BOMBAY, India (February 11, 2003) - Afraid that Valentine's Day is corrupting India's youth, Hindu nationalists raided a shop and burned greeting cards Tuesday at the start of a week of protests that in past years has seen hand-holding couples harassed and stores trashed.
Police across the country have boosted security in front of card shops and other places targeted by protesters in the past.
Demonstrations by Hindu nationalist parties have turned increasingly violent in recent years. One group, the Shiv Sena - part of India's ruling coalition government - has repeatedly called for Valentine's Day celebrations to be banned.
"We are against celebrating Valentine's Day," senior Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray told reporters this week. "It is nothing but a Western onslaught on India's culture to attract youth for commercial purposes."
On Tuesday, 20 Shiv Sena activists stole a handful of cards from a shop in downtown Bombay. Shouting slogans such as "Long live Shiv Sena," they burned the cards on the sidewalk outside the shop.
Shiv Sena, like many groups, wants India to be a Hindu nation, rather than a secular, multi-religious one. It says foreign culture is corrupting young Indian minds and spreading Western holidays and traditions through television and movies.
Despite the protests, Valentine's Day is gaining popularity each year in towns across India. Hotels and restaurants advertise special parties, and cardboard cupid cutouts decorate shop windows.
Couples buy each other gifts ranging from gold jewelry to heart-shaped chocolates. Newspapers and Internet sites list personal messages and interview famous movie stars about their latest loves.
There has also been a backlash against Shiv Sena and other anti-Valentine's Day demonstrators.
"These protests don't really make a difference. Couples still celebrate Valentine's Day. It is just sad for poor shop owners who are the unlucky targets," said Manish Surve, who stocks Valentine's Day cards in his roadside bookshop in suburban Bombay.
College student Latika Arora in the northern Indian city of Lucknow is tired of the protests. "No one has the right to work as the morals police," she said. "We should be able to celebrate Valentine's Day as we wish."
Although traditional Indian society frowns on public displays of affection between the sexes, couples hold hands and cuddle in restaurants and parks in big cities such as Bombay. Indian movies show couples embracing in titillating dance numbers.