Valentines Day, Pink Chaddis and Kiss of Love

Image: 7MB
Valentine's Day attracts controversy. Some call it 'un-Indian'. Is a day of love really alien to the subcontinent?

Anthropologists and historians have for long recorded practices of love making and the art of sex among India’s populace. The Muria tribe in Madhya Pradesh have an institutionalized system of weaning the youth towards sex – they’re sent to co-ed hostels where they must have sex with a different partner every seven days. The Khajuraho complex in Madhya Pradesh is a visual celebration of love – bland stones have been beautifully sculpted into erotic images depicting sexual motifs, celebrating and worshipping the intimate art of love making. The Kamasutra is the world’s oldest treatise on the art of lovemaking.

A temple sculpture depicting an erotic union – Image: 7MB

Mentioned in the Mahabharata, Manusmriti and the Kamasutra is the practice of Gāndharva Vivāha – one of the eight ‘acceptable’ means of acquiring a bride. It allows couples to form a romantic union before their marriage, consummated by the act of sex. The Kamasutra calls it the foremost of all unions.

Sculpture depicting a romantic union – Image: 7MB

History has evolved – only to vilify the art of love making. Now, most religions practised in India are clear about their stance on pre-marital sex – that it’s not good.

But while temples depict sex freely, kissing or hugging in public can be a punishable offence – if the police consider it an obscene act. It’s not just the police – self styled moral police are also having a go at it.

In 2009, Sri Ram Sena (SRS) chief Pramod Muthalik received over 500 pieces of pink undergarments – sent in from across India.

The Pink Chaddi campaign was young India’s attempt to get Muthalik off their backs. Since 2007, his organization had harassed and assaulted couples in public places on Valentine’s Day. After a violent attack on a Mangalore pub in 2009, he spent that year’s Valentine’s Day in preventive custody.

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Bajrang Dal poster release

But ten years since he began, and the SRS is still serious about purging V-day celebrations from the streets. Speaking to Madras Courier, Muthalik concurs with its absence:

Gāndharva…now it is not there. Where is it? … Chalta Bhi Nahi Abhi (Doesn’t fly anymore). It is western culture…behind it is sex mafia, drug mafia, and the multinational company marketing… Our youths are spoiling these days. They are diverting their nationality and our culture. So we are against this valentine’s day or friendship day. We are not against love.

And yet, it seems like he is. Along with the SRS, other organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha and Bajrang Dal have taken Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to moral police the youth – sometimes marrying off the couples they catch, other times throwing tomatoes and burning V-day cards. In Delhi, couples were asked to define what they meant by love – with the wrong answer bringing an unspecified ‘punishment’.

Courts in Pakistan have barred Valentine’s day celebrations in public places. ISIS too hopes to cash in on the publicity – beheading a teddy bear in Northern Iraq today as a warning to youngsters hoping for a romantic time.

India joins Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and ISIS each year in eliciting controversy on Valentine’s Day.

The land of love?

Valentines, Day, poster, protest, bajrang dal
A typical poster protesting Valentine’s Day
Context matters, and in 2014, youngsters across the nation decided kissing would be their act of protest. After a restaurant was vandalized in Kozhikode, Kerala for being a hot spot of public romance, a youth movement emerged to defend the right to canoodle. Termed ‘Kiss of Love’ (KoL), it was a protest where couples or otherwise kissed and embraced openly and in public – leading to multiple arrests. Images of couples kissing and being hauled away by the police went viral, and it soon became a national movement – with similar protests taking place in Hyderabad, Chennai, Bombay, and Delhi.

Subheesh Sudhakaran is the admin of the current Kiss of Love’s social media page. He says the protests were against a larger malaise, where moral police think they can have a say in private matters. The KoL protests at Kochi were meant to make a stand against it all. Thousands of protestors gathered at marine drive – but so did their ideological opponents. Members of the local branches of the Shiv Sena, ABVP, and Bajrang Dal also assembled, armed with sticks. In a curious irony, both Hindu and Muslim groups found themselves on the same side, haranguing the KoL protestors.

The situation grew tense enough that the police intervened, lathi-charging the crowd and detaining up to 50 KoL organizers. They would later say that they did this to save their lives. As Subheesh explains:

They have a problem with love marriages. It’s a problem with all religions…love marriages break their system…[their] religious hegemony.

Why is celebrating love such a big deal on Valentine’s Day?

One reason is that the custom is seen as a new phenomenon in India, emerging after economic liberalization in 1991. As a growing consumer class emerged, so too did a festival that encourages shopping, spending and eating out with your beloved one. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India estimated Valentine’s Day market to be worth $3.3 billion in 2015 (in the USA, it’s an $18.2 billion market today).

There is also a communal aspect – Hindu religious outfits see valentines day celebrations as a form of ‘Christianization’ of Hindu youth. Such outfits have also used their protests as a front for combating ‘Love Jihad’ – a belief that Muslim men are seducing Hindu women in order to convert them to their respective religions.

For many of these outfits across the sub-continent, Valentine’s Day is an annual chance to make a headline through provocative acts. But for the art of love to return to India, its defenders will have to grow more vocal –and find new and novel ways to get their message across, kisses and pink underwear aside.


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