Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Indians protest Valentine's Day

It was hardly a Hallmark moment.

As a Valentine's Day card smoldered, more than 100 members of the Hindu extremist group Shiv Sena gathered in central New Delhi chanted "Death to Valentine's Day" and "People who celebrate Valentine's Day should be pelted with shoes!"

Valentine's Day has in the past two decades made strong inroads in India as the country has slowly opened itself up to the outside world - its economic boom bringing in not just foreign investment, but also aspects of Western culture virtually unknown here a quarter-century ago.

Across the country, stores stocked heart-shaped balloons and chocolates, restaurants offered Valentine's Day specials and young lovers found refuge from prying eyes in the parks.

It's a state of affairs that enrages Hindu and Muslim hard-liners, who on Wednesday vented just as they do every Valentine's Day -_ burning cards, holding rallies and even threatening to beat couples caught canoodling in public, a strict no-no for those who claim to defend traditional Indian values.

"This is a conspiracy to misguide the young people of our country," said Jai Bhagwan Goel, chief of the Shiv Sena's north India branch.

About 40 protesters, calling themselves the Forum Against Social Evil, marched ... calling on shop owners to refuse to serve couples and refrain from un-Islamic practices on Wednesday.

Kashmir's separatists want independence from predominantly Hindu India or a union with Muslim Pakistan...

Still, even if some lovers stayed out of sight, they made their desires known, placing ads on special Valentine's Day pages in newspapers.

"My heart is like a cabbage," declared a man named Manoj to some lucky lady. "Divided into two; the leaves are for others and the heart for you."

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