2017 Update: As I desperately fight my jet lag in an attempt to spend Valentine’s Day with Kelly, one of my best friends from high school (wine and take out while watching chick flicks, does anything beat that?), I thought it might be fun to repost my experience with Valentine’s Day in India last year.
First of all, Valentine’s Day is pretty enthusiastically celebrated; not something I was expecting. And yet, a year ago today I was in my apartment in Chandigarh, getting ready for my date with my extremely cute Indian man crush. My date arrived mid-afternoon with a box of chocolates and two sparkly anklets (he wanted to get me something ‘Indian,’ which I thought was a fun twist on the typical ‘jewelry’ gift). We bought a bottle of wine which we drank on a roof overlooking the foothills of the Himalayas before having dinner at my apartment.
In many ways, Indian Valentine’s Day seems pretty similar to the U.S.: The food and dining website, Zomato, has a whole list of Valentine’s Day restaurants and the flower market near my house was bursting with stalls of heart-shaped floral arrangements bigger than me.
So why so much zeal?
Well, following economic globalism and the rise of a middle class in the 1990s, more and more Indians gained access to foreign television channels and information about the West. Coupled with the spending-power from the emerging neo-rich, Valentine’s Day is now a “thing” in India, celebrated with fancy dinners, gifts, flowers, cards, and everything I tend to associate with the day in the United States. Plus, to stereotype, it seems Indians love celebrating every holiday that they can. Actually, Indians seem to go a bit overboard. The entire week before Valentine’s Day is dedicated to love (and buying crap for your loved one):
However, while in the United States we experience V-day backlash in the form of rolling our eyes at couples partaking and staying home, some right-wing nationalist/religious groups in India protest more violently. Valentine’s now seems to be slightly unsafe in many areas. A number of political parties have condemned the day as an unsolicited Western influence counter to Indian moral values. It has become conflated with lust and the immorality of the West. It has even been called an “attack” on Indian culture by the leader of Shiv Sena (a far-right regional political party based primarily in Maharastha).
Violence and moral policing by right-wing Hindu groups have amounted to various forms of attacks against couples. Sri Ram Sena has encouraged his activities to forcibly marry couples found in public on Valentine’s day, or to force the girl to tie rakhi on the wrist of the boy (a ritual for siblings). Similar stories of couples being beaten or having their faces painted black to humiliate them have emerged as well. Activists of Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad threw rotten tomatoes at couples in Ahmedabad and burnt Valentine’s Day cards in 2014. Last year, the Bajrang Dal organized groups of activists as couple-catching squads to roam Ramgarh, Jharkhand at important points like hotels, college campuses, movie theaters, and parks. A stage and priest were ready for the forced marriage of any couples caught. The party has graciously decided to bear all costs of the marriages they forced. You can read more here.
One religious leader, Asaram Bapu, encourages young people to observe February 14th as “parent worship day.” My friend, Priya, snapped a photo of one of these posters promoting the new morally-corrected holiday in Delhi. Instead of indulging in the immorality of what is seen as a lustful holiday, youth should instead focusing on appreciating their parents. Apparently the state of Chhattisgarh (under the BJP) officially declared February 14th Parent’s Day as of 2015. Parents are invited to schools where children offer prayers to them. Ironically, Bapu is currently in prison for allegedly sexually-assaulting a 16-year-old girl in Jodpur. Clearly an expert in morality, his posters promoting Parent Worship Day are still seen in the Delhi metro.
From what I have heard from locals or people living in Chandigarh for a few years now, this type of moral policing doesn’t really occur in my city. Not enough extremists, I suppose. The biggest problem I personally faced last year was a road block for breathalyzing and my date’s clingy ex texting him. Apparently in 2012, over 900 policemen were spread throughout the city in order to provide extra security for the holiday, though some of the interviewees believed this measure to be unnecessary.
While the stories of being dragged out of hotel rooms and being beaten in parks sound thrilling, I’m glad we didn’t have any issues last year. Apparently as a non-Hindu I would have had to undergo a purification and conversion ceremony before my forced marriage. Not the way I foresaw myself tying the knot.
All jokes aside, while you are celebrating today, just keep in mind that these things do happen, and be thankful you can celebrate in peace. Also be thankful your date isn’t making you help her reinstall her kitchen cabinets. Kelly definitely knows how to celebrate our friend-love; nothing says romance like home-improvement projects 😀
For more reading on why Valentine’s Day is immoral, here’s an article I found online.
 “India’s Fascination with Valentine’s Day,” BBC News, 14 February 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1820440.stm
 “Tought Love for Indian Valentines,” BBC News, 14 February 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1169077.stm
 “We’ll Not Spare Dating Couples on Valentine’s Day: Muthalik,” The Hindu, February 06, 2009, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/well-not-spare-dating-couples-on-valentines-day-muthalik/article348725.ece
 Poorna Shetty, “Pink Chaddis v the Moral Police,” The Guardian, 12 February 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/feb/12/pink-chaddis-india-valentines-day
 “Valentine’s Day: Bajrang Dal, VHP activists throw rotten tomatoes on couples,” The Hindu, 14 February,2014, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/valentines-day-bajrang-dal-vhp-activists-throw-rotten-tomatoes-on-couples/article5689272.ece
 Pavan Dahat, “Valentine’s Day to be Parents’ Day in Chhattisgarh,”The Hindu, 8 February 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/feb-14-is-parents-day-in-chhattisgarh/article6869015.ece
 IANS, “V-Day Bring Heavy Security for Chandigarh,” Thaindian, 14 February 2012, http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/v-day-brings-heavy-security-for-chandigarh_100597603.html
Feature Image from: https://pixabay.com/en/young-couple-couple-kiss-kissing-1031642/