We’ve been disallowed to celebrate Valentines, but I suppose one can still write about it. There has been no clarity about the exact dismissiveness regarding Valentine’s. The general discomfort can broadly be put in two categories: a) Valentines is a Christian celebration (and unIslamic by virtue of that) and b) it encourages immoral behaviour in youth by bringing out in the public realm ‘love’ which is essentially a private expression. Most historical accounts of this day contend that there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine, and it cannot be ascertained after which one the day is named. According to legend, it was either a priest who fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and healed her from blindness, at the end writing her a letter signed ‘from your Valentine’, or a Church minister who defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war. Whichever might be true, it is said that this saint lost his life defending the right to love. There was nothing on the grounds of religion involved, and certainly Islam was not in the picture then. The second contention, about Valentine’s corrupting public morals is not only baseless paranoia, it is invalid on grounds of the historical, religious and cultural discourse of South Asia. A quick glimpse into the vernacular culture and folklore of the subcontinent unveils the endless tales of love that traverse constantly in the realm of human and spiritual. Preserved in literature, oral tradition, ritual practise and marked physically by shrines commemorating their memory — there have been many ‘martyrs of love’ and the tragedy befell both male and female figures. From Heer-Ranjha to Umar Marvi and Sohni-Mahiwal we have witnessed also the more unconventional tales such as that of Lal Shah and Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah and Shah Inayat. These tales have not only survived; they have been celebrated. Loudly and unapologetically, devotees have glorified the madness of uncontained love and immortalized these tales. Disallowing Valentine’s or forbidding ritual practise at shrines, calling firecrackers at Sheb-e-Baraat a Hindu innovation — all such attempts at defining a specific moral code only makes the state complicit to exclusionary and intolerant narratives that we need to defeat It is then perhaps not a surprise that the deeper Saudi-Wahabi penetration in our societal and domestic fabric happened side by side takfeeri slogans being chanted outside shrines and brought within its folds this immense paranoia for Valentines Day, or any bold expression of love. This particular religiosity is transcending the rural-urban and elite-working class divide effectively. We are forgetting that South Asia has a history and diversity of its own and that it is not Al-Bakistan, is fading from our collective memories at a worrisome speed. Borrowing this from a conversation once held with a friend, we discussed how grief was essentially love that you cannot give. Love that is displaced and has nowhere to go, because there is nobody to receive it from us. Let’s look at Pakistan for a moment, we have innumerable reasons and causes to grieve over. And very few to celebrate love. Many families have been wrecked due to terrorism, displacement and exclusion. Disallowing Valentine’s or forbidding ritual practise at shrines, calling firecrackers at Sheb-e-baraat a Hindu innovation — all such attempts at defining a specific moral code only makes the state complicit to exclusionary and intolerant narratives that we need to defeat. One needs to understand that just as medicine, technology, communication, and other such advancements spread through globalization (historically the transition started much earlier) similarly certain customs travelled from east to west and west to east, and Valentine’s is simply one of those. We need to stop distrusting everything calling it an ‘agenda’ to ruin the youth. Zaid Hamid has that one job, let’s try not to take it away from him. The expression of love has never hurt anyone. It might in fact be better if one talked about how to reconcile the changing realities of our times where women are actively pursuing their education and careers as well as participating in the public sphere. Men on the other hand are realizing (or are they?) the harms of toxic masculinity and unchecked male privilege, especially in the patriarchal setup of Pakistan. Different, and somewhat starkly opposite forms of expressions are emerging, one such juxtaposition is that of the instant and the traditional articulation. Instant is more minimalist. The kind found in sharing the vocabulary of facebook, snapchat and other social media. Tagging in memes, gifs, emojis — speaking in already spoken words. Traditional expression whereas is still reliving the metaphors of excess, folklore and Noor Jahan’s exotic exposition of being in love. There are also those of course who are a bit of both. Similarly, questions of harassment and consent are also arising. An awakening and self consciousness of this kind demands the assurance that conversations on affection and confession not amounting to unwanted advances, can easily and openly be held without labels getting attached. By banning topics and celebrations we hurt the progression of a thought process and stunt our minds. A deeper reflection on our current state will remind us that we are already without bold and fearless citizens willing to pick these topics in the public. We are without a Sabeen Mahmud who would be on the streets of Karachi resisting any kind of moral policing from above. We are without revolutionary spirits and we need to recognize this loss, instead of putting our energies into foolish paranoia. Whatever opinion one wants to voice, they ought to have the freedom to do so. The voice needs to come from the people, not from above and definitely not by courts. Even though I graduated fairly recently it seems like in little time the topic of love has become something that attracts a great deal of suspicion. Let’s not make any mistakes here, the ‘martyrs of love’ that I listed above were also those who lost their life fighting family, society, gender or religion against their devotion to love, but their memories stood resolute through centuries and our vernacular identities were wrapped around them. We no longer have martyrs of love, we have martyrs of terrorism, miscalculated civil and military policies and for love we just have the term ‘dishonour’. Going back to where this started: we’ve been disallowed to celebrate Valentine’s but let’s celebrate it nonetheless. Celebrating love, is celebrating the essence of life and one needs to remain steadfast in defending that right unquestionably. This is democracy in its purest form- a reflection of life and idea: of yours and mine. The writer is a Lahore-based Human Rights Activist and freelance writer Published in Daily Times, February 14th 2018.