Love in the Time of Hate

What’s it like to be young and in love, in the saffronized hinterland, when there are oh-so-many stakeholders interfering in your personal life?
“Just because we are all free to do as we please today, doesn’t mean we abuse our freedom. February 14 is first and foremost, Mahashivrati – so people must spend the day in puja-paath, not in celebrating this so-called Valentine’s Day.” Shakti Pratap Singh Tomar, local BJP MLA, in Chitrakoot district of Bundelkhand, has no qualms about putting February 14 in its proper place. He goes onto rattle off the statement that would Sooraj Barjatya’s marketing team proud, which we’ve all heard only too often, especially recently, ever since V-Day went viral, “The love between a brother and a sister, the love for your parents, these are the proper forms of love that we can celebrate, if we must today. The ones that are part of our sanskriti.”
Proper and sanskriti – here we go again! Who made them the caretakers of something as intangible as an expression of love? But come Valentine’s Day and it seems that everyone jumps onto the bandwagon of ‘have-mouth-will-give-opinion’.
Shravan Kumar, xxx, echoes Tomar ji’s view, “We can gift a rose every day to our mother – that can be our Valentine’s Day, isn’t it? But no, the young generation just wants to talk about girlfriends and boyfriends. As far as I understand it, this is not right.” Ah yes, right and wrong – more choice phrases – on the list of favorites among the caretakers of social propriety.
This is the first Valentine’s Day of the Yogi era in Uttar Pradesh, and perhaps this is where we should start. After their landslide victory in the state’s Lok Sabha elections of 2017, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, also a well-known Hindutva hardliner, was sworn in just after this much-celebrated occasion of love last year, and this could just be why the pyaar ka virodh seems stronger in rural Bundelkhand this year.
It’s hard to not be swept away by the zeitgeist, after all.

Seema Giri, the head of the Banda chapter of the organization that was founded by Yogi, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, opposes V-day vehemently, turning it into a women’s issue, “This is just a way of tricking girls, boys take advantage of it being Valentine’s Day.” Her face is the very picture of disgust as she adds, almost mysteriously, “Bas, chaar din ki chaandni, phir andheri raat.”  A homemaker in Banda, Geetanjali, tells us how she exerts all her parental influence in ensuring the kids don’t step out during this season of love, “What is all this Rose Day, Teddy Day? It is just not right.” Seema, in her twenties, couldn’t agree more, “Instead of wasting your time and energy in all this, it’s better to study.” Tomar ji keeps the flag of honour and rules flying high, citing another favourite term this time – “maryada” – “Nobody has the right to flout norms like this.” He is also very clear about the reasons for this “evil”, “Either the parents have not led by example, or not given them proper education. Only those children are indulging in these activities.”
Rajehswari makes a distinction between rural and semi-urban areas of Banda when she explains, “In the dehaat (rural interiors), if a girl roams around with a boy, there is only one word for what she is doing to her family: beizzati (disrespect).” The family could then go to any extremes to ensure that it’s all nipped in the bud. The girls’ education is almost always top of the collateral damage list. “Padhaai-likhaai bandh karwa dete hain (We stop her schooling).”
But as the landscape – along with several government buildings and establishments – turn saffron, Tomar ji has the last word on heartland love, commitment, and other drugs, “On Valentine’s Day, young boys approach young girls. But this ‘approach’ should last a lifetime… who will take that guarantee?”
The sarkar, with its Anti-Romeo squads, of course, we want to say. But instead, take our leave politely, assuming there are Shivratri pujas we must all attend to.

– Pooja Pande