UP school bigwigs issue fatwa against Valentine Day cheer

Associated Press

Lucknow, February 12:

School authorities in a northern Indian state have banned exchanges of cards or flowers for Valentine’s Day, trying to prevent what a top administrator called invasion of “foreign culture.”

Jagdish Gandhi, who heads the City Montessori group of schools in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, has told principals to warn students not to observe Valentine’s Day, and to educate them about “negative feelings” that can come from close contact between young men and women.

The Valentine’s Day ban will help curtail “ill-effects of foreign cultural invasions,” Gandhi said. The chain of schools has more than 29,000 students.

Valentine’s Day has become a cultural flashpoint in urban India in recent years, a reflection of increasing turmoil in a society where conservative traditions have been buffeted by growing permissiveness among high school,college students and young adults.

Traditionally, Indians have shied away from public displays of intimacy, and young couples can often be found in the quiet corners of public parks or huddled under blankets, searching for a place to spend time together.

But despite protests, Valentine’s Day has gained popularity each year. Hotels and restaurants advertise Valentine-themed parties, and cardboard cutouts of hearts and cupids decorate shop windows.

Couples buy each other gifts ranging from jewelry to heart-shaped chocolates.

Hindu nationalist groups have taken a particular dislike to Valentine’s Day, saying it corrupts India’s youth with more permissive Western values. In the western city of Bhopal, Hindu nationalists held a small protest and burned Valentine’s Day cards.

In the past, Hindu militants have ransacked shops selling the cards and harassed young lovers seen holding hands in public.

But militant Hindu groups in northern India have adopted a different tack this year.

A Hindu nationalist student group has decreed that an annual Indian spring festival, which falls on February 13, be celebrated a day later to allow couples to buy flowers or gifts for that holiday instead.

The All India Student Union plans to celebrate the festival with religious ceremonies honouring Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, in the Lucknow university campus.

But while deploring the “invasion of decadent western culture,” the group will not resort to violence or prevent couples from observing Valentine’s Day, said Anil Kumar, the Union secretary.

“Stopping Valentine’s Day celebrations only gives undue publicity to the promoters of such events,” said Purshottam Singh of the World Hindu Council, a Hindu nationalist group which has protested Valentine’s Day in the past.

Students in Lucknow, however, appeared unfazed by the school ban or the talk of corrupting influences.

“We’re not giving flowers to a stranger,” said 17-year-old Sam Haider Naqvi. “There is already an understanding between the girl and the boy before they send each other a card or flowers on Valentine’s Day.”