Ever been to India with your girlfriend and tried to kiss her in public? If you have, you probably received a dozen dirty stares. Or a prying cop may have taken you to the nearest police station, to extract some money.
Worst still, you might have received a lecture on public decency or been asked to declare your girlfriend as your ‘sister’ by right wing political activists. During anti-valentine drives the activists force girlfriends to tie rakhi (a sacred thread) to their boyfriends and declare them as ‘brothers’ in front of the local community.
Even though public displays of affection in India are frowned upon, ecommerce startups are leaving no stone unturned to sell you that sexy lingerie, or book you a hotel room so you can get intimate in private.
Over 65 percent of India’s population (which totals about 930 million) is under 35 years of age. Valentine’s Day is now a major crowd puller for ecommerce startups to attract new users.
Delhi-based online room aggregator StayUncle is hosting an “auction of men” solely for ladies at a startup coworking space Switch in the heart of New Delhi on Valentine’s Day.
“Few starving but incredibly handsome entrepreneurs, some self-made millionaires, musicians from the good old 80s for the ladies with gusto, upcoming pilots and some more,” a Facebook post by StayUncle says.
“All you need to do is appear on Valentine’s Day, fill your pocket, and ferociously fight for a one hour date with your Shiva,” StayUncle is advertising on social media.
Billed as India’s first male auction, it will offer one hour of exclusive time for the lady with her desired man. The proceeds will go to charity.
StayUncle’s bigger rival OyoRooms is running a social media campaign called #NoRoomForHate. The campaign is targeted towards India’s right wing activists who have been known to beat up couples holding hands and cozying up to each other in parks across India.
Couples’ fear of these political gangs on Valentine’s Day impacts business, because it prevents them from feeling comfortable even with booking hotel rooms.
Sequoia Capital- and Softbank-backed Oyo Rooms describes traits of a Valentine hater:
He cannot make a girl like him
He gets upset when a couple holds hands
He thinks falling in love is a crime
A couple dancing infuriates him
GetCarXpert is offering free assistance just a day before Valentine’s Day to get your wheels tuned up so a car breakdown doesn’t ruin your romantic date.
Another startup Wedoshoes is offering discounted dry cleaning and shoe repair this weekend.
Taxi hailing app Ola is exhorting its riders to ditch the flowers and embark on a day full of adventure activities such as paragliding, surfing, underwater hockey, paramotoring and kayaking – all free of cost.
Customers who wish to go on an adventurous date can make a request on the Ola app, just like they would book a cab. Uber is offering a chance for lucky winners to win free rides all month. Last year, it offered chopper rides to couples.
The state of Chhattisgarh, ruled by the Hindu nationalist party BJP, has converted Valentine’s day into Matru Pitru Poojan Divas. In Hindi it translates as a day to worship your parents.
But hardline Hindu parties, in a move to appease young voters ahead of local elections, are likely to drop its anti-Valentine drive, this year. Instead some will set-up selfie points where couples can pose and click a photo.
Ironically, ruling BJP’s distant arm Bajrang Dal, which thrashed couples seen exchanging cards and gifts last year, is also promising a quieter protest. They will lecture cozying couples to get married during their anti-Valentine drive.
While the extremists can ban offline exchange of love, the web is untouched by such bans. Web portal ThatsPersonal is offering a 60 percent discount on lubricants, sexy costumes and adult games. IMBesharam, which uses adult films star Sunny Leone as its mascot, is offering up to 70 percent on all products including positional aids and toys.
“For Valentine’s we saw sales spike up 1.5 to 2x. In just two weeks we have got over 2,400 orders, of which most are specifically for women,” says Raj Armani, CEO of ImBesharam.
Public display of affection falls into a grey area in India. The Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) states that:
Whoever, to the annoyance of others,
(a) does any obscene act in any public place, or
(b) sings, recites or utters any obscene songs, ballad or word, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.
There must be a complainant to take action against a couple who kisses or makes out in a public place.
But despite the risks, there are parks and bridges in India where couples can be seen kissing passionately, due to the lack of private spaces. Hotels don’t allow unmarried couples to book a room together and ID cards are needed prior to reservation.
Clearly, Saint Valentine would be rolling over in his grave (if it were in India).