Romance as sedition: Something new to try this Valentine’s Day
Romance as sedition: Something new to try this Valentine's Day
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February 14 is Parent Worship Day or “Matru Pitru Diwas”. It is also the culmination of a “balidan saptah” or Sacrifice Week to commemorate martyrs like Bhagat Singh. If you were going around thinking it’s Valentine’s Day, you can get your mind out of the gutter. Or the Bajrang Dal, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad will get it out for you.

True to form, assorted saffron groups in Andhra Pradesh have called for the government to ban Valentine’s Day. In Uttar Pradesh, the Hindu Mahasabha will crack down on people involved in seditious activities such as holding hands, hugging or clutching red roses. It will also march amorous couples to the nearest temple and marry them off. So will the Bajrang Dal in Jharkhand. Because that is the Indian way, says Hindu Mahasabha president Chandra Prakash Kaushik. Only foreigners “give birth to kids and part ways”. What’s worse, they are public about it.

To gently wean you away from such anti-national practices and instil some proper Indian values, there is Asaram Bapu, currently in jail on charges of sexual assault. Some of the posters for Matru Pitru Diwas show the god man in floral headgear, looking into the distance while children garland their parents and touch their feet. Others posters show Asaram, still in floral headgear, but this time accompanied by Shaktimaan, superhero and saint.

If the gentle Asaram cannot persuade you, there is always Bollywood. Karan Johar said it years ago with Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham – “It’s all about loving your parents”. And remember Baghban? Three hours of people quite strenuously not loving their parents and coming to grief for it. Then there is that age-old clincher: “Mere paas maa hai“.

It is remarkable how the powers of Asaram, Shaktimaan and Bollywood combined have turned a fairly natural instinct – being attached to your progenitors – into a tedious cultural duty. It is also not clear why you cannot continue loving your parents while, say, draining a glass of chardonnay with your date for the evening.

Anti-national candy

What is even more remarkable is how the ululations of the saffron crew have turned a mawkish, commercialised ritual into something freighted with political significance. The hearts and cupids of Valentine’s Day were not meant to bear this ideological weight.

Poor Saint Valentine, desperately scribbling one last letter to his lover before he gets the chop, has little to do with the celebrations on February 14. It is no secret that the rise of Valentine’s Day in the last decades of the 20th century had more to do with the fact that a lot of people made a lot of money out of it – greeting card companies churning out copious amounts of pink, producers releasing movies on the day, restaurants offering romantic dinners for two. Righteous bristling about capitalism aside, the objection to Valentine’s Day could also be one of taste.

But we live in the times of sedition and anti-nationals, if the government is to be believed. When a small number of people have appropriated what it means to be Indian and are going about enforcing it, with or without violence. Valentine’s Day certainly does not fit into this idea.

It has been drawing the wrath of fringe Hindutva groups for years. Though the Bajrang Dal has promised not to resort to violence this year, it has enthusiastically beaten up young couples in the past. The VHP has not been above throwing rotten tomatoes and ransacking shops on February 14. Even the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Bhartiya Janata Party, has joined in. Apart from the usual thrashing and ransacking, ABVP activists have been known to enjoy blackening the faces of young men who dare to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

This crackdown on public displays of affection has generated its own counter current. In Kerala, in 2014, students gathered on the streets for the “Kiss of Love” protests. In Mumbai and in Delhi, the #ParkMeinPDA campaign was launched to reclaim public spaces from the moral policing of the conservative mob. Acting on your natural, hormonal impulses has been forced to become a political act in India.

This year, the choice to celebrate Valentine’s Day could be unexpectedly radical, because the government itself seems to have come out in support of the groups that would shut it down. In Hyderabad, Rohith Vemula was suspended from university for twin offences – “anti-national” protests against the hanging of Yakub Memon and allegedly assaulting an ABVP member – and the human resources development ministry itself seemed to take an interest in how the student was dealt with. In Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, dissenting students have been booked for sedition on a complaint filed by a Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament and members of the ABVP.

The sickly sweet cupids and roses of Valentine’s Day are suddenly allied with these other dissensions, in the collection of habits and cultural expressions that are un-Indian. So if you find yourself face-to-face with a heart-shaped box of chocolates, you might be tempted to pick one up and taste it. It’s delicious. It’s seditious.


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