Delhi pepper-spray squads to protect couples on Valentines day

For young lovers in Delhi, this Valentines Day could be a little spicier than normal. On February 14, starry-eyed couples in India's capital are to be protected against "moral vigilantes" by volunteers armed with chilli spray and martial arts expertise.

The decision to set up the groups of "pro-young people" units was taken following a recent attack by right-wing Hindu activists on a group of women enjoying a drink in a pub in the southern city of Mangalore, which they deemed “un-Indian” behaviour. The incident has triggered a debate as to what is acceptable behaviour for Indian women in a country that is wrestling with economic and cultural change.

The National Panthers Party (NPP), a political party that is head-quartered in Indian-administered Kashmir, has now taken the decision to set up the protective love squads. The head of the party's Delhi chapter, Sanjoy Sachdev, said last night: "Whoever was responsible for those attacks on the women is breaking the Constitution. Such people should not be allowed in the country."

He added: "Our volunteers will be armed with chilli pepper which we will throw into the eyes of anyone [assaulting young people]. The police can only do so much. Ordinary people have to act against the fundamentalists. We are pro-young people."

The attack on the young women, many of them students, took place at a bar called Amnesia and was carried out a week ago by around three dozen activists from Sri Ram Sena (SRS), or Lord Ram's Army. The women were allegedly molested and beaten by the young men, who took exception to what they said was inappropriate behaviour for Indian women and young people in general. The founder of the group, Pramod Mutalik, the founder of SRS, was arrested but later released on bail.