Bikas Das/AP

Valentine’s Day Under Attack by Religious Hardliners Worldwide

February 04, 2009 02:15 PM
by Anne Szustek
A militant ultranationalist Hindu group in India vows to assault any couple seen celebrating Valentine’s Day. Groups in other localities have also cracked down on the Western holiday.

“Valentine’s Day is Definitely Not Indian”

Members of the Sri Rama Sena, a far-right Hindu group whose professed mission is to protect Indian culture from the perceived threats of cultural Westernization and conversion from Hinduism, is planning violent action against couples thought to be celebrating Valentine’s Day in public.

“If people celebrate the day despite our warning,” Sri Rama Sena member Gangadhar Kulkarni was quoted as saying by British paper The Daily Telegraph, “then we will definitely attack them.”

According to The Times of India, members of the Sri Rama Sena were planning to convene on Wednesday in the Indian city of Bangalore to hone their Valentine’s Day “strategy.”

“Future course of action for Valentine’s Day will be decided on Wednesday after the meeting,” Bangalore wing Sri Rama Sene chief T.S. Vasanth Kumar Bhavani told The Times of India.

Bangalore authorities have taken note of the meeting, and plan to prevent any violent vigilantism. Two police commissioners were quoted by The Times of India as saying, “Let them hold the meeting and take a decision. We’ll make our own arrangements to ensure no one takes the law into their hands.”

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Background: Radical Hindus’ violent response to Western culture; Muslims’ mixed reception of Valentine’s Day

Radical religious groups have become fervent in their response to India’s increasing acceptance of Western traditions and influence.

For example, in 2007, a group of more than 100 members of Hindu extremist group Shiv Sena met in New Delhi to burn Valentine’s Day cards and chant, “Death to Valentine’s Day,” and “People who celebrate Valentine’s Day should be pelted with shoes!”

But Valentine’s Day is hardly the only target of religious violence. On Jan. 24, 2009, some 10–15 men allegedly belonging to the Sri Rama Sena, the same group behind this year’s Valentine’s Day threats, charged a bar in the Indian city of Mangalore and drove out women who were inside, accusing them of drinking, being indecent in their dress and socializing with non-Hindus. They also threatened the women with “dire consequences,” if seen in pubs again, The Times of India reports. 

Eyewitnesses of the event said that the customers were “thrashed” by members of the Sri Ram Sena as they tried to flee the bar, located on the busy road in the center of Mangalore. According to, there have been allegations that some of the women were molested as well.

In the Islamic world, Western traditions such as the celebration of Valentine’s Day and even birthdays have been met with mixed reception.

The Saudi Ministry of Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice put the kibosh on the sale of Valentine’s Day paraphernalia last February in the country’s capital city of Riyadh. Representatives of the group visited shops in the Saudi capital city to order the removal of any scarlet red items from the shelves, including roses. The color is thought to symbolize romantic love—thus promoting intermingling between unmarried members of opposite sexes. Kuwait threatened its own ban on the holiday for similar reasons.

Despite the holiday’s roots as a Christian feast day, other Muslim-majority countries have embraced Valentine’s Day—namely its avenues for moneymaking. Since the Western holiday’s popularity took off in Turkey a decade ago, Valentine’s decorations have appeared annually in the windows of traditional tripe soup shops and pharmacies on Tünali-Arjantin, the main shopping drag in Turkish capital Ankara. To an American observer, however, these businesses may seem incongruous with the notion of romantic love. Turkish writer Nazlan Ertan concurs. “Is anyone likely to take his sweetheart for a tripe soup and then present her with a supradyn tablet for the rest of the evening?” she wrote in the Turkish Daily News. 

Egypt has also embraced Valentine’s Day. A poster on TravelBlog detailing her visit to Cairo noted that her hotel restaurant gave all female patrons red roses on the holiday and served “love-themed dishes.”

Not all in the region take part in the annual cupid fest, however. Arabian Business cited a February 2008 Maktoob Research poll of 3,195 people either married or in a serious relationship from 11 Arab countries. Some 46 percent of survey participants responded that celebrating Valentine’s Day would run counter to their religious beliefs and 58 percent thought the holiday was only meant for the Western world. The religious beliefs of the respondents were not mentioned in the Arabian Business article.

Even celebration of important dates in Islam has become a subject of debate as to whether they contravene the teachings of the religion. Mawlid, the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, is treated as a feast day by most Muslims. In Pakistan, for example, Mawlid is feted with candy, a 21-gun salute in provincial capitals, and temporary remission of some prison sentences.

Nevertheless, in Saudi Arabia the holiday is frowned upon, as are secular birthdays. Last fall Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority issued a fatwa—religious decree—against the celebration of birthdays, saying they are not permitted in Islam on the belief that any celebration outside of the two major Islamic feasts is alien and emulates holidays of Jews and Christians.

Reference: Guides to Hinduism, Islam, Valentine’s Day


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