Nicolas Datiche / SIPA / AP

Valentine's Day sparks pushback, cultural tensions in Asia

Protests and warnings over 'moral decay' and 'love capitalists' mark Western-import holiday across the region

Valentine's Day has taken off across Asia over the past few decades, embraced by the continent's booming youth population as well as chocolate and gift-card companies. But the holiday, a relatively recent import from the West, often clashes with conservative cultural forces and, increasingly, anti-capitalist sentiments. Below, a look at how some in India, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia are pushing back:


Right-wing Hindus in India are offering white roses, free counseling and a chance to get married for couples caught kissing or hugging in public places on Valentine's Day.

Roving three-person teams of volunteers from the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha were set to fan out across the country on Saturday, scanning parks and public spaces for couples exhibiting "inappropriate behavior."

"We'll explain the meaning of love to them," said Chander Prakash Kaushik, the group's president. "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 that they come in peace, and would then advise the couples to get married if they are really in love. Priests would be on hand to carry out the ceremony, if needed.

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

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


In Japan, where it is traditional for women to buy men chocolate on Valentine’s Day, a group that calls itself “Kakuhido” marched through the streets of Tokyo protesting what it called the “passion-based capitalism” of the annual holiday.

“Society is addicted to capitalism,” the group’s chairman, Mark Waters, told Agence France-Presse news agency. “People are profiting from it and we are here today to demonstrate our resistance to the love capitalists.”

As the group walked through the busy Shibuya district waving banners, one protestor for Kakuhido — which translates to the Revolutionary Alliance of Men that Women find Unattractive — explained that while the name of the organization is a parody, “it does have a serious message.”

But many Japanese say the group has taken on a misognyistic bent. In previous protests, Kakuhido members have denounced "housewives who control Japan's future" as their hapless husbands work all hours at the office.


Meanwhile in Bangkok, city officials are urging young Thais to forgo sex on Valentine's Day this weekend and visit temples instead, as a far better way to mark the day of love.

The annual celebrations are popular in tourist-friendly Thailand, but the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is worried that teenagers making love poses a public health risk. Thailand has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Southeast Asia, officials say, and also faces HIV infection rates among its gays that are comparable to Africa's AIDS hotspots.

Media surveys have shown teenagers in Thailand pick Valentine's Day as the perfect day to lose their virginity.

Instead, said Pirapong Saicheua, an official with the city authority, "If kids really love each other, it's better for them to go and free birds and fish or go to the temple." Freeing caged birds is an auspicious Buddhist ritual that believers in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia see as a way of enhancing their karma.

This year, an administration worried over the spike in teenage pregnancies has made available 3.5 million condoms in 68 health care centers and 10 city hospitals. Thailand's health ministry also plans to install condom vending machines in high schools, said Sophon Mekthon, who heads the ministry's disease control department.


Authorities in Malaysia have said Valentine's Day is a threat to Muslim values in their annual swipe at the holiday, which was marked with a mass wedding involving 138 couples.

In its official Friday sermon text distributed to mosques in the Muslim-majority country, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department implicated Valentine's Day as a factor in problems ranging from alcoholism to abortion.

"Social ceremonies such as this are a stepping-stone towards greater social ills such as fraud, mental disorder caused by alcohol, abortion and baby-dumping, and other negative ills that can invite disaster and moral decay among youths," the sermon said.

Many ethnic Chinese in multi-faith Malaysia embrace the holiday, but Muslim conservatives have become increasingly outspoken in recent years against perceived threats to some of their values.

In 2011, authorities arrested nearly 100 Muslims in a crackdown on Valentine's Day. They were detained for "khalwat," or "close proximity," the crime of being alone with a member of the opposite sex other than one's spouse or close relative. It can bring up to two years in jail upon conviction in Islamic law courts that handle religious and moral offenses by Muslims.

Wire services

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