India's Hindu nationalist government is urging the country's 1.4 billion people to turn their backs on Valentine's Day and hug a cow on February 14 instead. In a statement issued earlier this month announcing "Cow Hug Day," India's government-run Animal Welfare Board said "hugging cows will bring emotional richness and increase individual and collective happiness." The board said Hindu traditions were endangered by the "dazzle of western civilization," the Guardian reports. Valentine's Day has become increasingly popular in India in recent years, but Hindu hardliners have been trying to stop its spread by attacking stores selling Valentine's cards and chasing couples seen holding hands in parks and restaurants, the AP reports.
Anti-Valentine's Day rhetoric has largely been "targeted at women, alleging that the holiday encourages female promiscuity and vulgar behavior," the Guardian notes. Hindus, who consider cows sacred, make up around 80% of India's population and critics say "Cow Hug Day" is another step away from secularism, Al Jazeera reports. "The unfortunate part is this has now official sanction,” says political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay. "This shows an eraser of one more line between the state and religion, which is very depressing. Now the state is doing what political and religious groups have been campaigning to do."
Mukhopadhyay says the Cow Hug Day initiative is "absolutely crazy and defies logic." The move has been widely ridiculed online. "Have the cows gotten the memo about Cow Hug Day on 14th Feb?" tweeted stand-up comedian Kajol Srinivasan. "I'm willing to do it, but please declare Free Hospitalization Day on 15th Feb." (Read more India stories.)