Really Pakistan? Haya Day on Valentine’s Day?

Published: February 14, 2015
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My question is who has given the university or these parties the right to interfere in other people’s lives? What is it to them if someone does or doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day? PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS

It’s that time of the year again. Women are anxious and men are distraught; the day when every guy and girl sitting together are stared at suspiciously; the day when people are edgier than usual; the day you are confused about how to celebrate this day because it also happen to be the day students fear being seen in public with someone from the opposite gender because of the ‘consequences’.

While the world celebrates Valentine’s Day today, the students at the University of Karachi are celebrating something different. These students have given various names to this day, including Hijab Day, Haya Day and Modesty Day, among many others. The main purpose behind this is to instill a sense of humility amongst students so they may refrain from engaging in “inappropriate behavior”.

Photo: KU, KU Hai Yaar Facebook page

Somehow, it is only a handful of students, mostly belonging to a particular rightist, conservative religious party’s student wing, who find sanity in the aforementioned description.

Here are a few reasons I believe fighting Valentine’s Day with Haya Day is a senseless notion.

1) One day won’t make a difference

One reason that people give to oppose Valentine’s Day is that they believe love shouldn’t be confined to just one day. My question to these individuals is shouldn’t the same hold true for modesty? Why have we chosen one day to signify haya? And does observing modesty one day exempt us from practicing it the other 364 days?

Because I know, through my own experience and those of my colleagues, that many students at KU have a roving eye. So just because students observe a day of modesty (that too just in response to something else), that gives them a license to grope, harass and catcall women throughout the year? No, it doesn’t.

As a student currently studying at KU comments,

“I believe that both the sentiments of love and haya should not be confined to some particular day. Haya is something so humble that it shouldn’t, technically, be ‘celebrated’.”

2) Valentine’s Day is from another culture

Valentine’s Day is the day of love. Love is universal. So if there is a day which celebrates it, then I really don’t see what the problem is.

This video was posted on the University of Karachi’s Facebook page last year; it talks about how Valentine’s Day is wrong and shouldn’t be celebrated. The clerics propose that people should observe modesty on this day to curb this alien culture.

Those who argue that displaying or acknowledging love is not part of our culture, how would they explain the tons and tons of Urdu and Persian literature that is full of love stories and love poetry? The very poets that students are forced to rote memorise in their SSC and HSC examinations have written odes and ballads full of love – praising it and propagating it.

How do you explain that? Or will you say that poets like Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir and the likes are not part of our culture?

Also, if we bring Haya Day in this context, then the standards of modesty are different for all cultures and are ever changing. For our forefathers, a man and a woman sitting together in a classroom would have marred the boundary of modesty. Today, however, it is a norm. So who decides if the standard of modesty that we have today are the right ones?

Who says that two consenting adults, who wish to spend time with each other and blossom their love, are breaking the barriers of modesty? When did love and modesty become mutually exclusive?

3) Valentine’s Day encourages obscenity

A pamphlet that is being circulated in KU this year against Valentine’s Day. Photo: Facebook

“We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.” – John Lennon

This quote signifies our society today. We are so enthralled by violence that we find everything else inappropriate. A couple can fight in public, and no one will bother helping them out. But if the same couple is found holding hands or displaying affection for each other, they are reprimanded. I am not encouraging PDA over here but the idea that Valentine’s Day is obscene needs to be let go. Because if you feel that Valentine’s Day is obscene, then so is every other day of the year, because people don’t stop loving each other as soon as the day ends.

4) Valentine’s Day is forced upon us by western propaganda

If Valentine’s Day is propaganda, then so is Haya Day – because that too is forced upon people by an organisation that believes in moral policing everything. As a graduate from the Department of English, who shared her views on this issue, puts it,

“I think it is highly illogical because it appears that both genders have no control over their emotions and need a constant theological reminder. Those who propagate Haya Day just try to moral police the masses. We have graver problems than this, and I’d want to see some day celebrating the idea of love instead of this idea of ‘love brings shame’”.

5) Haya Day will regulate the behavior of individuals

And why is that necessary? Why is it important for a party or an organisation to decide whether people should love others or observe modesty? How is this different from the news in India where, it is said, people will be forced to get married to each other if they are found alone with a member of the opposite sex on Valentine’s Day in public? Whether someone focuses on their modesty or decides to meet their loved one, how is it the business of anyone except the two individuals in the relationship – and their close family members, to an extent?

Even previously, we have come across instances where the university’s administration has barred students from celebrating Valentine’s Day, in fear of the riots that might take place as a result by the said religious party’s student wing. Last year, the students of Peshawar University faced similar consequences; three students got injured and a hostel building was set ablaze. My question is who has given the university or these parties the right or the authority to interfere in other people’s personal lives? What is it to them if someone does or does not celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Such a mindset is corrosive to progressive notions. How can we focus on other developmental factors when we are so hell-bent on forcing people to become modest? Is forced modesty even worth it? How does forced modesty make us better people, or better Muslims for that matter?

Haya Day is an example of the pseudo-religiosity that is all too rampant in our part of the world. For me, February 14th is just that – a simple date. It is time that we start focusing on what we do throughout the year, instead of merely observing something for one day and then going back to our merry ways.

Faiq Lodhi

Faiq Lodhi

A journalism grad and news-buff, his interests include current affairs, arts, literature and social work. He tweets as @FaiqLodhi (twitter.com/FaiqLodhi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.