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Anti-Valentine's Day push: Sectarian move to 'restrict, constrict' India's cultural milieu

By Ram Puniyani* 

Indian culture is diverse and plural. It has been enriching itself by accepting the diversity irrespective of religion or geographical boundaries. This gets reflected in all aspects of our life, be it food habits, clothes, art, architecture, social occasions, customs and religious traditions. This is the natural grain of any open and thriving society. With the rise of sectarianism the effort is to restrict and constrict our culture in particular. 
We are witnessing the ‘othering' of religious communities and there are attempts to distinguish between diverse aspects of our society into ‘our’ versus ‘from outside’. To sustain this, sectarian outfits are very proactive at occasions. At the same time symbols are being promoted to associate with ‘nationalism in the name of religion’.
The call given by the Animal Welfare Board India (AWBI) was an example of this type of campaign. AWBI in a circular gave a call that 14th February, instead of the usual Valentine's Day, should be celebrated as ‘Cow Hug Day’. It stated, “Hugging cows will bring emotional richness and increase individual and collective happiness”.
Union Rural Development minister Giriraj Singh endorsed the idea (February 9, 2023) by saying that everybody should love cows. This had twin goals. On one hand it was to promote the symbolism around cow and on the other it aimed to bypass the Valentine's Day. Symbolism around cow is a strong emotive aspect of Hindu nationalism and the Valentine's Day is looked as alien and immoral by this stream.
Promoting symbolism around Cow has picked up in last few years. Many Hindus do regard Cow as Holy, now state has jumped into the fray and restrictions on cow slaughter were aggressively brought forward in different states. This led on one hand to the phenomenon of lynching mainly of Muslims some Dalits. This also led to brutal flogging of four Dalits in Una in Gujarat. 
The Central Government is doing ‘research funding’ into Panchgavya, a mixture of cow milk, curd, ghee, cow-dung and cow-urine). Incidentally Veterinary and biochemical sciences have already done most of the basic study and research into various animal products.
In 2021 the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (National Cow Board) under the Rural Development Ministry planned ‘Kamdhenu Gau Vigyan Prachar Prasar Exam’ (National Exam on Cow Science Propagation). This was later called off after public uproar. This Board was later disbanded. 
As the call was given for Cow Hug Day, many a social media posts ridiculed the idea. One video of BJP leader trying to caress the cow and she trying to hit back surfaced. The very notion of hugging cow was not taken lightly by many, as it is fraught with the possibility of accidents due to the bovine trying to hit back as not being so accustomed to strangers. 
This was a weird idea to promote love for cow, as India is also peaking as the leading exporter of beef in the world. Incidentally, the Malegaon blast accused Pragya Sing Thakur also dispensed her advice by asserting the caressing the cow, in the direction of her skin hairs reduces the blood pressure and surely with this Government plans may be afoot to undertake the research in this direction!
As such the groups associated with Hindu nationalism have been violently opposing the gifting and expressing one’s love on Valentine Day. Groups like Pramod Mutalik’s Shriram Sene and Bajrang Dal in particular have been beating couples moving together on this day. Anti-Valentine Day squads moved around, who not only harassed the couples but also tried to ransack the shops dealing in gifts for the day. Most of these groups do enjoy a sort of impunity.
It has been claimed that public expression of love is against ‘our culture’, our Hindu values. These ignorant foot soldiers and motivated leaders may be unaware of Vatsyana’s Kamsutra or the temples of Khajurahu and Konark with open expression of not only emotional love but also of erotica. 
One remembers the very successful ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign initiated by social groups. This was in response to ex-RSS pracharak Pramod Mutalik’s group beating up girls coming out from a Mangalore pub. Pink Chaddis were sent to Mutalik in large numbers. Such sectarian goups are not an isolated occurrence. Groups similar to Shri Ram Sene also came up in Saudi Arabia in particular at a point of time.
As such these groups are part of an oppressive, sectarian politics, which abhors free choice of youngsters in particular. Real reasons for this intolerant behaviour have to be looked for in their overall agenda to curtail liberalism, pluralism and to constrain the democratic ethos of the country. 
One recalls that Asaram Bapu, now cooling his heels in jail as rape convict, had mooted the idea of bypassing the Valentine's Day by celebrating 14th February as Matru-Pitru Pujan Divas (Mother-Father worship day). That was endorsed by the religious nationalists, but it also failed to take off.
The Valentine's Day, the day of expression of love, is globally very popular. It is not restricted to romantic, sexual love alone. The tradition of celebrating Valentine day goes back to early second century CE. There are many legends about St Valentine and two of them have some definitive history. 
 It seems that the early Christian Church had at least two saints bearing this name. As per one story Roman emperor Claudius II forbade young men to marry in the year 200 AD, as he had strong military ambition and he thought that single men made better soldiers. A priest by the name Valentine disobeyed the orders of the King by solemnizing the marriage of young couple's.
According to another legend, Valentine was an early Christian saint who was very affectionate to young children. He refused to worship Roman Gods and on that count and was imprisoned. 
Children missed his affection and love and tossed the notes containing love messages across the prison bars. According to many stories he was executed on 14th February. This day in due course came to be celebrated in his memory, as a tribute to his courage in defying the inhuman orders of the ruling kings; people started sending greetings and messages of love to their loved ones’. 
The origin of the customs is slightly shrouded due to its being very ancient. Also these customs started taking local hue in different countries wherever this day began to be celebrated.
In a World shrinking to be a global village one cannot fool around with bypassing the aspirations of society. It is as good that facing the criticism; the AWBI withdrew the call of Cow Hug day!
---
*Political commentator

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