The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Indian Women Fight Valentine’s Day Bullies With Pink Undies

Posted by Mel Campbell on February 12, 2009

I like a good pub session as much as the next girl. But if I lived in India, this might earn me a bashing.

Members of a radical Hindu nationalist organisation known as the Sri Ram Sena (Lord Ram’s Army) recently went into a pub in the southern university town of Mangalore and physically attacked female students. SRS leader Pramod Mutalik, who was arrested but bailed after the attack, called his followers “custodians of Indian culture” who were merely guarding the morality of the women at the pub.

Mutalik has since publicly vowed to force any unmarried couples found together on Valentine’s Day either to marry, or to tie string bracelets known as rakhis on their wrists to signify that they’re brother and sister.

As you might imagine, Indian feminists haven’t taken kindly to this. Journalist Nisha Susan has founded the Facebook group A Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women, which at the time of writing has 14,975 members. She says the members are ordinary men and women who are horrified by the way fundamentalist groups trample on civil rights.

“These people [the SRS] are not loonies – they’re guys looking for political capital,” Susan told The Times (UK). “The worrying thing is that we’ve seen before in this region how there can be a period of freedom and then it’s taken away. Look at Afghanistan.”

India’s Minister for Women, Renuka Chowdhury, agrees. She has publicly condemned the Mangalore attack as a sign of the increasing “Tale-banisation” of Indian culture.

As a protest, the consortium is planning to mail the SRS thousands of pairs of pink underpants, or ‘chaddi’ in Hindi slang. Not only are the undies a cheeky symbol of femininity; they also allude to the fact that members of the country’s largest Hindu nationalist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, are often called “chaddi wallahs” because of their baggy uniform shorts.

Mutalik has rubbished the chaddi campaign, calling for a proper debate on the issue and saying, ‘Since they are women, stooping to the level of gifting undergarments will defame them only.”

However, the campaign has galvanised women across the country – and by making headlines across the world, it’s putting public pressure on a chauvinistic organisation that has a surprising amount of legitimacy in India.

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