Conservative groups want Indian couples to marry on the spot

An Indian couple in a 'Kiss of Love' demonstration last November. Hindu political parties have vowed to crack down on similar public displays of affection this Valentine's Day Image copyright AFP / GETTY IMAGES
Image caption An Indian couple in a 'Kiss of Love' demonstration last November. Hindu political parties have vowed to crack down on similar public displays of affection this Valentine's Day

Right-wing Hindu groups in India say they will be "requesting" unmarried couples caught in public on Valentine's Day to marry on the spot - an announcement that's provoked a backlash on Facebook.

Around the world, many couples will be splashing out on chocolates, flowers and expensive restaurants on a day named after a Roman saint with an obscure history who probably met a grisly end. But in India, on social media and potentially on the streets, Valentine's Day has also caused a clash of two very different ideas of love.

On one side are conservative political parties. The Hindu Mahasabha, one of India's oldest Hindu parties, says its activists will be poring over Facebook posts and also visiting public parks looking for couples in the midst of public displays of affection. If the couples aren't married, and don't agree to marry that very day, they'll be contacting their parents and the police.

Munna Kumar Sharma, the party's nation general secretary, told BBC Trending the aim was to safeguard Indian traditional values and protect women from men who would otherwise be exploiting them. The patrols will "protect girls and women from straying too far down a path of Western culture," he said.

The Kerala branch of the Bajrang Dal, another Hindu party who are planning a similar exercise, told us they plan to take a priest along with them to make sure any on-the-spot weddings are official.

But in an act of protest against moral policing, thousands of romantic notes have been appearing on Facebook this week as part of an organised "Love Letters Movement".

"Dearest Saramma," wrote one Facebook user to his valentine. "In these difficult times when life is yearningly youthful and the heart brimming over with love, how do you, my dearest friend reconcile yourself to it all?"

The pro-Valentine's camp is just as organised as their opponents. Rahul Pasupalan is an organiser of the "Kiss of Love" group, which is not only behind the love letters protest but also got crowds out in Kerala in a mass kiss to protest the vandalising of a cafe where couples were shown kissing on television. This time around, the group is planning a huge Valentine's Day celebration.

"India is a place where our ancestors celebrated love and it's marked there in the history," Pasupalan said. "India is a place where we celebrate love. The Taj Mahal is here, and it's a symbol of love. The Karma Sutra came from here and that's about sex." He says the claim that Indians are losing their traditional values is "nonsense."

Image copyright Kiss of Love
Image caption A poster produced by the "Kiss of Love" group to protest what they say is unfair moral policing by Hindu groups.

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