IT is not the hammer all through. There are practices discouraged and prevented by law and official decree and then there are acts which those who find them offensive must counter by setting a personal example.

With all its ‘outrageous’ and ‘unwanted’ public manifestations, Valentine’s Day, ultimately, is about too personal a sentiment to be open to a legal, official or societal intervention or censure.

Whatever plausible or implausible reasons those opposed to the occasion may have, if the truth according to their own values is what they are out to prove, they must try and convince people by debate instead of taking the easy option of browbeating the vulnerable, in the process betraying their own weaknesses.

But then, this is not what the ‘powerful’ in this land are inclined to do, their urge to control is reflected in a series of bans and other acts meant to control popular freedoms.

It is not just about a government stopping people from flying kites or a student organisation barring interaction on campus.

The attitude that encourages a ban as the final solution is there to be contended with in many everyday situations. It is an attitude steeped dangerously, and conveniently, in self-righteousness.

In a country where a large number of people quietly submit to restrictions on wedding feasts, many of those in positions of authority show off their influence when violations propel them to stop the proceedings forcibly.

There are district governments and administrations in the country that have barred Valentine’s Day in their areas and these authorities have since been joined by a functionary of state no less than the president of Pakistan.

President Mamnoon Hussain didn’t say he did not celebrate the day — for this would have amounted to an attempt at setting an example, something that those in power here are reluctant to do.

He chose to take sides where he could easily have been neutral. He urged Pakistanis to not observe Valentine’s Day. Perhaps he should have been quiet on that point.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2016

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