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Media vetoes and religious pressure leave lovers' day in limbo

Pakistan celebrates Valentine's Day with caution

Media vetoes and religious pressure leave lovers' day in limbo
Shopping malls have been happy to sell Valentine's Day gifts reporter, Lahore

February 14, 2013

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Although many of Lahore’s intersections are decorated in crimson colors, and balloons adorn many of the city’s department stores, no one quite knows whether it's OK to celebrate Valentine’s Day here. So the expressions of love and affection are tinged with more than a hint of caginess.

At St Peter’s High school, a notice which reads “Spring Carnival; red is the color” appears to be deliberately ambiguous.

“It’s an annual tradition only pegged to the changing weather,” says Saima Yousaf, head of the school’s kindergarten. “We do not teach anything about Valentine’s Day.”

Why the caution? It's because an overt declaration of support for the Valentine's notion could invite problems.

The women’s wing of the conservative Jammat-e-Islami is among numerous religious groups who oppose the event, organizing anti-Valentine’s Day protests and “Day of Modesty” gatherings.

“It is an attempt to condemn the promotion of illicit relations on Valentine’s Day. Islam does not permit this,” said Atia Nisar, vice-president of the party’s women and children commission.

In a letter sent recently, Pakistan’s national media regulator also weighed in, but its statement carried the same ambiguity that typifies Valentine's here. It requested – rather than ordered – television and radio stations not to broadcast shows which could be held responsible for “corrupting the nation’s youth.” 

The letter read: “Such events have been perceived as a source of depravity, corrupting and injuring the morality of Pakistani youth." It added that broadcasting Valentine’s Day material was also a violation of the watchdog’s code.

For Christians it’s simply about observing the feast of St Valentine, a relatively obscure saint. And as Lent has just started, the offering of chocolates could be problematic. 

But religious sensibilities, whether Chrisitan or Muslim, have not stopped the private sector from cashing in on a holiday which captures the imagination of young people in particular.

In Lahore’s Big Man Pizza restaurant, Valentine’s Day consists of friends and couples trying out the seasonal ‘love pizza’ in the shape of a heart.

“It’s a good gesture to share your feelings with those for whom you care. Not to mention the special discounts,” says a smiling Khurram Ali. “It’s all about education – people know much more about this day now.”

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