Each August, young people across India celebrate the United Nation's World Friendship Day by giving each other rubber bands as tokens of their affection. That practice has frequently run into opposition by hardline Hindutva groups, such as Karnataka's Ram Sene, which have denounced it as a "Christian conspiracy".

It was ironic, then, that on Monday to celebrate an event that had their stamp of approval, Hindutva groups fell back back on the same kinds of wristbands – which resemble the elastic Livestrong bracelets popularised by American bicyclist Lance Armstrong  to raise funds for cancer awareness – that they condemn on Friendship Day.

As Hindutva groups united to mark the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda on Monday as National Youth Day, an organisation called Samartha Bharata launched the Vivek Band campaign in Karnataka. The drive aims to get young people to wear Livestrong-like rubber wrist bands inscribed with Vivekananda’s message of “be good and do good”.

The NGO has roped in a whole line-up of prominent personalities to endorse the bands, including Myleswamy Annadurai of the Indian Space Research Organisation, Justice Shivraj Patil and Arjun award winner Arju Devaiah. The NGO says it plans to use the campaign to inculcate “value-based personal development [in the youth, so that they] contribute significantly for societal needs, through every opportunity possible”. A Twitter handle dedicated to Vivek bands said that they will be available in stores across Karnataka at Rs 10 each.

Ever since Swami Vivekananda’s birthday on January 12 was declared National Youth Day in 1984, Hindu groups and Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states have made it their own.

For the last nine years, in Madhya Pradesh, school students have been made to participate in a mass surya namaskar drives organised by the state government. Though students in Class IV or below are exempted from taking part, they are required to observe the exercise. The government argues that the drive is voluntary, papering over the fact that schools are required to report the attendance as well as broadcast Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s programme at their events.

The surya namaskar drives have long met with opposition from Muslims leaders, who contend that they divide students along religious lines. “Students from all communities will feel pressured to take part,” Masood Ahmed Khan, secretary of the Coordination Committee for Indian Muslims in Madhya Pradesh, told the Hindustan Times. “Even when optional, it will create a rift between students.”

In 2012, Muslim leaders in the state issued a fatwa against the drive, calling it “un-Islamic and idolatrous”, as the government tried to create a Guinness record by getting over 70 lakh people to participate.

Different approaches

This year, the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs directed schools in the country’s tribal areas to organise “debate/quizzes and other events” on National Youth Day for students of Classes X, XI and XII, according to a circular accessed by Scroll.in.

Taking a different approach, West Bengal declared a holiday on National Youth Day, while Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a three-day celebration of Vivekananda’s birth anniversary, calling it “Vivek Chetna Utsav”.