Friday, February 13, 2009

Indian Women Fight Back the Smart Way

From The Lede at the New York Times. February 13, 2009, 11:36 am — Updated: 12:58 pm --> Indian Women Use Facebook for Valentine’s Counterprotest By Robert Mackey (Image: Fundamentalist Hindu men burn a Valentine's Day card) Tens of thousands of Indian women have joined a protest organized on Facebook to strike back against “moral policing” by religious conservatives who are trying to stop the celebration of Valentine’s Day in India. The Facebook group, called “A Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women,” was formed to combat plans by the conservative Hindu activists, known as Sri Ram Sena (”the Army of Lord Ram”) to intimidate Indian women on Valentine’s Day. As of Friday morning, the Facebook group had more than 34,000 35,000 members (and it still growing: the group has added 1,000 members in the hour after we first published this post). Last month in the Indian city of Mangalore, young male activists from Sri Ram Sena attacked young women for visiting a pub. The women were driven out into the street and several were knocked down as video cameras recorded the scene. A video clip of the men attacking the women was broadcast repeatedly on Indian television, in reports about what called “India’s Taliban.” Last week, the Indian channel NDTV reported that Sri Ram Sena “seems to have taken the outcry against its attack on women in Manglaore as encouragement.” and planned more attacks against Valentine’s Day. Another Indian television station, IBN Live, reported that the conservative group’s leader, Pramod Muthalik, “now out on conditional bail in the Mangalore Pub attack case, has made it clear that his outfit will disrupt Valentine’s Day celebration as it is against Indian culture.” IBN showed Mr. Muthalik claiming that Valentine’s Day is one of several “international conspiracies against our culture” by Christians. The counteroffensive, led by the group that is using Facebook to organize, began with a campaign to get young women to send pink women’s underwear to Sri Ram Sean’s leader, Mr. Muthalik. The BBC reported on Friday that thousands of pairs had been sent: A spokeswoman for the group, Nisha Susan, told the BBC it was giving chaddis (Hindi colloquial for underwear) as they alluded to a prominent Hindu right-wing group whose khaki-shorts-wearing cadres were often derisively called “chaddi wallahs” (chaddi wearers). “We chose the color pink because it is a frivolous colour,” she said. On their blog, the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women explained the action and what they hoped to achieve: It does not matter that many of us have not thought about Valentine’s Day since we were 13. If ever. This year, let us send the Sri Ram Sena some love. Let us send them some PINK CHADDIS. Look in your closet or buy them cheap. Dirt-cheap. Make sure they are PINK. Send them off to the Sena. [...] What happens after Valentine’s Day? After Valentine’s Day we should get some of our elected leaders to agree that beating up women is ummm… AGAINST INDIAN CULTURE. After some reports circulated that Sri Ram Sena might be backing down and calling off its protest against Valentine’s Day, the consortium’s spokeswoman, Nisha Susan, answered a question about the group’s future in a Web chat on IBN’s Web site (Hotpars is the screen name of a reader): Hotpars: What are your short-term and long-term expectations from Pink Chaddi Campaign? Nisha Susan: It seems weird to think about the long-term expectations of a campaign that is one week old. So let me talk of what we wanted to do. Many of us feel isolated in our unhappiness with right-wing groups of any religion disrupting our way of life. This campaign was aimed to protest the climate of fear being created by right wing groups in Mangalore. And to an extent we have succeeded in creating a dent — giving people a sense of hope. But what would be truly rewarding is for the 30,000 plus people in the campaign to continue to shame political leaders into getting the Mangalore women justice: those of the pub incident, the abducted school girl, the 15 year old who committed suicide two days ago — all in Mangalore. On her blog Bloody Mary, Sagarika Ghose wrote that the battle over Valentine’s Day epitomized “the dilemma of most educated Indians today” over what in Western culture is really worth defending. Ms. Ghose, who joined the consortium on Facebook, said that though the protest was right, the objections to Valentine’s Day were thought-provoking: Most of us are scandalized by the Sri Ram Sene’s actions, horrified at being told that “love” is foreign to India. We would like to remind the Sene that the love stories of Shakuntala and Dushyant or of Roopmati and Baz Bahadur show that some of the greatest love stories of all times were made in India and in our country love has always been a socially revolutionary force destroying taboos of caste, class and religion. St. Valentine is only a newly arrived upstart in our centuries-old experiments with romance. Also, where does one draw the line at the “western” influences on India? Does the Sene know that the potato and even cottage cheese from which mithai is made, were, among other foodstuffs, “foreigners” to India, being introduced here by Portuguese traders? The custodians of “hindu sanskriti” are not just absurd, they don’t know their history. Yet the dilemma is that groups like the Sri Ram Sene force the thoughtful Indian to defend things he may see as a fundamental right, but does not necessarily want to defend. However much we may hate the Sene, upholding the commercially-driven Valentine’s Day as a supreme cultural resource, or seeing the pub as the shining symbol of our social “freedom” may not be forward movement for India. If young people are choosing urban lifestyles that are desi imitations of “Sex And The City,” this is hardly a matter of celebration.
Yes, but they should still have the right to choose without threat of violence from religious fanatics and women-hating nut cases. If you don't like the choices they make, education people to make better choices. But to deny anyone the right to make choices in the first place because you don't care for the choices is a step back to repression and facsism. Why are these men so terrified of women having the right to make their own choices in life? Maybe I'll mail a pair of pink chaddis to Mr. Muthalik.

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