Waving religious saffron flags, 20 Hindu nationalists marched to the Indian Parliament on Wednesday and burned Valentine's Day cards, opposing what they called the growing Western cultural influence in India.
Describing the cards as obscene because they show young couples embracing and kissing, the protesters demanded a ban on Valentine's Day celebrations in predominantly Hindu India.
I bought some of these cards for 150 rupees each to prove that this is not our culture, said Jai Bhagwan, chief of the New Delhi unit of the Shiv Sena party. Our workers will visit various shops selling these cards and distribute handbills to educate people to avoid aping Western ways of life.
Last year, young couples having Valentine's Day meals ran for safety as slogan-shouting men, claiming to represent the Shiv Sena party, smashed potted plants, tossed chairs and knocked over people's trays at a Wimpy's fast food restaurant in New Delhi's central Connaught Place.
Shiv Sena activists also ransacked gift shops of the Archies Gallery stores and tore up cards. Attacks also were reported from other Indian cities, including Bombay and Lucknow.
The Shiv Sena threat appeared to be working in the Indian capital this year.
Our sale of Valentine's Day cards is very slow. It is down by nearly 70 percent as compared to last year, said Rohit Gujral, whose card shop was festooned with handmade heart ornaments and banners proclaiming it the coolest place to be in love.
There have been no protest demonstrations. But I feel that the Shiv Sena has succeeded in creating a scare, Gujral said.
Wednesday's protest came a day after the Shiv Sena, a coalition partner of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, assured the New Delhi High Court that the party did not plan to commit violent acts during the celebrations.
We will respect our commitment to the court and will not attack anyone until we are attacked, said Bhagwan, who led the protest.
Most Indians avoid public displays of affection, including hand-holding. Most Indian movies show romantic scenes of couples embracing and dancing seductively, but not kissing.
But young couples in cities have begun celebrating Valentine's Day, going out for romantic meals, and giving each other flowers and presents.
Newspapers carry Valentine's Day messages, ads for stuffed hearts and cards and interviews with celebrities about their thoughts on love.
Last week, three Hindu nationalist groups issued press statements warning people against participating in Valentine's Day observances.
The groups the Shiv Sena, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal said Valentine's Day is an affront to Indian culture.
Written By ASHOK SHARMA © MMII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 2002 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.