Valentine’s Day Troubles – Sunday, 15.2.2009

Posted on 16 February 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 599 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 599

The Phnom Penh Post reported on Friday, 13 February 2009, the results of a study by the Cambodian sociologist Tong Soprach, including that:

“The study questioned youths on two occasions… and found that 61.2 percent of respondents considered Valentine’s Day special, but that most knew little about the origins of the day itself. Most youths recognized the day as foreign, with several respondents renaming the occasion ‘loving day.’”

For these students, the fact that Valentine’s Day is foreign is not negative. Not so for some others; one newspaper reported: “Citizens Ask TV Stations Not to Publish ‘Valentine’s Day’ on Televisions, because it might encourage youth to take up a foreign culture.” And it is not reported whether they know – or care to know – the origins of this day and its name. But even if TV did not report on it, many people know anyway and are prepared – there are many stands at the roadside, especially near universities and high-schools, selling roses, because the student want to buy them.

Obviously, Valentine’s Day has also become an institution in other countries in Asia: the Chinese News Agency XinhuaNet has a nice picture with the heading: “A couple of lovers walk with a bouquet of roses in Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, Feb. 14, 2009. Lots of lovers bought roses to celebrate the Valentine’s Day.”

“A couple of lovers walk with a bouquet of roses in Harbin

“A couple of lovers walk with a bouquet of roses in Harbin

Source: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-02/14/xin_372020614194431210571.jpg

There is no expression of concern that this is “foreign cultural influence.” And it is even more surprising that the same publication also has a picture from North Korea with the caption: “A couple pose for photos at an exhibition on ‘Kim Jong Il flowers’ held in Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Feb. 14, 2009. The exhibition was held to celebrate the upcoming 67th birthday of DPRK top leader Kim Jong Il.” There was no mention of Valentine’s Day – but a young man and a young women have their picture taken together in front of red roses on 14 February – there seems to be some special meaning intended.

A couple pose for photos at an exhibition on Kim Jong Il flowers

A couple pose for photos at an exhibition on 'Kim Jong Il flowers

Source: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-02/14/xin_35202061420347811815914.jpg

However, Cambodia is one country where the question of a clash between traditional culture and Valentine’s Day became an issue. India is another, especially since there has recently been violence against women – with claims that it is in order to protect Indian culture.

Male activists of the conservative Hindu Sri Rama Sena organization entered the “Amnesia Bar and Restaurant” in the Indian city of Mangalore on Saturday evening, 24 January 2009, and threatened the women sitting inside. They objected to women drinking alcohol and dragged them outside, where many fell or were pushed to the ground. They also told the women that they would face dire consequences if they were seen in a bar again. The group left the bar after threatening its owner.

Many people, including public figures in India and some in Cambodia, condemned this violence, and there was a lot of public discussion. Some voices suggested that maybe the victims had provoked the attack by their behavior, which was not – in the opinion of critics of the women – in accordance with Indian culture. They suggested that the Sri Rama Sena organization should also be praised – it celebrates all traditional Hindu festivals elaborately and does a lot to propagate cultural traditions which, they said, are not sufficiently protected, and that the organization had to act as a “moral police.”

Then, on 10 February, a group of self appointed “moral police” stopped a bus in Mangalore, knowing that a 16 year old Hindu high-school student was on the bus with her Muslim boyfriend. They dragged her out and brought her to the police, who called her parents to hand her over to them. She could not bear the public shame and killed herself the next day.

Violence continued: near the famous white marble monument of Taj Mahal, radical traditionalists attacked three young couples of lovers and cut their hair to shame them. Others attacked and burnt a shop selling Valentine’s Day greeting cards, and some entered restaurants looking for lovers having special Valentine’s Day meals together. In some cases, they threatened that they would force any lovers to immediately get married to “legalize” their behavior of showing that they liked each other – there were raids on shopping centers where young people hang out and walk around, holding hands.

In the meantime, some people who had committed violence were arrested – but often the authorities were slow to act, as the victims were considered to have violated traditional culture.

Madhu Chandra, a well-known human rights activist, strongly defended the civil liberties of couples. “It is the right of every Indian citizen to express our love in the different manners acceptable, in the Indian way, or in the English way, or in the Islamic way.”

Wide attention was created, however, only when a group of young women, many of them students, started to publicly claim their rights and fight back in an unusual way. Some of these voices were on the Internet:

“All of us bloggers are protesting, holding hands against this infringement of our right to hold hands, and walk in and out of pubs or anywhere else without being beaten up or molested for it.”

“In Indian culture, a girl could be a Master of Business Administration, or a Doctor, a teacher, a mother, or she could be just another adult citizen. A girl’s wishes don’t count. It just doesn’t make sense …. and you see semi-literate neighbors and elders and now even the local criminals, are deciding how she is allowed to dress, with whom she socializes, and what she eats or drinks?

“Why do we make excuses for our culture? Let’s be honest. It needs to see major reforms.”

As they had been accused of being “pub-going, loose, and forward [modern] women,” a group quickly set up an organization of “Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women,” which in a couple of days had more than 30,000 members, to campaign for their rights. As a sign of protest against the Sri Rama Sena organization, they called on women and girls across the country to send parcels of pink panties by courier to the Sri Rama Sena office in the city of Hubli. It is reported that a huge number of such parcels were delivered from many different regions of India before and on Valentine’s Day.

Has all this anything to do with the origin of Valentine’s Day? Maybe yes – there are different traditions, but they are all related to an act of defiance against a forceful power interfering with personal choices to accept and to give love. One Indian blogger told the story this way:

“Of the varying opinions as to the origin of Valentine’s Day, the widely accepted one is that associated with the Roman Empire during the third century. To be precise, a priest named Valentinus was beheaded by Emperor Claudius the Cruel on 14 February of the year 269. Valentinus performed secret weddings, after the Emperor Claudius banned marriages in order to prevent soldiers from deserting his army. The good saint refused to deny Christ and so was thrown into prison, where he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. He fell in love with her and left a note in the cracks of his cell the night before his execution: ‘From Your Valentine.’

“Gradually, 14 February became the date for exchanging love messages. The date is marked by sending poems and simple gifts such as flowers.”

One young woman in India wrote about the attacks of those who claim to protect Indian culture, giving her impression that these men – old and also young – have mostly been living without any experience of relating to women in a situation of mutual respect. The traditional culture had assigned a secondary role to women. Most of the young men involved came from schools for boys only, so they have not had the experience to relate to girls in a daily school situation among equals. Once they meet girls, they either claim a social and cultural power superiority – or they can only think of sexual relations.

The report in the Phnom Penh Post shows a similar narrow-mindedness:

“New research on young Cambodian attitudes towards Valentine’s Day and sexual relationships has found that more than half the interviewees questioned were happy to engage in sexual intercourse. In fact, the research shows that many middle-class Cambodians are using Valentine’s Day not to celebrate their love, but as a catalyst for sex.

“Disturbingly, however, 66 percent of males planned to have sex with their partners regardless of consent, with 39.5 percent of those males losing their virginity.”

Should Valentine’s Day be suppressed? That would only be an expression of not respecting gender equality. Maybe Valentine’s Day could be an occasion to learn and to reflect that it is not about sex, but about growing into a renewed culture of women and men, in mutual respect and cooperation, and in love.

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One Response to “Valentine’s Day Troubles – Sunday, 15.2.2009”

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The desire of man on this plan is endless. people ( you and I) tend to taste new experience….an experience that bound our emotion that see thing as romantic and so on though forget to learn about it and act upon it. If you wanna try thing, at least, in my opinion, should learn about it and made your ultimate decision. After all, you are a responsible person for yourself, country and most important the priceless culture you were born with. Western has made the world smaller…we will soon practice the same culture. It will be boring.

Yours
LD. Khmerish


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