Saturday, February 14, 2009

Panties for Peace

Yes, it's Valentine's Day. As we found out yesterday, some people have pretty strong feelings about this holiday. But there are few who care as much about this holiday as this guy:



What's up with scowly guy? His name is Pramod Mutalik and he's the chief of a right-wing Hindu group called Sri Ram Sene (Lord Ram's Army). The group believes that Valentine's Day is 'un-Indian.' They are threatening to attack any Indian couples celebrating Valentine's Day. That's right, if you celebrate a holiday that is about love and intimacy, they want to beat the snot out of you.

The group members consider themselves the caretakers of Indian culture, which of course means their own, very specific definition of what Indian culture is. They want to get back down to good old-fashioned Hindu values, by threatening to attack or expose couples showing affection in public. In Pramod's words:
Valentine's Day is definitely not Indian culture. We will not allow celebration of that day in any form.

What an old softy. He's not kidding. Last week, members of the Sri Ram Sene launched an attack on a bar in Mangalore, in India. Women were attacked for being in the bar, men were attacked for taking women to the bar. Parts of the incident were captured and are on YouTube.

But wait! There's more to the story. And it involves pink underwear.

There are those who agree with the SRS, but there has also been a huge amount of outrage expressed in India over the attack. Lord Ram's Army remains unabashed. They believe that they are in a cultural war for the identify of the country and that their tactics are fully justified. From SRS general secretary V.K. Rajesh:
"We are not against love. But we are against loose morals we see among the younger generation who are blindly aping the West. And we will not spare these people and we will take whatever action is needed within the law."

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell V.K. that assault is not technically within the law. Several of the attackers were arrested but released on bail a week or so later. They continued to make threats against couples seen celebrating Valentine's Day, including threatening to force couples to marry (it's unclear how they were going to accomplish this. One can only assume they had a fleet of ugly bridesmaid's dresses, drunk uncles and 80's music on standby).

But the authorities aren't taking any chances on that either. Yesterday, police rounded up almost 100 of the activists and took them into custody as a preventative measure.
The detentions follow calls by federal Home Minister Palaniappan Chidamabaram urging Karnataka's Hindu nationalist administration to take "preventive and punitive" action to ensure law and order in the state.

So I guess they're within the law now, literally. But there's more.

My favorite part of the story is how a group of Indian women is responding to the SRS with a very traditional Indian approach. Gandhi first introduced the concept of Satyagraha or nonviolent resistance during the British occupation of India. Gandhi broke British laws by hand-spinning his own cloth and walking to the sea to make salt. The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women is sending Pramod Mutalik pink underwear. In large quantities. Called the Pink Chaddi campaign, they are asking their supporters to send them pink chaddis (Hindi slang for knickers) which they will then forward en masse to SRS. After all, all armies need the basic necessities, right? The group is also encouraging women to go to pubs on Valentine's Day. Founder Nisha Susan says:
People have signed up to drop chaddis at collection points in their cities, which will be sent to Bangalore. Those who have signed up also plan to go to pubs with their partners or friends on V-Day. Most of the members don’t drink and some haven’t ever visited a pub, but the spirit is to band together against moral policing and curbs on women’s freedom.

Awesome. So, no matter how you feel about Valentine's Day, I encourage you to join the Facebook group and send some knickers to Pramod. Or a Valentine's Day card or a box of chocolate. Or even better, go to a bar and raise a toast to the Pink Chaddis. Best. Protest. Ever.