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Valentine’s Day or not, India has no infrastructure for love because it’s no internal matter

Valentine’s Day is a Western concept, but love isn’t. From ‘love jihad’ laws to vigilante groups harassing couples in February, its space in India is shrinking.

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Indians said ‘I love you’ to Alexa — the Amazon device — more than 19,000 times last year. It’s only a symptom of a larger disease — loneliness, and that too in a society where love is increasingly ceding space in public.

Love — cloying, mushy, gooey, sticky, platonic — is becoming more and more elusive today. It wouldn’t be right to blame it entirely on the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party — although it is making sure love has legal prohibitions and is covered in concertina wire — but also on the fact that India has never been okay with the free will that is emboldened by love.

You see, love in India is clearly no ‘internal matter’.

Everyone from your neighbours, parents, school teachers, office colleagues, random bystanders on the road, and your government seem to have a stake in it. Then there are the three witches deciding your romantic future in the bubbling pot of society — caste, class, and religion. ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair.’

And that’s why, this Valentine’s Day, if you can, reclaim love again. In this India, where laughing is getting hard, and romance even more so, let lovers be.

Also read: Damage caused by Valentine’s Day to Pakistani ideology is bigger than any existential threat

Get a room

We all had that phase when we detested the capitalism-wrapped occasion, said ‘yuck’ to couples holding hands or canoodling on that corner park bench, and remarked that love doesn’t need Hallmark greeting cards. We even declared from our pedestal that ‘every day should be Valentine’s Day, you don’t need one day in particular’. In our attempts to be irreverent and cool, we didn’t realise how that same love and celebration on 14 February has been constantly denied to many in India.

Every Valentine’s Day, you hear of the Bajrang Dal or moral police vahini harassing couples. Some slap and lecture couples, and yet others, often policemen, take a bribe and look the other way. Vigilante groups especially gear up for February — as if it’s their month to shine. An article on ‘How not to get beaten up by Bajrang Dal this Valentine’s Day’ suggests a simple solution — “End your relationship”.

The truth is, India doesn’t have the infrastructure for love. If you are rich, urban, heteronormative and upper caste (or ‘casteless’ as many like to call themselves), you’ll be able to pay for a room, or have a room of your own. For everyone else, an umbrella under a tree in a park or the dingy backseat in a cinema hall is all the world offers. In Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial grounds, almost every large tree comes with a pair of lovers free.

Once you enter the deep underbelly of Quora, a true reflection of the Indian psyche, you’ll discover questions like, “In which public places can an Indian couple make out in Mumbai?” Cabs, a garden in Matunga, and staircases seem to be the popular answer. Another detailed question goes: “Which are the safest hotels/websites in Mumbai which provide rooms for unmarried couples with no questions and ID proofs asked on hourly basis with reasonable rates? What are the approximate rates per hour for a couple?” Another realist gets straight to the point: “Suppose I am in a hotel in any part of India with my girlfriend (both adults, woman is 20 and I am 24 years old) and the police came to arrest us, then how can we legally deal with the police?”

For queer Indians, however, there are no such easy answers on the internet. How many men do we see holding hands anymore? How many women do we spot together under the umbrella? How many of our non-binary friends can be seen freely engaging in PDA? For many, love may have been decriminalised, but on paper only. It’s not something you get away with by only paying a bribe or pleading with a cop. The cost is much higher.

Also read: 16 anti-conversion law cases, key accused Muslims, but UP govt insists law is religion-neutral

Law of the land

Most often, couples in public are threatened with Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which punishes “whoever, to the annoyance of others: does any obscene act in any public place”.

Of course, there is no hard-and-fast rule as to what exactly ‘obscene’ is. Some say it’s an act that lingers long — more than a small kiss, holding hands, or hugging. But then isn’t freedom of expression (Article 19) and personal liberty (Article 21) a fundamental right?

Many couples, when “caught” by officers and vigilantes, will say they are “about to get married.” But that is now a whole other problem in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India.

States are rushing to enact ‘anti-conversion’ laws. Popularly known as ‘love jihad’ laws, they have become a tool to ensure Hindu-Muslim couples are harassed, forced apart, and live in fear. A detailed investigation by ThePrint showed how lawyers and court informers would tip-off vigilantes after an interfaith couple registered under the Special Marriage Act at a registrar or sub-divisional magistrate’s office. As if Uttar Pradesh’s Anti-Romeo squads weren’t enough, who forced young men to do sit-ups or shaved a man’s head.

For women caught in these situations, another problem lurks — videos and photos to blackmail them.

The Eagles were clearly wrong when they sang, “When we’re hungry/Love will keep us alive.”

Also read: Hindu Vahinis, Hindu Samaj, Hindu Army — how vigilante groups are thriving in Yogi’s UP

Love me do

So, here we are. India sells the Taj Mahal to the world, but has difficulty digesting an unabashed day of love. You might say Valentine’s Day is a Western concept, but love certainly isn’t. How do we navigate this to create a little space for love and nurture that spot under the sun?

The ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign in 2009 brought a glimmer of hope and humour. That year, several women were dragged out of a Mangalore pub and attacked by the Sri Ram Sene for being too obscene and “loose”. Women responded by mailing hordes of pink underwear to the group. Another moment was the ‘Kiss of Love’ campaign organised in Kerala in 2014 — or what the BBC called “a mass public kissing event”.

For concerned parents, Valentine’s Day is not dangerous, our lack of sex education is. Even though one Hindu group wants Valentine’s Day to be renamed as “Parent’s Worship Day”. Its Facebook page says, “Fatal disadvantages of Valentine’s Day are suicides, rapes, murders, drugs, accidents.” No, those are the fatal disadvantages of a society that ignores mental health, consent, and toxic patriarchy.

Strange that many of those who have no problems sending vile rape threats, and unsolicited dick pics on Facebook and Twitter, shudder at the sight of consent playing out in public — a couple lost in their own world on a bench or sharing ice cream on a beach.

So, this Valentine’s Day, make love great again. It’s not a revolution that will happen overnight. But for starters, don’t snigger at lovers, snitch on friends, and snap at PDA. All India needs is love, and love is all it needs. After all, the personal is the political.

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  1. Valentine’s Day is a Western holiday and has no place in India. Even in the West it was more so a made up holiday by greeting card companies and businesses. This is just a soft attempt to import jihadism and crusaderism to undermine Hindus. No luck.

  2. Bad examples given. What you are describing is not love but good old fashioned sex.
    Certainly romantic love is expressed physically but making out under staircases on on hourly basis is not a good advertisement for what you are trying to sell.

  3. A lot of these couples-booking-hotel-rooms-by-hour are in reality flesh trade practices. Police has no issue with celebrating valentine’s day, it is the illegal trade in the guise of valentine’s day that this is a problem. Also it seems Valentine’s Day is mostly celebrated in India, never have I seen so much hoopla over this day in the US.
    I and my wife are in early thirties and we met and fell in love 6 years back, when we were in mid 20s. Even then we didn’t give a hoot to this day. It’s a stupid day, and couples should give each other love and respect in each and every second of their time together. Those who are students should concentrate on making the best out of their education and don’t get distracted by these idiocies.

  4. Love makes people stupid and crazy. No need for anyone to fall in love. One should have an arranged marriage and be happy for life.

  5. We need young people to make a stand. To organize and show strength against these moral police. I don’t think that young couples are in the minority.

    • Celebrate real Indian holidays not made up garbage. Valentines Day in US is the once a year time middle aged couples pretend they are still romantic. It was made up by businesses to sell goods between Spring and Christmas season in US. Even Europeans only started to celebrate Valentine’s Day after America. You young people need education.

  6. Haha..writer wants potray infrastructure and INDIAN middle class mentality. Well fact of matter valentine’s is not half a festival that it is made out in India. Cause you can celebrate and crib only when on parent’s money. So only infrastructure that is missing is that 18 plus till even 28 years do not work full or part time. In west you will be working or won’t have valentine so will have your pad and no need to go to hotel… etc.. If you are in college rarely anyone stays with parents again no need for trees in park or hotel. Yeah hostel rules may be bit more permissive though but will you convince feminists and women rights to keep their part of deal.

  7. It is probably the lack of infrastructure of love which has saved us from the brunt of COVID. Public display of love by mooching and hugging could very well be the reason of massive spread of the pandemic in certain societies.

  8. Neera Mazumdar: The United States has no patriarchy, has better mental health, sex education and laws governing consent. Why does it have one of the higher rates of teenage pregnancies, suicides, mental illnesses and rates on incarceration. I would suggest a primer on neuroscience to understand how Valentine-day leads to rapes, teenage pregnancies, and suicides. For that you have to understand that frontal lobe of brain which is involved in decision-making, reasoning, thinking the outcomes of one’s actions. This is last to mature in an adolescents. What you call love: is actually a chemical reaction in brain. It needs mature frontal part of brain to form relationships and be responsible for one’s actions. You could educate yourself before writing imaginary (not supported by any date) and unscientific articles. Here is a link from Harvard School website:

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