The war against Valentine's Day in South Asia

The fact that people prioritise campaigning against Valentine's Day in a part of the world with so many problems is absurd and disturbing

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Ghaffar Hussain
On 14 February 2013 10:37

Like so many things, Valentine's Day has its roots in Christian Europe yet has become a universal day in which couples around the world make that extra bit of effort for one another, either to show their love or, in the case of couples that have been together a while, to avoid getting into trouble.

It is a harmless bit of fun that can help a relationship along or even help start a new one. But it seems not everyone shares my cosy or perhaps naïve perspective.

With endemic poverty, illiteracy, corruption, poor health care and sectarian violence to deal with, one would think political and religious activists in South Asia have enough on their plates as it is. But never underestimate the twisted and illogical priorities of some. Against all the odds, certain political/religious groups in South Asia have managed to find time to organise protests against Valentine’s Day. Yes, Valentine’s Day!

Pakistan's premier Islamist agitators, Jamaat-i-Islaami, managed to organise a large protest in Peshawar, demanding that Valentine's Day be outlawed and replaced with a 'modesty day'. I'm not quite sure what people are expected to do on a modesty day in a city where most of the women already wear a burka and free-mixing of the sexes is strictly taboo. Who knows, maybe even further 'modesty' is just what that place needs in order to make progress.

Not to be outdone by their Pakistani rivals, a Hindu extremist party, Shiv Sena, in neighbouring India, organised a similar protest in the Punjabi city of Amritsar. Again Valentine's Day symbols were burnt as angry and sexually-frustrated-looking men marched down the streets decrying this dangerous western import. Other western imports, such as mobile phones, glasses, and jeans, aren't so bad, it seems, judging from the images of the protests.

Shiv Sena advocate replacing Valentine's Day with an Indian version that commemorates the love of legendary Indian lovers Heer-Ranja. Jamaat-i-Islaami, on the other hand, is just against the idea of any kind of love outside of marriage or even happiness for that matter. In fact, I'm not sure if it is even happy with love inside marriage; safer to err of the side of caution and stick to love for the local mullah.

These extremists aren't the types to just issue empty threats either. In 2009, Hindu extremists physically attacked couples that were out celebrating Valentine's Day. Some couples were simply beaten whilst others in the city of Agra had their hair cut off. Pakistanis were mild in comparison, merely resorting to restricting entrance to parks for young and overtly romantic-looking couples.

The fact that people prioritise campaigning against Valentine's Day in a part of the world with so many problems is absurd and disturbing. If anything, young people need more such days to recover from the social and political chaos that envelopes South Asia.

Speaking of priorities – I’d better stop typing and start looking for a good restaurant…

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @GhaffarH

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