Women plan pink panty response to 'Hindu Taliban'
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Radical Hindu group Sri Ram Sena has threatened to force unwed couples found dating on Valentine's Day to tie the knot. In retaliation, thousands of women from India and abroad are sending the group’s leader a message - pink panties.
Cartloads of pink panties (chaddis in Hindi) were dropped off outside Hindu fundamentalist leader Pramod Mutalik's Hubli office in Bangalore, India's IT capital in the southern state of Karnataka, on Feb. 14.
These were a Valentine’s Day gift from thousands of angry Indian women, after Mutalik's radical Hindu group Sri Ram Sena (Lord Ram’s Army) threatened to marry off any couple found dating on Valentine’s Day. The group, which considers itself a "moral police", plans to patrol bars, restaurants and cinemas on Saturday.
“We’ve sent out warnings in colleges, and if we find couples celebrating Valentine’s Day, we’ll take necessary action," Ram Sena’s vice-president, Prasad Attavar, told FRANCE 24. "Drinking and dancing in bars and celebrating this day has nothing to do with Hindu traditions,” he added.
The threats from the group - which critics have called a "Hindu Taliban" - come after Sena activists abused and brutally beat up women in a bar on Jan. 24 in Mangalore, another city in Karnataka. The radical group’s unexpected clampdown on young Indian women provoked the wrath of much of India’s urban youth and ignited a revolution on the Internet.
The Pink Chaddi Campaign started online with a blog created by The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women. The blog was initiated by Nisha Susan, a New Delhi-based journalist, in protest against Sena’s actions. Susan and her friends also started a group on the social networking website Facebook.
“This is the first time I’ve seen such an outburst,” says Jasmeen Patheja, a women’s rights online activist and founder of an anti-sexual harassment blog, Blank Noise.
As of Feb. 14, at least 6,000 members had confirmed they would send their underwear to Mutalik’s residence or drop it off in person, while more than 14,000 had signed up to promote and support the cause.
“The Facebook group was started among friends to express our outrage after the Mangalore incident because we don’t expect to get beaten up in streets,” Samir Gandhi, a campaign spokesperson, told FRANCE 24 in a telephone interview. “For us, campaigning online was the simplest and best way to protest peacefully and reach out to more people,” Gandhi added.
Organisers also called on supporters across the world to visit their local pubs on Feb. 14 to defy the Hindu radicals. “It does not matter if you are actually not a pub-goer or not even much of a drinker. Let us raise a toast (it can be juice) to Indian women,” Susan says on her blog.
Divya R , another campaign organiser in Bangalore, said the response was overwhelming. "Tons of young men and women are streaming into bars across the city, some girls were even wearing skimpy outfits," she told FRANCE 24 on Saturday. "Three-wheeler autorickshaw drivers are offering free rides to ensure people arrive safely at the bars."
The campaign was equally heated in the other parts of the country.
Twenty-five year old Kismet Nakai from Chandigarh in the northern state of Punjab says she'll be visiting her local pub. "What are they going to do? Beat up a million Indian women?," she adds.
Promila Bagdee, a 26-year-old business development consultant in New Delhi, signed up because, she says, she doesn't want other people telling women what they can or cannot do.
“These fundamentalists can’t impose their views on us. I’m very much part of the Hindu culture and do everything within its limits,” Bagdee said in a phone interview. “If I’m comfortable visiting a bar and my parents are OK with it – then who the hell are these Hindu activists to stop me?”
For Bagdee, the Pink Chaddi Campaign is a great way for educated Indian youth to express itself in a non-violent way.
Pink vs saffron
The campaign chose sensual pink in contrast to the saffron colour often worn by the hardliners. If supporters don’t want to send their panties directly to Mutalik’s house, they can drop them off at collection points in different cities across the country, listed on the blog.
Meanwhile the Sri Ram Sena group isn’t taking this fight too seriously. “We’re not too concerned about this movement,” Attavar told FRANCE 24. The Sena plans on giving women pink saris in return for the pink underwear.
Margaret Dabreo, a social worker from Mangalore and a FRANCE 24 Observer in India, took part in the protests against the bar attacks in January.
Dabreo feels this campaign is a very novel idea and will draw much more attention than a regular street protest.
“Mutalik and his men need to be taught a lesson because they make us feel like we’re living under the law of the jungle,” she says. “Mutalik loves embarrassing people and now it’s payback time.”