebrations, but it is not traditional. I think Valentine's is about doing goodness to each other. It is not only between girls and boys, but between mother and child, brother and sister and two male friends also – it is not only opposite sexes involved in that. And if people want to come here to my restaurant on Valentine's Day, then they are most welcome – as long as they don't commit any misdeeds on my premises. Smooching and other misdeeds are not permitted here because they spoil the family environment. If they do them, I request them to leave. In India people have not advanced to that level yet. Men and women need to keep arms' distance between them.

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