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Indian government asks people to hug cows on Valentine’s Day

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s government-run animal welfare department has called on citizens to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year not as a celebration of romance but as “Cow Hug Day” to better promote Hindu values.

India’s Animal Welfare Board said on Wednesday that “hugging cows will bring emotional richness and increase individual and collective happiness.”

Devout Hindus, who worship cows as sacred, say the Western holiday runs counter to traditional Indian values.

In recent years, hardline Hindus have raided shops in Indian cities, burned cards and gifts, and thrown hand-holding couples out of restaurants and parks, saying Valentine’s Day promotes promiscuity. Hardline political groups like Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal say such actions pave the way for reaffirming Hindu identity.

Educated young Indians, regardless of their religion, often spend the festivities filling parks and restaurants, exchanging gifts and throwing parties to celebrate like any other Indian festival, especially since India began the process of economic liberalization in the early 1990s.

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The Hindu nationalist government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pushing a hindu agenda, seeking the supremacy of religion at the expense of a secular nation known for its diversity. Hindus comprise nearly 80% of its nearly 1.4 billion people. Muslims make up 14%, while Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains make up the bulk of the remaining 6%.

The cow has long been embedded in the Hindu psyche and is deeply respected by many people similar to the mother herself. Most of the Indian states have banned the slaughter of cows. The animal welfare board’s appeal asks people to come out and physically hug the cows on February 14.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst, said the message is “absolutely crazy. It defies logic.”

“The unfortunate part is that this now has official sanction,” he added. “This shows a further blur of the line between state and religion, which is very depressing. Now the state is doing what the political and religious groups have been doing on the campaign trail.”

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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