New Delhi — It is Valentine’s Day in India after all. That wasn’t always the government’s intention.
A government body was forced to withdraw an appeal urging citizens to celebrate this Feb. 14 not as Valentine’s Day, but as “Cow Hug Day,” after widespread criticism.
Hugging a cow will “bring emotional richness” and “hence increase individual and collective happiness,” declared the appeal by the Animal Welfare Board of India, a government body that advises the country’s Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying.
The appeal said the intention was to ward off the “dazzle of Western civilization,” a reference to cultural influences the Hindu nationalist government apparently deems harmful to the nation.
Valentine’s Day is one such “Western import.” Hindu nationalist groups have run campaigns for years against the calendar event, couples seen holding hands in public around Valentine’s Day have even been attacked.
“Vedic traditions [those related to the Hindu religious texts] are almost on the verge of extinction due to the progress of west culture [sic] over time,” said the government agency in its Feb. 6 appeal.
Cows are considered sacred by Hindus, who make up the majority of India’s enormous population. The animals are lovingly referred to as Gaumata, or “mother cow,” in Hindi, and are worshipped.
The government agency’s hug-a-cow appeal called them the “backbone of Indian culture… the giver of all, providing riches to humanity” because of their “nourishing nature.”
But the campaign prompted widespread criticism on internet.
Bovine-themed memes and cartoons went viral, mocking the government, and without any explanation the Animal Welfare Board yanked the appeal on Feb. 10. It said only that it was doing so “as directed” by other, higher authorities.
“Was the Government cow-ed by the jokes made at its expense or was it merely cow-ardice?,” Shashi Tharoor, an opposition party leader, wrote on Twitter, summing up the shade cast at the agency.
The slaughter of cows is banned in most parts of India, where Hindus make up about 80% of the country’s 1.4 billion-strong population.
Critics have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government of using the legal protection of cows as a tool to marginalize the country’s Muslim minority — an accusation the government has always denied.
Violent attacks on Muslim cattle traders by India’s Gau Rakshak, or cow protection groups, often make headlines in the country.