In India, Hindu hard-liners do not heart Valentine's Day

Hard-line Hindu groups in India do not heart Valentine's Day celebrations

In India, young couples need to be on their toes this Valentine's Day. Merely expressing their love in public could lead to unintended marriage.

Right-wing Hindu groups, continuing an annual campaign against what they see as an indecent "Western festival," have vowed to force marriage on couples attempting to celebrate the holiday on Saturday.

"If you are in love, you should get married," said Ashok Sharma, vice president of Hindu Mahasabha, a conservative Hindu religious organization with branches across the country. "Roaming around in public without marriage does not fit in Indian culture. If we find such young couples, we will get them married off."

Hindu fundamentalists will be on the lookout for couples carrying roses or canoodling at malls and parks, news reports said. Another right-wing group, Bajrang Dal, reportedly plans to deploy priests in parks in the northern city of Lucknow to conduct shotgun wedding ceremonies as needed.

Sharma said Hindu Mahasabha's campaign would not stop there. The group has formed teams to monitor social media for illicit professions of virtual ardor.

"Anyone expressing their love on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp will be caught hold of," he said.

What if unmarried couples who are found out on Valentine's Day are among the 20% of Indians who are not Hindus? Sharma said young males would have to sit through a "purification process" to become Hindu before being married.

The right-wing groups are ideological cousins of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a radical Hindu organization with close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. Allies of Hindu right-wing political parties have attacked couples on Valentine's Day and issued threats to restaurants, malls and clubs that attempted to mark the holiday.

The threats have become commonplace. Hari Joshi, who heads the women's magazine Sujata, said young Indians were not taking them seriously.

"These people are experts in stunts," Joshi said. "Sometimes they create unnecessary nuisance, but there is no fear among youths."

The hard-line groups have stirred controversy in recent months by attempting to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism at mass camps, on the grounds that all Indians are Hindus and that their ancestors had been forced to change their religion. Modi aides have said they oppose such forced conversions, which are against Indian law.

Hindu Mahasabha has also called on prominent Indian Muslim actors, including Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, to convert to Hinduism if "they loved their wives," who are Hindus.

Indian authorities seem to be taking a dim view of the groups' plans.

"Valentine's Day or any other day, no one has the right to do moral policing," Alok Sharma, police inspector general in the northern city of Meerut, was quoted as saying in the Times of India. Anyone who attempts to punish someone for celebrating Valentine's Day, he said, "should be ready to face legal action."

Parth M.N. is a special correspondent.

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