Valentine 'police' offer roses, weddings to keep Indian couples demure

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Right-wing Hindus in India are offering white roses, free counselling and a chance to get married for couples caught kissing or hugging in public places on Valentine’s Day.

A couple embrace as they watch the sunset from a promenade along the Arabian Sea on Valentine's Day, in Mumbai February 14, 2012. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/Files

Roving three-person teams of volunteers from the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha will fan out across India on Feb. 14, scanning parks and public spaces for couples exhibiting “inappropriate behaviour.”

“We’ll explain the meaning of love to them,” said Chander Prakash Kaushik, the group’s president. “We are against any vulgarity, not against love.”

“Suhaag raat should be in the bedroom, not on roads,” he said, using the Hindi term for the consummation of a marriage.

Kaushik said the Hindu Mahasabha volunteers would distribute white roses to signify they come in peace, and then advise the couples to get married if they are really in love. Priests would be at hand to carry out the ceremony, if needed.

“We can’t force people in this day and age, we can only counsel them,” he said.

A Delhi Police spokesman said people would not be allowed to take the law into their own hands.

The Hindu Mahasabha, which is not affiliated to the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is among groups seen as self-appointed moral guardians of younger Indians who increasingly seek the right to choose their own partner, independent of caste and other traditional rules.

Public displays of love and live-in relationships are viewed as a cultural threat in India, where conservative attitudes coexist with high rates of violence against women.

Young people have staged mass-kissing campaigns against moral policing.

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day weekend, news reports about the Hindu Mahasabha’s plans for the day of love invited ridicule on social media, with the subject trending on Twitter this week.

“I love you all. Now waiting for Hindu Mahasabha to get me married to all of you,” writer Durjoy Datta said on Twitter.

Students in New Delhi used Facebook to ask people to gather outside the headquarters of the Hindu Mahasabha in wedding finery to mock the campaign.

“Have to go to the beauty parlour!! The Big day is almost here!!” ‘Laxmi Bai’, one of the organisers, tweeted on Friday.

Describing Valentine’s Day as a Western import, the Hindu Mahasabha president said: “Marriage is the true test of love.”

Editing by Ruth Pitchford