Valentine's Day has become more and more popular over the last two decades in India, a trend that has alarmed certain camps in the country, who have sought to put a damper on the Western celebration of love and romance.
This year, Hindu Mahasabha, a right-wing Hindu nationalist political party, has announced that in the Indian city of Meerut they will force couples caught telling each other “I love you” in public or on social media will be forced to marry in an Arya Samaj wedding. If the couple are of different religious faiths, then they have to go through a religious purification ritual, the group has warned.
Similarly, another political group, Kalinga Sena from the Indian state of Odisha, has announced they will patrol public spaces, videotape couples in “vulgar” acts and share the videos with the couples’ parents. Forcing the couple to marry is also apparently part of their Valentine's Day plan.
Many have decried the groups’ intentions on social media as a violation of personal freedom and privacy. Activist organization Jhatkaa encouraged people to sign a petition on Twitter:
— Jhatkaa (@Jhatkaa) February 6, 2015
Unfortunately, moral policing isn't new to India. In one high-profile case from 2009, another right-wing group Sri Rama Sene assaulted young women in a pub in the city of Mysore. To protest the violence, a campaign called “Pink Chaddi campaign” (pink underwear campaign) was launched and went viral to the extent that people started sending pink underwear to Sri Rama Sene's office.
Internet jokes poking fun at the two groups’ announcements have started populating social media. One offers a tongue-and-cheek interpretation of Hindu Mahasabha's and Kalinga Sena's plans as supporting LGBT rights (gay marriage is not legally permitted in India):
— Trending Fake News (@Fakeolizer) February 4, 2015
If I express my love for a girl on Valentine's day, will we still get married? Does this mean #HinduMahasabha supports LGBT?
— Srishti Sharma (@srishti597) February 10, 2015
Others used the news as inspiration for funny Internet memes:
— Faheem (@stoppression) February 8, 2015
Hindu Mahasabha was founded in 1914 to advocate for a Hindu country and Hindu nationalist ideology called Hindutva. In 1948, members of the party were involved in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, and soon after, leading Hindu Mahasabha figure Shyama Prasad Mookerjee left to form what would become India's current ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (popularly known as BJP).
Kalinga Sena, on the other hand, wishes to combine several Odia language-speaking regions of the larger Kalinga kingdom, which was disintegrated during India's independence, and advocates for the language, culture, heritage and general problems of the state.
Neither party has very much influence in current Indian politics.
Aside from its threat of moral policing, Hindu Mahasabha, Sri Rama Sene, and two other right-wing Hindu parties demonstrated their disapproval of Valentine's Day in the city of Mangalore in a protest on February 8, demanding a ban on the holiday.
In a post titled “Yes, yes, please arrange my honeymoon too!” journalist and blogger Piyush Rai sarcastically argued that Hindu Mahasabha had endorsed inter-caste marriages, traditionally frowned upon in India, with its announcement:
Of all those tragic love stories and heart-broken youngsters who never got support of their family, I am sure Hindu Mahasabha will be a one stop solution, at least on Valentines's Day.
Journalist Debashis Tripathy compared Kalinga Sena's attempt at violating people's privacy to that of Hindu Mahasabha:
Kalinga Sena to videotape couples seen together on Valentine Day & send clippings to their parents. Now beat that, Hindu Maha Sabha! #Odisha
— Debashis Tripathy (@deba1602) February 5, 2015
Writer and commentator Sameera Khan objected to Hindu Mahasabha's act as a barrier preventing women from accessing public spaces:
It’s when women want to access public space for pleasure, to wander around, sit on a park bench and read, or hang out with a boyfriend, or as we say, to loiter, that is when Indian society is not okay with it.
Some have demanded that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi comment and stop Hindu Mahasabha. Modi hasn't made any public statement so far, and Hindu Mahasabha hasn't released any further statements since it first announced its Valentine's Day plans.
#HinduMahasabha is nothing but a bunch of goons masquerading under the garb of protecting Hinduism, BJP should distance themselves from them
— Shanks (@vermashanks) February 10, 2015
— FreedomFighterz (@PuliArason) January 31, 2015
A satirical protest is planned in Delhi for Valentine's Day in front of Hindu Mahasabha's head office. The Facebook event page has more than 1,700 people saying they will attend:
All struggling lovers of the world and otherwise! Lets gather in heartfelt gratitude outside the Hindu Mahasabha's head office on Mandir Marg […] this Valentine's Day for the most EPIC mass marriage ceremony Delhi will ever see!
As Valentine's Day approaches, police are keeping a vigil eye on vulnerable places. Inspector General of the city of Meerut Alok Sharma told Times of India, “It might be Valentine's Day or any other day, no one has the right to do moral policing. But if the members of the outfit involve themselves in any such activity, they should be ready to face legal action.”
With global cultural finding more acceptance locally, the intolerance of some religious and political groups of people's changing lifestyles is disrupting the harmony of society. Intolerance like this comes at great cost to the people, damaging human rights and personal freedom.