JAKARTA/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Valentine’s Day celebrations on Tuesday were banned by authorities in parts of Indonesia and Pakistan, home to Asia’s largest Muslim populations, saying the romantic tradition encouraged casual sex and ran counter to cultural norms.
In Indonesia, officials from the country’s second largest city, Surabaya, ordered schools to prohibit students from celebrating Valentine’s Day, while in Makassar, police raided minimarts and seized condoms in a bid to prevent teenagers from having sex.
“These raids were done after we received reports from residents that the minimarts were selling condoms in an unregulated way, especially on Valentine’s Day,” Makassar police official Jufri was quoted as saying in a media report.
Indonesia’s highest Islamic clerical council declared Valentine’s Day forbidden by Islamic law in 2012, saying it was contradictory to Muslim culture and teachings.
But the vast majority of Indonesia’s more than 220 million Muslims follow a moderate form of Islam in a country with sizeable Christian and Hindu minorities. Indonesia is a secular country whose state ideology enshrines religious diversity.
In Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, and other parts of the country, Valentine’s Day has grown in popularity with companies, like national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, looking to cash in by offering special discounts and promotions.
In Pakistan, an Islamic republic, a court banned public Valentine’s Day celebrations in its capital.
The Islamabad High Court also ordered the media to “ensure that nothing about the celebration of Valentine’s Day and its promotion is spread”.
That hurt some businesses in the city of 2 million people.
“I’ve sold at least 50 percent less flowers today than in past years. People just haven’t come out to buy them,” said Haider Ali, who works at the F7 flower market in Islamabad.
In other Asian countries, authorities took the opposite position on Valentine’s Day, imposing preemptive measures to protect festivities and even encouraging sex.
Thailand’s government, concerned with its falling birth rate, handed out vitamins to married couples to try to encourage them to have children.
While in eastern India, police placed two members of the Bajrang Dal - the youth wing of the hardline World Hindu Council - and four activists from a fringe political party in preventive detention to ensure they didn’t disrupt celebrations.
Security in Bhubaneswar, capital of Odisha state, was stepped up in public spaces including parks, cinemas and malls to prevent activists from taking the law into their own hands, Deputy Commissioner of Police Satyabrata Bhoi told Reuters.
In Mumbai, the Hindu-nationalist Shiv Sena party dropped its earlier opposition to Valentine’s Day after its activists had in the past beaten up couples spending the day together.
“We are neutral about Valentine’s Day,” said Shiv Sena spokesman Neelam Gorhe. “As far as this year is concerned, we have asked cadres not to give any violent reaction.”
(This story has been refiled to correct name of Indian police official, paragraph 15.)
Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor and Gayatri Suroyo in JAKARTA, Rajendra Jadhav and Rahul Bhatia in MUMBAI, and Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR, India; Writing by Ed Davies and Douglas Busvine; Editing by Randy Fabi