After all, it’s Valentine’s Day (not “Cow Hug Day”) in India.

Daily Life in India
A storefront is decorated for Valentine’s Day in Dharmsala, India, in this February 13, 2022 file photo.

Ashwini Bhatia/AP

New Delhi “After all, it’s Valentine’s Day in India. This was not always the government’s intention.

A government body was forced to withdraw an appeal urging citizens to celebrate February 14 not as Valentine’s Day but as “Cow Hug Day” after widespread criticism.

Hugging a cow “will bring emotional richness” and “thus 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, Livestock and Dairy Products.

The appeal said the intention was to ward off “the dazzle of Western civilization”, a reference to cultural influences that the Hindu nationalist government apparently considers harmful to the nation.

Valentine’s Day is one of these “western imports”. Hindu nationalist groups have campaigned against the calendar event for years, couples seen holding hands in public on Valentine’s Day have even been attacked.

Valentine's Day protest in India
Activists from the right-wing Hindu organization Bajrang Dal burn an effigy symbolizing Valentine’s Day during a protest in Hyderabad, India, February 12, 2022.

Mahesh Kumar A/AP

“Vedic traditions (those related to Hindu religious texts) are almost on the verge of extinction due to the progress of Western (sic) culture over time,” the government agency said in its February 6 appeal.

Cows are considered sacred by Hindus, who make up most of India’s huge population. The animals are affectionately called Gaumata, or “mother cow” in Hindi, and are worshipped.

The government agency’s cow-hugging appeal called them the “backbone of Indian culture… the giver of everything, providing riches to mankind” because of their “nourishing nature”.

India Hindu Valentine's Day
A woman worships a cow as Indian Hindus offer prayers to the Ganges River, sacred to them, during the Ganga Dussehra festival in Allahabad, India, in a June 8, 2014 file photo.

Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

But the campaign drew widespread criticism online.

Memes and bovine-themed cartoons went viral, mocking the government, and without any explanation, the Animal Welfare Board pulled the feature on February 10th. He said only that he was doing so “as instructed” by other higher authorities.

“Was the government intimidated by the jokes made at its expense or was it just cowardice?”, Shashi Tharoor, leader of the opposition party, he wrote on Twitter, summing up the shadow cast on the agency.

Cow slaughter is banned in most of India, where Hindus make up about 80% of the country’s 1.4 billion people.

Critics have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government of using legal cow protection as a tool to marginalize the country’s Muslim minority – an accusation the government has consistently denied.

Violent attacks on Muslim cattle traders by India’s Gau Rakshak, or cow protection groups, often make headlines in the country.

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