The government of India has backtracked on a widely criticized campaign encouraging people to promote Hindu values by hugging cows on Valentine’s Day.
The Animal Welfare Board of India said in a brief statement Friday that it had withdrawn its proposal for “Cow Hug Day” on Feb. 14. The cow has long been worshipped as a motherlike figure in Hindu-majority India, where the slaughter of cows is banned in most states.
“Cow Hug Day” would have coincided with Valentine’s Day, the increasingly common celebration of which among younger, more educated Indians has been criticized by devout Hindus as a violation of traditional Indian values.
Appealing to these sentiments, the Animal Welfare Board had asked people to go out and physically hug cows, saying “the dazzle of Western civilization has made our physical culture and heritage almost forgotten.”
Hugging cows, it continued, would “bring emotional richness” and enhance individual and collective happiness.
Many online commenters responded with mockery and jokes about whether the cows would consent.
“Hugging a cow will also be cheaper than buying red roses,” Indian comedian Atul Khatri said on Twitter.
The proposal was also criticized as further blurring the line between the state and religion in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted Hindu nationalism, also known as Hindutva. In recent years, Hindu nationalists have tried to discourage Valentine’s Day celebrations by vandalizing stores, setting fire to cards and gifts and harassing couples who show affection in public.
Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said “Cow Hug Day” sent an “absolutely crazy” message that defied logic.
“The decision to withdraw the government appeal was to prevent the politics of Hindutva from being ridiculed in the face of severe criticism from all quarters,” he told The Associated Press.