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Heart attacks

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NILANJANA S. ROY   |   Published 15.02.04, 12:00 AM

Roses are red, violets are blue/ If you’ll be my Valentine/ The Shiv Sena will bash you.” One of my friends, blessed with an inappropriate sense of humour, has been sending out these Valentine e-mails this year in order to honour both February 14, just gone by, and the defenders of “Hindu vedic culture”.

It made me smile, though ever since Valentine’s Day has become something of a fixture on the calendar, I’ve quietly blessed my advancing years and the fact that they don’t require me to participate in this roses-and-sappy music extravaganza. If I’d been 10 years younger, I’d have been caught between two equally distasteful options: join the credit card-bashers, and waste money on a barrelful of kitsch (stuffed toys, velvet roses, overpriced restaurant meals) or join the Hindutva anti-romance bashers and offer to beat up shopkeepers, shave the heads of young lovers and generally make a nuisance of myself.

I do understand the distaste the old codgers’ brigade has for the senseless spending that Valentine’s Day encourages. It is true that V-Day has become a gigantic marketing exercise, and if you ask teenagers today what they feel, they’re divided between the romance of it all and the irksome necessity of it all.

But I cannot understand why the loonier members of the Hindutva brigade are so dead set against Valentine’s Day, unless the opposite is true and they see in this phoren festival an opportunity to carry out an annual publicity exercise. The defenders of traditional Hindu values have, in the past, demonstrated their love for dharma on February 14 by hooliganism, by casual destruction of shops and restaurants, and by molesting women.

Their excuse is that the celebration of romantic as opposed presumably to platonic or familial love is against Indian norms. Underlying this is the idea that romantic love is in itself against Indian (read mainstream Hindu) culture, and that any expression of it is by default a transgression requiring punishment. Follow the thread of logic further and the debate gets more serious. In a family structure where the patriarch rules unquestioned and where women are seen as adjuncts —property, chattels or goods for barter — a certain kind of rigid society flourishes. The caste system in such a structure works like clockwork, and men benefit so long as they stick to their allotted roles.

A woman who asserts her right to choose freely for herself, to have sexual or romantic relationships without guilt makes this structure collapse inwards on itself. “Property” and “chattels” have no rights. Independent women do. A man who challenges this framework by exercising his own right to choose a partner without reference to the rigid rules of the patriarchal family, is seen as doubly a traitor, to his family and to his gender.

Once you’re caught in the trap of this kind of thinking, it’s easy to see why what is just a shopping festival run mad to many of us is a slap in the face to people who believe in patriarchy, who look back yearningly to a past where young women knew their place and young men never challenged their elders. Every couple celebrating friendship, romance, freedom and the right to make their own choices as fledgling adults is a threat. It’s an absurd picture, isn’t it? The guardians of Indian culture and morality, sent into a frenzy of rage by nothing more than candy hearts and stuffed toys!

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